Yu Yunguo’s Conversation with Lin Gu: Looking back on how the Northern Song Dynasty turned from prosperity to decline, and looking at the pluralistic interpretation of history.

In June, 2022, the Beijing News Book Review Weekly and Cultural Living Room joined hands with Century Wenjing to jointly launch the theme activity "Going back to the time and going to the scene: the gaze and writing of history". When the stagnant time restarts, we take "history" as a method to reposition ourselves. 5 online activities, 12 famous guests, spanning history and stories, fields and texts, art and archaeology.

In the third session of the series, Yu Yunguo, a professor at the School of Humanities of Shanghai Normal University, and Lin Hu, an associate researcher at the Institute of Ancient History of the China Academy of Social Sciences, shared the theme of "Accident and Inevitability Behind the Rise and Fall of Northern Song Society". Speaking of the Song Dynasty, Chen Yinque once praised: "The culture of the Chinese nation has evolved for thousands of years and reached its peak in the Zhao and Song Dynasties." Then, how did it turn from prosperity to decline in the middle and late period, and it struggled in internal and external worries?

Looking back at the history of the Northern Song Dynasty, we will find that: internally, the traditional characteristics of attaching importance to civil administration in the Northern Song Dynasty are distinct, and Wang Anshi’s political reform was even more turbulent; Externally, it has been confronted with Liao and Xixia for a long time, and the interactive game between them is intriguing. When we get rid of the historical fog and return to the historical scene, the possibilities and inevitability in the historical process are worth pondering. At the same time, we may also be able to reflect on the development and evolution of the historical research concepts behind it.

"The interpretation of history is diverse." During the dialogue, Yu Yunguo and Lin Gu repeatedly emphasized this proposition. So, what does this "diversity" mean? For the public, it has long been a cliche that the same historical event can be explained from different angles, but despite being mentioned many times, when facing the specific historical context, one-dimensional interpretation still prevails. In Yu Yunguo’s view, this kind of "pluralism" actually means that there is no so-called "inevitable historical process", which is particularly evident in the social rise and fall of the Northern Song Dynasty.

As far as historical events are concerned, "pluralism" means opening to complex dynamics, and it needs to be studied from different angles to fully present it. Why is it said that the alliance of Chanyuan in the history of the Northern Song Dynasty may be "unyielding but not humiliating"? And how should we view the relationship between Qingli New Deal and Wang Anshi’s political reform?

As far as individuals in history are concerned, "diversity" also means facing up to the complexity of people. Sima Guang, who finished the famous historian Zi Zhi Tong Jian, is a great historian, but from the perspective of politicians, how should we evaluate his image? Song Shenzong’s likes and dislikes in the battle of Yongle City are well known, but above the court, he also has a mature side as a king.

"Going back to the historical process, what we should learn is a kind of compromise and balance." Yu Yunguo said frankly, only in this way can the so-called political wisdom finally turn into a kind of wisdom, and truly feed back the individual’s life. Lin Gu also said that only by looking at one’s life through political history can one truly touch the contingency and inevitability in the historical process.

Foreign relations in the Northern Song Dynasty: the alliance of Chanyuan was "unyielding but not humiliating", and the celebration of the calendar increased money or became a watershed.

In the political history of the Northern Song Dynasty, how to deal with its own relationship with Liao and Xixia has always been controversial. According to traditional historiography, since the beginning of the alliance of Chanyuan, the Northern Song Dynasty seems to have opened its humiliating road to peace. However, in recent years, many historians have called for a re-evaluation of the historical significance of the alliance of Chanyuan. In the dialogue, Lin Huan believed that the alliance of Chanyuan was actually "unyielding and not humiliating".

League of Chanyuan: In 1005, the Northern Song Dynasty signed a contract with Liao. Song and Liao were brotherly countries, with Baigou River as the border. Song provided Liao with 102,000 silver and 200,000 silks (in fact, they were old coins) every year. After more than a hundred years, there was no large-scale war between Song and Liao.

Lin Gu mentioned that in the initial confrontation between the Song and Liao Dynasties, the Northern Song Dynasty was not necessarily inferior. As far as the comparison of military strength between the two sides is concerned, the Liao army at that time actually avoided Song Jun’s main force and went around to the Yellow River. There was no large-scale military conflict between the two sides along the way, and the comparison of combat strength lacked intuitive presentation. On the other hand, Song also prepared for the decisive battle with Liao, and the speculation that Song people abandoned the city and fled in the traditional interpretation is open to question.

Then, back to the historical context, do people really think that the alliance of Chanyuan is a shame? By combing the relevant historical materials, Lin Gu found that Song Zhenzong and most courtiers were actually very satisfied with this, which ended the chaotic war situation in the north for more than 200 years and re-entered a new stage of relative stability. This also explains the original intention of the "Book of Heaven" in the near future, and the whole country celebrated a long-lost peace. It was not that the Song Dynasty tried to show the superiority of the cultural level through ritual activities because it thought that the alliance of the Yuan Dynasty was humiliated. Although this activity gradually went out of shape, it consumed a lot of financial and material resources and became a farce.

"Celestial Book" Sacrifice: Since 1008, Song Zhenzong has carried out a decade-long "Celestial Book" sacrifice activity, with a grand ceremony to seal Mount Tai to the east, and then went to Shanxi to worship the afterlife.

Song Zhenzong statue, the third emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Lin Hu added that only by fine-tuning the judgment of the alliance of Chanyuan and other events can we deeply understand the social mood in the late Song Dynasty. After the signing of the Covenant, the illusion of permanent peace pervaded the Song people for a long time, so that after hitting the cold reality in the later period, they still couldn’t come back.

In this regard, Yu Yunguo recognized the rationality and progressive significance of the alliance at the initial stage, but he also mentioned that the interpretation of political history needs to be cut from multiple levels. Taking the sacrifice of "Tianshu" as an example, in addition to "celebrating peace", the rhetoric of the alliance under the city will inevitably stir up Song Zhenzong’s emotions, which makes the sacrifice itself contain the meaning of psychological compensation. In addition, it was obvious that the Great Song Dynasty at that time also hoped to improve its position in the East Asian political circle, which constituted another aspect of the "sacred book".

So, from a long-term historical perspective, what is the impact of the alliance of Eton on the foreign relations of the Northern Song Dynasty?

According to historical records, the alliance of Chanyuan actually ushered in new changes soon. During the period of Song Renzong, when Song and Xia became hostile, Liao took advantage of the fire to propose to increase the annual currency on the basis of the alliance of Chanyuan, and the Northern Song Dynasty finally compromised, which was called "increasing the currency by celebrating the calendar" in history. Traditional historiography holds that the revision of this agreement brought the three regimes of Song, Liao and Xixia back into balance. However, in Lin Gu’s view, the increase of coins in Qingli was more like a watershed in the political history of the Northern Song Dynasty, but it actually broke the previous relative pattern.

Song Renzong in film and television dramas. Song Renzong was the fourth emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty. During his reign, the Northern Song Dynasty and Xia signed a "Qingli Peace Negotiation" to increase the annual currency to Liao, and later appointed Fan Zhongyan and others to carry out the "Qingli New Deal".

Lin Gu noticed that the transformation of this relative pattern originated from words. On the one hand, in the alliance of Chanyuan, it was equal help to pay the old coins in the name of "help" in the North Song Dynasty, but this expression was replaced by "Na" in the increase of coins in Qingli, and the position of the word difference was very different. On the other hand, half of the increased 200,000-year-old coins came from Liao in the Song Dynasty, asking the latter to come forward and subdue Xixia’s "hard work". This move essentially broke the original equal relationship between Song and Liao Dynasties.

"This is equivalent to the Liao Dynasty completely becoming the boss, while the Song Dynasty became the younger brother who needed to seek asylum."

Yu Yunguo affirmed Lin Gu’s observation. He thought that it was a new viewpoint in the history of history of the Northern Song Dynasty to regard the increase of coins in the Qing Dynasty as a watershed. This judgment was helpful to re-examine the internal turning point of politics in the Northern Song Dynasty, which gradually took root in the people’s ideas and evolved into a long-lasting "fear of Liao" that permeated the ruling and opposition parties in the Northern Song Dynasty, and even had the same origin as the "fear of gold" in the Southern Song Dynasty. However, Yu Yunguo also suggested that the relationship among Song, Liao and Xixia should be viewed as a whole in the context of internal and external interaction, which was also continuously influenced by the internal political and social trends of the Northern Song Dynasty.

The internal affairs reform in the Northern Song Dynasty: The Qing Li New Deal laid the groundwork, but Wang Anshi’s political reform was powerless.

In the late Northern Song Dynasty, a series of persistent ailments appeared in the social process, which made the political reform imperative. However, whether it was Qingli New Deal or Wang Anshi’s political reform, these attempts failed to reverse the decline of Song Dynasty from prosperity to decline. Tracing back to the source, people often blame Wang Anshi for the demise of the Northern Song Dynasty. Song Gaozong even said in the Southern Song Dynasty: "The chaos in the world was born in Anshi." In this regard, Yu Yunguo believes that although Wang Anshi’s political performance in the process of political reform needs to be discussed, Wang Anshi’s political reform should be affirmed on the whole.

In Yu Yunguo’s view, on the one hand, in terms of the background of the times, Wang Anshi’s political reform is very necessary. With the easing of the political crisis in Song, Liao and Xixia countries, as well as the civil mutiny, Fan Zhongyan’s Qingli New Deal was pressed to pause. However, the deep-seated social problems have not been eradicated, which became the premise of Wang Anshi’s political reform.

On the other hand, the final failure of the political reform was influenced by many factors. The difficulty lies in the cooperation with the members of the class while damaging the vested interests, which determines that the political reform itself must need the support from Song Shenzong. "Simply attributing the problem to Wang Anshi is actually going beyond the original problem to talk about another problem. In the final analysis, there is a problem with the way of thinking."

In addition, the traditional view holds that Wang Anshi’s political reform was the beginning of party struggle in the Northern Song Dynasty. Lin Gu said that in fact, the atmosphere of party struggle in the Northern Song Dynasty had been formed before the Qingli New Deal, and the party disputes represented by Fan Zhongyan and Lv Yijian were once raging. However, today’s people are more willing to attribute the beginning of party struggle to Wang Anshi’s political reform. First, Wang Anshi’s influence on the politics of the Northern Song Dynasty is more lasting. Second, during the Qingli New Deal, Fan Zhongyan, Ouyang Xiu and others were the main force of party struggle. Later in life, they denied their earlier personal opinions, but Wang Anshi was involved in the party struggle for a long time and even became more and more intense.

Although the party struggle was particularly obvious in the political history of the Song Dynasty in general, Yu Yunguo suggested that this phenomenon was actually an unavoidable problem in the study of the ancient autocratic monarchy. In his view, the actual operation of absolute monarchy depends on the support of the bureaucratic system of scholar-officials. In this process, it is almost an unavoidable choice for scholar-officials to win the favor of the monarch in order to better carry out their political opinions.

In order to ensure the effective combination of the autocratic monarchy system and the bureaucratic system of scholar-officials, the system of "remonstrating with officials" was initiated in the Song Dynasty, and this system once reached the best operation state in the middle and early Song Dynasty. But since Wang Anshi’s political reform, the operation of this system has gradually deteriorated. In order to promote the political reform, Wang Anshi pushed out all the Taiwan remonstrators who criticized the new law. Since then, Taiwan’s remonstrance officer, an outsider who used to act as a supervisor and constraint, has become a puppet following the political opinions of the minister in charge. Yu Yunguo said that with the disappearance of the impartiality and objectivity of the whole platform remonstrance system in the Northern Song Dynasty, extreme emotional confrontation and empty political ideas became the keynote of talking in court, which gradually aggravated the sense of crisis in the internal affairs of the Song Dynasty.

Individuals in the historical process: multiple explanations point to the complexity of people themselves.

As far as the change of internal affairs and diplomacy in the Northern Song Dynasty is concerned, the pluralistic interpretation of history always calls for different judgments on the same event. For individuals in the historical process, pluralism often points to the complexity of people themselves. How should future generations evaluate the limitations of individuals in the great era? In the conversation between Yu Yunguo and Lin Gu, both of them think that our understanding of historical figures today may be far from enough.

For example, Sima Guang, who presided over the "Genghua of Yuan You", as a historian, made outstanding contributions in compiling Zi Zhi Tong Jian, but as the first minister of political reform in the late Northern Song Dynasty, it is worth discussing. After Sima Guang came to power, he tried to completely abolish the original exemption law within five days. "This kind of quick success and instant benefit is really not a decision that a politician will make."

Yuan Yougeng: During the period of Song Zhezong (the seventh emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty), the old party headed by Sima Guang overthrew Wang Anshi’s political reform and restored the old legal system.

Exemption law: a law promulgated by Wang Anshi during the political reform period, in which the corvee can be exempted from the corvee at the expense of the government.

When it comes to the political history of the Northern Song Dynasty, the evaluation of Song Shenzong has always been controversial. What is the historical position of the emperor who wanted to do something most in the Northern Song Dynasty after Song Taizu? Yu Yunguo analyzed the emperor’s complexity by taking the opening of Xihe River as an example. During the Song Shenzong period, with the support of Prime Minister Wang Anshi and presided over by Wang Shao, the Song Dynasty successively recovered six states, namely Dang, Dui, Taohe, Min, He and Lin (Xi), which was called "Xihe River opens the border" in history. However, this sport, which now seems to be strategically desirable and has achieved good results, is actually suspicious in the end.

Lin Gu also said that the problem of opening the Xihe River lies in Song Shenzong’s wrong expectation of this strategy, which he tried to make Xixia be attacked between Scylla and Charybdis, and to destroy Xixia in one fell swoop to achieve reunification. However, after the Northern Song Dynasty suffered successive defeats in Lingzhou and Yongle City, Song Shenzong turned a blind eye and remained immersed in the illusion of the destruction of Xixia.

Song Shenzong statue. Song Shenzong, the sixth emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty.

In contrast, Song Shenzong was totally different when dealing with the relationship with Liao. When confronting the Liao army, its arrogance in the face of Xixia was completely replaced by the fear of being afraid of everything. In other words, "Liao phobia" seems to be particularly prominent in Song Shenzong. Yu Yunguo analyzed that in the issue of Liao, Song Shenzong actually showed a "humble" attitude, but this mentality imbalance was unexpectedly rebalanced on the Xixia issue. When facing Xixia, he seemed to be the superior who felt good about himself. The more polarized one end is, the opposite end will gallop in the opposite direction. This is an incomprehensible behavior to others, and the parties actually get psychological compensation and balance from it.

| Extended reading |

Water Margin for Song Dynasty

Author: Yu Yunguo

Press: Century Wenjing | Shanghai People’s Publishing House

Worry: Border Affairs, Party Struggle and Politics in Northern Song Dynasty

Author: Lin gue

Press: Century Wenjing | Shanghai People’s Publishing House

Finishing/Shen Lu

Editor/Lv Wanting

Proofreading/Liu Jun