Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Construction of the Peripheral Others in Medieval Chinese Historiography




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Edward Said in Orientalism points out the structuralist notion that Western culture has needed an "Other" to define its own identity. Said maintains that an individual's, and similarly a culture's, self-concept emerges when he/it recognizes himself/itself as separate from and different from others. This chauvinistic need to construct the "other" in order to define oneself as the center is a phenomenon not solely confined to the West. China was no different from most other ancient civilizations in this matter of "we" and "others" divide and like the Greeks and Romans, China began its binary differentiation of inside-outside as parallel to civilized-barbaric very early in Chinese history. So how did ancient Chinese historians present China's perception of and interaction with its peripheral others? What were the established paradigms in Chinese historiography when it dealt with the subject matters of the peripheral others? What happens to these paradigms when China's "center" could not hold still in the Six Dynasties (220-589) during which various non-Han ethnic "peripheral others" held the political center? What happens to the changed worldview when the fragmented China was unified again in the Tang dynasty (618-907) with the cosmopolitan and the "hub" of the Silk Road commerce, Chan-an (modern Xian), as its cultural and political center? This paper focuses on the representation and construction of the peripheral others in medieval Chinese historiography. It examines the paradigms employed by the Chinese historians during the transition of the Six and Tang dynasties when China was forced to encounter alternative worldviews and cultural systems.

Conference Name

46th International Medieval Congress

Conference Location

Kalamazoo, Michigan

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