The concept of legitimation is very useful in conceptualising the relationship between religion and worldly authority. Virtually every religion in every society has in some way acted to legitimise (or delegitimise) temporal power. But herein also lies the limitation of the concept. It has been turned into a blanket term that obscures more than it reveals. In what sense exactly does religion assist someone who wants to shore up his or her authority against rivals? If a religious text sanctifies or otherwise elevates a ruler, does this actually help the ruler, or is it merely empty phrasing? How can we ascertain the actual relations of power that lie behind the rhetoric? In order to rethink the notion of legitimation, in this chapter I assess first of all how it is employed in previous studies of Buddhist kingship in East Asia. The mere occurrence of terms like cakravartin in Chinese sources has often sufficed to conclude that Buddhism helped to legitimise temporal rule in China. This is often based on the assumption that there was an ideological program or template that was referred to. While there is indeed a text that may be considered a seminal ‘legitimation text,’ namely the Renwang jing 仁王經[Scripture on the Humane Kings], it is open to many different interpretations and has been appropriated differently in various empires and kingdoms of East Asia. Most often, however, we cannot find any clear source for the why and how of Buddhist legitimation; historical precedent and local cultural and societal factors seem to have played a greater role than scriptural texts. In this chapter, after a critical review of the most important studies in the field, I take a closer look at historical cases to reveal the dominant mechanisms at play. I especially refer to cases from Korean history against the light of findings from Buddhism in Chinese history.
Usurpation by a woman made the reign of Wu Zhao a problem in the history writing of the restored Tang dynasty (618-907; interregnum 690-705) and thereafter that has often attracted the epithet ‘Confucian’. An examination of the rewriting of history to change the meaning of two miracles reported during her reign – the appearance of a new (though small) mountain and of Laozi, supposed ancestor of the Tang imperial line – shows that among those keen to repurpose these events were later Daoists, who were engaged in a long term struggle with the Buddhists, the main beneficiaries of her rule. This suggests that we need a more nuanced approach than simply designating all retrospective criticism of her as ‘Confucian’, even if the ultimate origins of the attempts at historical revision are as yet hard to discern.
Wang Yun’s (1749-1819) Fanhua meng (A Dream of Glory, 1769) is one of the very few extant chuanqi plays written by women in late imperial China. Its female protagonist, who is frustrated by social restrictions placed on women, transforms into a man in a dream. The dream content revolves around the protagonist’s romantic adventures, which feature many awkward and laughable moments. As a fantasy about transgender experience, Fanhua meng has been the subject of critique for its embrace of patriarchal values as well as praise for its reflection on patriarchal depravity. These conflicting views attest to the complexity of Wang Yun’s use of humor in the play. This article explores how and why Wang Yun depicts her protagonist’s journey of desire in a comic mode, and how Wang’s contemporary male readers responded to Wang’s humor. It argues that Wang’s use of humor provides a palatable coating for a provocative reflection on the male privilege of being a desiring subject. As a whole, Wang’s play challenges the vision of worldly success promoted by the long-established and male-dominated chuanqi drama tradition. As a case study, this article draws attention to humor as a mode of self-writing for women writers in late imperial China.
The pursuit of divine women or women with divine beauty is a common theme in the earliest works of Chinese literature. Many fu (rhapsodies) composed at the Western Han courts feature the speaker’s failed pursuit of a beautiful woman. Yet during the Jian’an period, the image of a seductive yet inaccessible woman lost its prominence in the literary imagination and was replaced by a lonely beauty yearning for a worthy match and lamenting the swift passage of time. This transformation had much to do with the social and cultural transitions of this particular historical moment. This article places Jian’an representations of women in the context of group composition and literary communication at the Cao courts, and discusses the literary and political implications of these representations in comparison with previous court writing about women. The article argues that under a new environment of court writing, Jian’an literati transformed the image of beautiful women from the embodiment of imperial power and privilege into the symbol of their ideal personality and shared values. Writing about women became a crucial means to forming a literary and political community, and defining that community’s values and principles in a troubled time.