Images of the South in Ouyang Xiu’s Historical Records of the Five Dynasties

Richard L. DAVIS


Edward H. Schafer, in his 1967 book on Images of the South during the Tang period (617-907), speaks to some of the peculiarities of the far south, from the perspective of northern Chinese: the lewd and seductive character of its women, the violent and vengeful ways of its men, and the sense of potential peril at every turn. Schafer was alluding chiefly to the region which corresponds with current-day Yunnan, Guizhou, and Vietnam; but back in the 7th=9th centuries, such frontier conditions might also be found in less remote parts of the country, such as modern Fujian, Jianzi, Hunan, and Sichuan of the seventh to ninth centuries, for the assimilation of Han-Chinese peoples and their ways was not always so thoroughgoing as Chinese government's liked to think. For some parts of the south during the Five Dynasties era (907-960), the persistence of some of these frontier conditions may well explain the many characterizations of the era as "chaotic" and its ruling elite as inordinately "debauched" or "uncivil." I am thinking in particular of the "Ten Kingdoms" (Shiguo 十國) in the Historical Records of the Five Dynasties (Wudai shiji 五代史記), by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-72). But frontier culture is far from the singular reason for the depravity he finds; materials life and uniquely southern values are additional factors. The paper below begins with some of this characterizations of the south in terms chiefly of political legacy, finishing with an attempt to explain those characteristics from the perspective of Ouyang Xiu's own perception of the south in relation to the north. By studying the political record contained in the Historical Records, I seek to probe the cultural divide between north and south, a divide that began with simple geographical barriers and nurtured, in the end, different conceptions of empire.