Sun Fin's Book Reviews

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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Wed Mar 25, 2020 9:11 am

The Religion and Organisation of the Yellow Turbans by Paul Michaud

Themes: Yellow Turbans

Overview:

Michaud sets out the premise, believed by most historians of his day, that the Yellow Turbans and “The Way of Five Peck of Rice” were identical movements. He turns to the sources to decide whether this is true or not. The Sanguozhi says the two systems were “roughly similar,” and that seems to be the sole justification for conflating the two rebellions into one. Michaud points out the utter inadequacy of this view and argues compellingly against it.

Next, he examines what he believes to be the weak evidence supporting the belief that Zhang Jue was a Daoist. He starts with Huangfu Song’s biography which describes Zhang Jue as one. Then examines the premise that Zhang Jue made use of a Daoist book, although by comparing a lot of sources he throws a lot of doubt on the reliability of that statement. Then he acknowledges the practise of healing by holy water was likely a standard Daoist approach at that time. Throughout this chapter he compares them with conventionally accepted Daoists, Yi Ji and Zhang Lu. Overall, he believes that this evidence is inadequate to conclude the Yellow Turbans must be Daoists, rather he says it shows they had adopted some Daoist practises. He then attempts to show that they also had some Buddhist practises too.

The third section is about the rituals of the Yellow Turbans. But other than talking about healing with holy water, Michaud basically concludes we know nothing at all. Instead he moves on to the organisation of the Yellow Turbans. Here he argues that we should continue to use the word “Fang” to describe the regional leaders as we don’t really know what that title entailed, and other than that continues in the theme that we know very little.

Analysis:

The meat of this chapter is on the discussion of whether Zhang Jue was indeed a Daoist or whether he combined practises of Buddhism in. This is a claim that no-one before and, as far as I can tell, since has made. His evidence for it, in my opinion is underwhelming, however his analysis to come to his conclusion includes some very helpful passage work to help us understand the Yellow Turbans better.
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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Thu Mar 26, 2020 2:29 pm

The Motivation and Extent of the Rebellion by Paul Michaud

Themes: Yellow Turbans

Overview:

Michaud questions whether the Way of Peace had always had political connotations. He says there is no way to know for certain, but plans were being made from at least 183 AD. As for the motivation, he argues against De Groot, saying that there is no evidence of any religious or political persecution, as when the Emperor was made aware of the Way of Peace, he utterly ignored it. Instead Michaud speculates that if might have been fear of future persecution that prompted them to rebel. Alternatively maybe Zhang Jue had his head turned by the power in his hands with so many followers, or many other factors that we’re simply not aware of.

Michaud addresses the extent of the rebellion. He notes that the Hou Han Shu states that in four of the provinces the response to Zhang Jue was overwhelming. However, Michaud suggests that this is an exaggeration, and estimates the numbers of rebels to be about 360,000 which he guesses is about 0.3% of the population of China at the time. He is quite open that there is significant margin for error in his use of statistics, but his point surely stands that the extent of the rebellion is often over-stated.

Lastly in this section he looks at where in the country the Yellow Turbans were most active. Michaud says they mainly came from the North-East and that most of the fighting happened in the densely populated parts of the Empire. He suggests that is one of the reasons why they were so significant – the fighting and damage to properties happened in areas where they wold affect the most people.

Analysis:

This chapter continues in a similar vein to the last one, debunking some myths before asserting that really, we know very little at all. His numbers work is very interesting. However, something that he doesn’t touch on is that not all who followed Zhang Jue in peace time would necessarily be willing to rebel. This might go some way towards explaining the statement in the Han Hou Shu about the vast extent of the movement, while still allowing for the much lesser numbers of those who did rebel.
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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:42 pm

Conclusion by Paul Michaud

Themes: Eunuchs; Politics of Dong Zhuo era

Overview:

There is one final question that Michaud wants to consider in his conclusion. Whether the Yellow Turban rebellion was the factor that caused the Later Han dynasty to fall, or whether it was merely a symptom of its pre-existing problems? He opts for the second.

Having determined that the Yellow Turbans shouldn’t take the blame, Michaud gives a brief overview of the last few decades of the dynasty. He says that the actions of Dong Zhuo were the real reason for the fall of the dynasty. Going so far as to say that “for all practical purposes, the Later Han apparently ended in 189, the year that saw the coming to power of Tung Cho [Dong Zhuo].”

He questions why Dong Zhuo was able to seize power so effectively. He argues that it was from a lack of support for the Emperor. The eunuchs had removed the best officials from power and those who remained were demoralised. So, once the eunuchs were removed there were few with a degree of personal loyalty to the Emperor willing to risk their lives. He once again concludes that the Yellow Turbans were a danger signal rather than the death blow to the Later Han.

Analysis:

Michaud dispels another common myth in this chapter, that the Yellow Turbans were what killed the dynasty. He didn’t pick up on the reasons why this might be believed. Personally, I wonder if it is normally linked with the fall of the Han dynasty because it is the moment when Sun Jian and Cao Cao (to a lesser extent Liu Bei too), come to the fore so it’s a natural starting point for the narrative.

I also feel that he declares the death of the Later Han too soon as there were prominent Han loyalists even among Cao Cao’s court, the most important being Xun Yu, who wished to see the Emperor restored. However, analysing that in depth would have gone beyond his study’s remit so I do understand his rather sweeping conclusion.
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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:45 pm

I forgot to post the above review on this site after writing it yesterday. Having finished reading and reviewing the whole book today's review is one of the thesis as a whole. The next review will be an article about the Yellow Turbans written in 2009, taken from Early Chinese Religion: Part One: Shang Through Han (1250 BC-220 AD), just to see how much scholarship has moved on in 50 years!
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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:46 pm

The Rebellion of the Yellow Turbans by Paul Michaud

Themes: Yellow Turbans; Army; Eunuchs; Politics of Dong Zhuo era

Overview:

This was a PHD dissertation written in 1957 by a man named Paul Michaud, studying in Chicago, USA to become a Doctor of Philosophy. It is significant because it was one of the first academic papers written about the fall of the Later Han. As a result, many of his sources are Chinese, or are general studies that touch on the topic of the Yellow Turbans only briefly.

It is split into five chapters including an introduction and conclusion. The main question he is seeking to answer was how significant the Yellow Turbans were in the fall of the Han. He raises this question in the introduction, before concluding that the rebellion was a danger signal rather than the death blow to the Later Han.

In the intermediately chapters he looks at the context of the Later Han dynasty, and the events that birthed the rebellion. He focuses extensively on the Imperial court – as he is convinced that the real reason the Han dynasty ended was the corruption of the eunuchs. Next, he examines what we know of the beliefs and practises of the Yellow Turbans. His significant points are that they were a Daoist/Buddhism hybrid and that they were a completely separate group from the Five Pecks of Rice rebellion that occurred later that year. The other topic he thinks about was the motivation of the rebellion – which he lays at the door of the Eunuchs through the demoralisation of the Han officialdom, and the extent of the rebellion.

Analysis:

This thesis was very important in its time for dismantling many myths about the Yellow Turbans that had up until then been taken as fact. He is able to show from original sources the weaknesses of the positions taken by scholars such as De Groot and Maspero. To the first he says there was no evidence of religious persecution before the rebellion and to the second that the Yellow Turbans and Five Pecks of Rice were distinct. Many of the myths he was fighting against have now disappeared, I suspect due in part to this thesis and so some of the arguments are no longer that helpful to a modern student.

At the same time some of his own assertions no longer look as solid with later scholarly works. His suggestion that Zhang Jue was a unique hybrid of Daoism and Buddhism doesn’t fit in with modern thought that instead argues that all Daoism of that time was being influenced by Buddhist practise. Also, the blame he puts on the eunuchs for undermining loyalty in the Emperor doesn’t fit well with De Crespigny’s work, Fire in Luoyang, where one can see that the nobility rarely displayed a loyalty to an Emperor that would actually put their lives on the line.

That said, he does do some helpful source work, looking at what both the Hou Han Shu and Sanguozhi say about the Yellow Turbans to put together a reasonable presentation of what their practises may have looked like. In the introduction he puts together a timeline of events and in an appendix writes a few lines about eleven figures prominent within the movement. Somewhat off putting to the modern eye is the use of Wade-Giles names. Therefore, Zhang Jue is rendered Chang Chueh to give an example.

To conclude I would only recommend this source to a committed academic. More recent, if also broader, works give a better overview of the Yellow Turbans without the aged presumptions of this author. Only get it if you really want to know everything you can about the Yellow Turbans.
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Re: Sun Fin's Book Reviews

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Mar 29, 2020 8:29 pm

Later Han religious mass movements and the Early Daoist Church by Gregoire Espesset

Themes: Yellow Turbans; Han Government

Overview:

This chapter begins by describing the “harsh background” that provided the backdrop to the rise of these mass movements the end of the Han dynasty. Both political struggles and natural disasters were taking their toll on the lives of the public and Espesset argues that for the common person these mass religious movements provided hope of a better life unlike the highly ethicized and elitist Imperial cult.

Just before introducing the three movements that he plans to cover in the chapter, Espesset states that the numbers in the official histories need to be treated with a pinch of salt. He then introduces the Red Eyebrows movement who were active at the start of the Later Han. Next, he describes the Yellow Turban rebellion, drawing particular attention to their longevity, people still claiming to belong to the movement a few decades after the death of its founder, Zhang Jue. The last group this chapter covers is the Way of Five Pecks of Rice, led by Zhang Lu. Espesset discusses Lu’s supposed lineage, of which he is dubious. He also suggests that after Zhang Lu’s death the movement had difficulty, leading to immigration and ultimately the spread of Daoism.

Espesset’s next task is to describe the supreme deities of each movement. The Red Eyebrows worshipped a being they called Prince Jing who Espesset connects to the long dead Liu Zhang, a prince of the former Han dynasty. The worship of this figure continued in the local area until Cao Cao suppressed it many years after the Red Eyebrows had ceased being a political power. Zhang Lu encouraged his followers with the concept of guidao, however what that means are who they worshipped is not clear. Espesset lays out the options as he views them.

Lastly the Yellow Turbans worshipped the Yellow God who Espesset links to Huang-Lao. Huang-Lao was a popular figure of reverence in the palace and in wider Chinese society. However, he also says that his veneration was influential early on in the Daoism movement. Particularly significant to the Yellow Turbans was the identification with the Yellow Heaven which formed the basis for their slogan and their political aspirations.

Having covered gods, Espesset moves to beliefs in practise. He notes that within the Han dynasty religion and medicine had become increasingly separate. However, these religions, which were appealing to a mass audience in a time of upheaval, linked the two again. He then examines the ritualised healing practises of Zhang Lu and Zhang Jue.

Next Espesset concerns himself with the religious texts these early religious movements would have had. He says that a stele dating to 173 AD confirms there was a cannon but at the current time it is impossible to know what it consisted of. Therefore, we cannot know with confidence what they believed, but he will cover what he can. First is the topic of tian or Heaven. Very important in the Western Zhou, it gradually became less important. However, in the Later Han the leaders of these movements claimed Heaven as their master.

Orthodoxy is the next topic covered. Earlier in the Han dynasty the practise of weft writings had been encouraged. These were prophecies and were used by Emperors to bolster their legitimacy. This practise became less and less popular culminating in 175 AD when an authorised version of the Five Classics was put on display in Luoyang. Espesset argues that this was because the eunuch’s who were in power wanted to close down any debates to protect themselves. While in these mass religious movements, leaders like Zhang Jue were claiming to have new forms of inspiration making revelation significant and the texts they wrote authoritative, unlike those written by others. These texts were all attempting to teach a method to reach the Great Peace, “a state of universal equilibrium engendered by the right behaviour and governance of the ruler.”

Espesset concludes by saying that all in China at this time would have held to some kind of religious belief. However, the slipping of central authority meant that enforced uniformity began to disappear. Instead more localised beliefs could spring up, these were normally still linked to regional political power. Espesset also says that these movements were proto-Daoists, “rival sectarian groups, which at most shared a religious fondness “for the Dao.” They weren’t Daoism as we’d know it now, but were its early forbears.

Analysis:

This chapter is written in a different discipline than the one most of us focus on. That is religious studies which is more concerned with beliefs and practises, rather than historical enquiry. The political situation of the day is mentioned, but only where it provides context for the author’s primary concern. Therefore, this chapter goes into some depth of the beliefs and practises of the Yellow Turbans and the Way of Five Pecks of Rice, but doesn’t really examine the history of their movement beyond the basics. Ultimately this chapter is most concerned to know where they fit in within the wider Daoist movement, rather than the actual movements themselves.
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