The Order of Name and Status in the Tang and Song Dynasties
The Order of Name and Status in the Tang and Song Dynasties, comprising seven essays, examines the concept of “name and status” (ming-fen) and its relation to politics in the Tang and Song dynasties. Three essays focus on domestic politics, and other four discuss foreign relations of China and how foreigners perceived China’s concept of “name and status.”
“Name and status” are important elements in Confucianism. Confucius said that “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.” Through this saying, Confucius aimed to teach people to rectify social changes caused by the transformation of ancient feudalism and to reduce their impacts on original social stratification and social order. In Confucianism, national politics includes not only the “public” sphere but also the “private” sphere, which usually gets involved with various interpersonal relationships. In fact, these two spheres are not opposite to each other. On the contrary, both of them are extensions of ethics of interpersonal relationships.
Kuang Ssu-ma, a high-ranking official in the imperial government and a historian in the Song dynasty, also stressed the importance of “name and status” in the very first sentence of his book Tzu-chih Tung-chien (Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance). Ssu-ma said “I heard that the most important responsibility of the Son of Heaven (tien-tzu) is to protect and keep rules of propriety (li). In rules of propriety, the most essential principle is to adhere strictly to one’s status (fen). And the most crucial element of status is one’s name (ming), which must be rectified and conformed.” Therefore, the ideas of “regulating families (chi-chia), governing States (chih-kuo), and reaching universal peace (ping tien-hsia)” are all derived from self-cultivation (hsiu-shen). Only if one cultivates himself first, one can pass through the “private” sphere and further participates in politics. The responsibility of the Son of Heaven is to rectify and conform “name and status.” Within the monarchy of China, the biggest “public” sphere is the world.