In this article we focus on the constructedness of Shangguan Wan’er’s 上官婉兒 representation in her muzhiming, moving beyond what information is communicated within a muzhiming 墓志銘 to explore how it is communicated, to whom, and why. We begin by providing an overview of Shangguan’s muzhiming and its content. We then analyze “irregularities” in her muzhiming: the unusual length of its genealogy section, discrepancies in its diction, and strange lacunae and ambiguities. Finally, we place Shangguan’s muzhiming alongside Zhang Yue’s 張說 (667–730) “Stele Elegy for Lady Shangguan” and “Preface to the Collected Works of Lady Shangguan.” Focusing on differences in how these texts framed, described, and evaluated Shangguan Wan’er’s life, we explore traces preserved in the muzhiming of negotiations surrounding the construction of her memory. We conclude with a summation of our approach’s contributions to understanding Shangguan Wan’er, broader discourse about women power-brokers in Chinese history, and practices of representation and memory in medieval China.
By examining the career of a contingent of action-prone mid-level military officers and diplomats, this article aims to explore how opportunism functioned in foreign affairs during the last decades of the Former Han dynasty (202 BCE–9 CE). To safeguard and advance the empire’s interests, especially in Central Asia, these characters would carry out their missions with expediency, usually by the means of assassination and surprise attacks, and sometimes without formal authorization. Yet their successful operations always earned, if retrospectively, the endorsement of the imperial court, which in turn encouraged further ventures. The investigation of the front-line opportunists and their patrons presents a lively picture of the politics and political culture of the time.
Many Chinese maps from the mid-sixteenth century onwards mark the Gobi Desert as a prominent strip visually separating China from what lies beyond. Even before that time, the Gobi, as well as the Taklamakan Desert appeared on maps. Influenced by statements from the early classic “Yugong,” Chinese scholars and Han literati during late imperial China’s history had perceived the deserts as some kind of boundary, while with the integration of these regions into Qing territory, the imperial Manchu view shifted away from the desert being a boundary. The terms for the desert as well as the graphical depiction on maps link the desert to water and to some extent also to celestial phenomena. This article explores the history and cultural significance of the desert from the Song to the mid-Qing period based on maps in relation with relevant texts and draws connections to the origins and changes of these depictions.