The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Sun Fin » Wed May 08, 2019 6:31 pm

Announcement - Postponed

Hi all, as you can probably tell my activity isn't what it has been, basically I procrastinated hard over Easter and now have 4 essays, 4 exams and lots of talks all due in over the next month. I don't even have the energy to invest in reading a chapter let alone discussing it. I do hope to pick this up again, but I can't do it right now. If others wish to continue without me I won't mind, but if not I'll let you know when I have time again!
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Jia Nanfeng » Thu May 09, 2019 12:09 pm

Thanks for the update.

I’m willing to wait for you to finish up your studies. Finals can be heck on earth, so I understand. :wink:
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Thu May 09, 2019 12:35 pm

Best of luck with the finals Sun Fin
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Jul 21, 2019 7:49 am

Announcement: Two week warning!

Two weeks tomorrow we will start discussion of chapter 3. This is your chance to recap what we’ve already read and get ahead on the next chapter. Looking forward to picking this up again :D
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Sun Fin » Mon Aug 05, 2019 8:43 pm

We're back!

Just to recap:

Chapter 1 was about the geography of Luoyang and the surrounding area as well as discussing architecture and civil service of Luoyang.

Chapter 2 followed Emperors Ming and Zhang (57-88 AD) which is the golden Ages of the latter Han and sets up the regency for Emperor He.

Now on to Chapter 3

- I find it remarkable how Dou Xian with no military experience managed to win such a decisive victory! That said I also find it repulsive how much abuse of power there was by Imperial family members. RDC then picks up this theme again at the end. I have to say, I'm not a big fan of the comparisons between Rome and the Later Han as they are very different. However his point that the lack of compulsory military service is indicative of the lack of desire for expansion is an interesting one. European history is full of ambitious rulers eager to spread their borders as far as possible. This doesn't seem a comparable theme in the Chinese history I know of. Interesting thought?

- It is easier to feel sympathy for, and understand reasons for the strength of the Eunuch faction when reading the story of Zheng Zhong. I'm sure part of it is he won, so is presented positively unlike later generations of Eunuchs. Maybe we should rethink how we approach the Eunuchs? All that said, at least 2 later regular attendants plotted with the Yellow Turbans, so perhaps Zheng Zhong was a loyal exception? Perhaps a discussion point.

- RDC presents Emperor He positive, or at least not negatively, unlike the standard view of him. What did others make of his evaluation?

- I found the discussion of the army interesting on p148-159.

a) In particular on p150 he says:
There was opportunity for promotion, and the possibility of transfer into the Northern Army discussed below.


Yet I can't find any hint of discussion about that potential transfer, instead he says (p152):
There is no record of how men came to be chosen as guards at the capital or soldier of the Northern Army...


Am I missing something? RDC seems to hint at something which I can't see he fleshes out?

b) Also interesting was the tactical arrangement described on p157, any discussion of actual battle tactics and formations seem incredibly rare in Chinese history!
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Tue Aug 06, 2019 5:15 pm

I find it remarkable how Dou Xian with no military experience managed to win such a decisive victory! That said I also find it repulsive how much abuse of power there was by Imperial family members. RDC then picks up this theme again at the end. I have to say, I'm not a big fan of the comparisons between Rome and the Later Han as they are very different. However his point that the lack of compulsory military service is indicative of the lack of desire for expansion is an interesting one. European history is full of ambitious rulers eager to spread their borders as far as possible. This doesn't seem a comparable theme in the Chinese history I know of. Interesting thought?


I more read it as, in Rome, it was in one's own interests and that of your family to win at war whereas for a lot of the court, it was not in their personal interests for war so they would make it more politically difficult for a war to happen. So unless the ruler needed it or really wanted it enough to expend political capital, an aggressive war was less likely to happen

- It is easier to feel sympathy for, and understand reasons for the strength of the Eunuch faction when reading the story of Zheng Zhong. I'm sure part of it is he won, so is presented positively unlike later generations of Eunuchs. Maybe we should rethink how we approach the Eunuchs? All that said, at least 2 later regular attendants plotted with the Yellow Turbans, so perhaps Zheng Zhong was a loyal exception? Perhaps a discussion point.


I have noted in recent times a shift towards a less negative attitude towards the eunuch for which the professor deserves credit. He tends to be careful to point out where clear bias against eunuchs is, the need for eunuchs and also the power and danger of the gentry in many of his works. Zheng Zhong shows why eunuchs were needed and could become trusted figures for Emperor's but I think eunuchs will come up quite a few times later in the book so it will be intresting to see if that evolves your view

- RDC presents Emperor He positive, or at least not negatively, unlike the standard view of him. What did others make of his evaluation?


I had never really come across Emperor He before and I'm not entirly sure why he was viewed badly. I'm guessing the early death, the amount of natural disasters (I wonder why) and decline seen as starting with him. Unfortunate for Emperor He who seems to have been a sensible ruler who tried and whose willingness to use those normally ignored led to scholarship advances

========

My thoughts: This is the stuff I enjoy, the politics, the scandal, De Crespigny's careful eye for when traditional history may not have been fair or when perhaps people will dismiss something a little too easily, some small things to add colour/humour but also that reflect the shape of the country at the time. I did feel I never quite got a sense of Empress He himself, more sense of persona for the dowager clan.

The miliatry/border setup. I think De Crespigny spaces these kind of things well and he goes more in depth, from what I recall, then his essays on his former site about how the army worked in the Han and the border policies. I am more towards the personality sections but De Crespigny does enough humour and human observations while this is important information that really helps shape understanding of the structures.

The Dou era and fall

-What is it with Dou males and not learning? If only Dower Dou had siblings she could have relied on, I suspect Dowager badly needed reliable male siblings to act on the outside and she didn't have one particularly her eldest brother. Xian seems to have had talent as a commander and he deserves some credit for his miliatry success against the Northern Shanyu (even if Shizi and Yan Pan perhaps deserve it more) it was more, props to whoever brought Ban Gu to ensure success got as much good coverage as possible. I think Xian's two rival kingdoms had a purpose as if Southern Shanyu had managed to successfully hold north and south, that risks a future powerful start on border

Xian's temperament made him a poor political ally and the brothers were not helpful, earning ill-will and bad PR while making that same old mistake of not really engaging with their job and their soldiers, the army turning on them quickly. Dou Jing sounds really nasty.

-Liu Chang affair would make for great soap opera. The Dowager was unwise where any such question of the relationship could arise but given her likely age and her life, I'm not going to slam her for it. I wonder though if it would be fairer to suggest she should have learnt this and not raise similar questions with Guo Ju? Problem for a Dowager is she greatly relies on, say, her family being able to maintain loyalty of their soldiers to withstand a coup

-The Southern Xiongnu seem effective at violently forcing heir own way over the Han wishes. I wonder what happened to the Northern Shanyu, probably not a happy fate for a ruler whose name has vanished from history

-Dou Xiang being sent down for giving grants to poor is an odd charge. I can see the acting outside authority element but "demoted for being generous" is still odd. Boo the Liang clan for murdering him

-Clearly great plotting and gathering of allies by Zheng Zhong who I assume could claim Emperor He's support to try to win over key figures. Accusations of plotting to assassinate Emperor He seems a bit far fetched given choice of successor but probably one Zheng Zhong was happy to spread around to garner support and perhaps Emperor He did fear it.

-Skilful handling by Emperor He (and possibly Zheng Zhong) of the Deng Biao situation, feel a tad sorry for Ban Gu (boo Chong Jing) and Song You

- De Crespigny's encyclopaedia entry for Dowager Duo (and Guo Ju) muses both charges may have propaganda by Emperor He's supporters, I feel a line on that should have been in this.

-Cao Bao, if your doing four different caps you may be making the ceremony overly long.

Emperor He

-There is an art in knowing when to accept your victory, Shizi may have had miliatry skill but he lacked that nous. The Southern Shanyu split under Anguo really let situation slip from them after that, Du Chong and Zhu Hui not helping. The failure to win over and unite the Xiongnu into two peaceful blocs a big problem for the Han

-Sad when figures like Ban Chao don't get enough time to enjoy their return home after long decades fighting and managing the frontiers. It is a little surprising the fall of Ban Gu didn't have a chilling of relations between general and new regime but credit to Emperor He for being willing to use Ban Zhao's talents so much

-Pity about Empress cliché's hampering our understanding of them. Seems an odd move by Empress Yin to react to losing favour by making herself unavailable (I wonder if that is wrong and she merely made a bit too clear she was angry), given the high stakes I can well believe witchcraft of some sort was tried to try to keep on top. Probably harmless "make me pregnant/regain his favour" attempts but if the murdery kind, well not like the future Empress Deng wasn't signing Yin's death by accusations, it was a brutal business. Deng clearly knew how to play the game, both in ridding herself of rival and being generous to ensure Emperor He was happy with many lovers even if she was barren

-I wonder what caused so many bad events though Emperor He's regime seems to have handled events with a sense of practicality (apart from no trade in wine. The monster :wink: )


-I wonder if the crowded city and crowded palace led to ill-health of both Emperor's and their children? Clearly a disaster for the Han the constant young deaths and regencies as Professor De Crespigny sets out

-On the mminor stuff: would have liked to have learnt more about Cai Lun's work with paper but suppose it doesn't add to the book. Interesting to see how animals from the west were described or thought of and how so much envoy work was... not actually offical envoy's, well played Parathions on Gan Ying. Ah the depopulation of Liang, our perennial troublesome friend

Military structure/new border settlements


-Six thousand men escorting the Emperor when out of palace is the sort of thing that puts "for the love of Heaven, stop hunting/going on tour/pleasure excursions" complaints into context, any such trips must have been a drain.

-Hereditary right possibly ensured the numbers for the Feathered Forest and Rapid Tiger troops but seems like it would get some unsuitable people in it

-A lot of trouble might have been prevented if the Han had a policy of fair dealing with the Qiang and co, if the protectors hadn't abused their positions

-I like Fu Qian's more dramatic explanation for Archers Who Shoot At Sound even if Ying Shao's explanation sounds more likely, impressive the bows being same reach as the famed Welsh longbows. Love the line "The victories may have been glorious, but they came at a heavy cost to individual farmers. ", I like the Danegeld comparison and he makes clear how effective it was.

-Fitting ending to the chapter
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Sun Fin » Tue Aug 06, 2019 6:49 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:I more read it as, in Rome, it was in one's own interests and that of your family to win at war whereas for a lot of the court, it was not in their personal interests for war so they would make it more politically difficult for a war to happen. So unless the ruler needed it or really wanted it enough to expend political capital, an aggressive war was less likely to happen


Isn't that an interesting contrast, in and of itself though? Success and progress wasn't based on military success. That would have been an utterly alien worldview, not only to Rome but Japan and Europe throughout the whole of the medieval ages, even right up to Napoleon's day!

Dong Zhou wrote:I have noted in recent times a shift towards a less negative attitude towards the eunuch for which the professor deserves credit. He tends to be careful to point out where clear bias against eunuchs is, the need for eunuchs and also the power and danger of the gentry in many of his works. Zheng Zhong shows why eunuchs were needed and could become trusted figures for Emperor's but I think eunuchs will come up quite a few times later in the book so it will be intresting to see if that evolves your view


I've noticed the same thing, and I do have sympathy for that view. I guess what I'm saying that Zheng Zhong is a good example of what eunuchs could be. However I do think many of the regular attendants had lost sight of what made them important - like those who backed the YT...

Dong Zhou wrote:I had never really come across Emperor He before and I'm not entirly sure why he was viewed badly. I'm guessing the early death, the amount of natural disasters (I wonder why) and decline seen as starting with him. Unfortunate for Emperor He who seems to have been a sensible ruler who tried and whose willingness to use those normally ignored led to scholarship advances


I read about him in Cambridge History Vol 1... however that is at my flat and I'm staying at my parents which means I can't get at it to contrast the two presentations. very frustrating :lol:.


Dong Zhou wrote:The miliatry/border setup. I think De Crespigny spaces these kind of things well and he goes more in depth, from what I recall, then his essays on his former site about how the army worked in the Han and the border policies. I am more towards the personality sections but De Crespigny does enough humour and human observations while this is important information that really helps shape understanding of the structures.


Two years ago I'd have agreed with you about preferring the politics stuff, but I've spend so much time trying to learn about the military history that I get very excited upon even the slightest piece of new information. :lol:

Dong Zhou wrote:-What is it with Dou males and not learning? If only Dower Dou had siblings she could have relied on, I suspect Dowager badly needed reliable male siblings to act on the outside and she didn't have one particularly her eldest brother. Xian seems to have had talent as a commander and he deserves some credit for his miliatry success against the Northern Shanyu (even if Shizi and Yan Pan perhaps deserve it more) it was more, props to whoever brought Ban Gu to ensure success got as much good coverage as possible. I think Xian's two rival kingdoms had a purpose as if Southern Shanyu had managed to successfully hold north and south, that risks a future powerful start on border

Xian's temperament made him a poor political ally and the brothers were not helpful, earning ill-will and bad PR while making that same old mistake of not really engaging with their job and their soldiers, the army turning on them quickly. Dou Jing sounds really nasty.


Hopefully the contrast with other Dowager siblings will rehabilitate He Jin's image even further. I think he is a harshly judged figure.

Dong Zhou wrote:-Dou Xiang being sent down for giving grants to poor is an odd charge. I can see the acting outside authority element but "demoted for being generous" is still odd. Boo the Liang clan for murdering him


I suspect with people of a certain status, and within a client/patronage based society, it was presented as faction building rather than genuine generosity.
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:17 am

Isn't that an interesting contrast, in and of itself though? Success and progress wasn't based on military success. That would have been an utterly alien worldview, not only to Rome but Japan and Europe throughout the whole of the medieval ages, even right up to Napoleon's day!


I think even in Europe there has been hawks vs dove's but the Han system entrenches it far further then we had here.

I've noticed the same thing, and I do have sympathy for that view. I guess what I'm saying that Zheng Zhong is a good example of what eunuchs could be. However I do think many of the regular attendants had lost sight of what made them important - like those who backed the YT...


I'll be interested to see if that view changes in later chapters

I read about him in Cambridge History Vol 1... however that is at my flat and I'm staying at my parents which means I can't get at it to contrast the two presentations. very frustrating :lol:.


Why haven't they invented teleportation so you can get to your flat :wink:

I suspect with people of a certain status, and within a client/patronage based society, it was presented as faction building rather than genuine generosity.


Good point
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Sun Fin » Tue Aug 13, 2019 8:09 pm

Looks like the break has meant some people haven't returned. :( Let's hope that if we keep going others will catch up!

Chapter 4

- Rafe drops a tantalising hint on p171, "and because several children has died in the palace those who survived had been hidden away". Why were they hidden? Is foul play being implied? Does anyone know more about those kids?

- I liked RDC drawing attention to Lady Deng keeping her female friends, Zhou and Feng with her. I don't think I've ever read about a positive female (non-family) friendship in Han China before. Normally if two women are mentioned they are in competition over being the Emperor's wife.

-I wrote this thread about the Qiang and Dong Zhuo. It was interesting (and frustrating how unnecessary it was) to learn how the tension in the West originated.

-p193, Rafe remarks that you could pay to join the Northern army, even at a low rank. Fantastic news for my novel writing, that answers a question I've been looking for an answer to for a long time!

-Lady Deng stood over 7ft tall!? She sounds like a truly remarkable woman. The way she didn't let her brothers abuse her position is especially admirable.

- It seems to me that having a family member become Empress only led to short term gain and would quickly become a reason for your persecution and death yet many continued to vie for their families to hold such a honoured position...
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Re: The SOSZ's Book Club - Fire Over Luoyang

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Aug 14, 2019 9:51 am

Fingers crossed

- Rafe drops a tantalising hint on p171, "and because several children has died in the palace those who survived had been hidden away". Why were they hidden? Is foul play being implied? Does anyone know more about those kids?


As far as I'm aware, not foul play but when children kept dying due to natural causes, there were fears palace wasn't healthy enough so they would go out to adopted families in healthier seeming areas. Given the security concerns of such a move and to avoid interference, it would be kept hidden

- I liked RDC drawing attention to Lady Deng keeping her female friends, Zhou and Feng with her. I don't think I've ever read about a positive female (non-family) friendship in Han China before. Normally if two women are mentioned they are in competition over being the Emperor's wife.


I also like that

Agreed on Dowager Deng and yes, a lot of the wars with the tribes seem unnecessary

- It seems to me that having a family member become Empress only led to short term gain and would quickly become a reason for your persecution and death yet many continued to vie for their families to hold such a honoured position...


but the families always bounce back, the Emperors never seem to go for a full wipe out, perhaps too risky to do so. There is a chance that this time it will be different, your power will grow further and further via being an in-law to the Emperor's

======

Enjoyed that again, learnt particularly about Dowager Deng and a bit about Emperor An (for some reason I keep calling him Emperor Ai). Professor De Crespigny with a good balance between, like the wars in this section, where individuals err and where they are being let down/hampered by fundamental problems. One can see some patterns keep repeating and I recognize some from the dying days of the Han

I was surprised how much I liked the section on taxes.

Dowager Deng

-Wow that heir situation was open to abuse. De Crespigny seems to being careful to give Dowager Deng benefit of the doubt, one can see why ignoring Liu Sheng was a problem even if the Dowager had good reason

-Deng clan learnt from the Dou’s downfall and excess but was risky not having the Deng clan in positions of power and the Dowager must have been quite a formidable figure to her family that they accepted their limited influence as time went on.

-Impressed by the sheer extent and the practicality of Dowager Deng’s reforms and attempts to help beleaguered regions like the grain transports or the working on water systems. I doubt restraint on the ceremony’s was entirely popular but cutting personal costs (in ways that seem rather more serious then Emperors sometimes seem to have done), cutting government costs on all sorts of matters including pensions/sinecure (though three generation ban on office feels harsh) while spending on investments like waterworks for struggling regions.

I see why the ranks and how they were kept limited but still leaves an uneasy feeling while I think telling military rather then civil ranks were for sale. "Can’t sleep due to concern about others” sounds really good but I suspect she would not have been able to rule well if that was actually true.

-Dowager Deng seems to have been, during a time of crises outside her control (though she seems to have made a few mistakes) a practical and able ruler who mitigated and overcame serious problems even if she couldn’t reverse the weather or structural issues, who was willing to take personal cuts.

Tax+Qiang

-That was one horrible rebellion for the Han, the length, the expense both of the war and the rebuilding afterwards, the loss of prestige, strain on everyone else. Was a bad error to let the army get in such disrepair and as funny as the bronze mirrors story is, that is really bad equipment situation. Did feel like defeats were less the commanders but the situation on the ground as the professor notes. The withdrawals both of initial western regions then in front line areas both felt disorganized, miscommunicated and spiralled out of control.

While the Han adapted and changed, using their wealth for bribery and changing tactics as needed, Dianlan’s death was fortunate. I do feel sorry for Hanzhong given amount of times raids killed their head

-I know Ren Shang’s record was perhaps a bit mixed though ultimately successful, no idea if charges were fair but did wince at his “reward”. This kind of thing will not have done any good between future courts and their generals

-That is a lot of tax gathering problems. Felt De Crespigny set out the tax system fairly clearly and how it’s inability to really respond to fluctuations in farmer life led to people seeking patrons who had clout to use against local officials, making it getting government’s share of tax harder and harder.

-Minor things: Cai Lun, the true hero of this story! Glad to see a eunuch inventor given proper credit. The weather hates the Han: Long live Wei! I wonder if the Han would have been better off if the gentry had considered the advantages of females in power. The amount of times an Emperor or Dowager has had to arrest officials in charge of the prisons already is disturbing, long mourning periods do not work well with public duty. Enjoy the cynicism about some of the stories about Dowager Deng (though I’m sure she was an able scholar) though the housework made me sad


Emperor An

-That it took till 27 and Dowager Deng’s death for Emperor An to have his shot says something both about Dowager Deng’s skill in keeping support and grip. It also suggests Emperor An was a figure who really struggled to make any connection and impression on potential dissidents and loyalists

-I’m curious as to how historians would know of Empress Yin’s talents. Empress Yin and co did well to keep Emperor An “alive” for a few days more to get him back to the capital

-Hello Liaodong!

-What happens if the portent/omen is a protest about your sacking a minister due to past portent? I know really that is not how portents worked, like De Crespigny said it was more a way of bringing up issues at the court (and historians tampering) but the thought did occur. I think Emperor An went a bit too far with those flock of birds, some reward would have been expected but that level of gift was asking for trouble

-Utter foolishness to depose of a Crown prince with no replacement, leaves a vacuum and damages the son if he ever becomes Emperor. I do question Emperor An’s failure to have Liu Bao’s household under control to prevent the intrigues

-I wonder if Lady Li either wasn’t poisoned (such stories could be gossip) or if Dowager Deng simply saw it as part of the game she had so ruthlessly played herself.

-Emperor An does not seem to have been a good ruler. His interests seem to have been in touring, portents and scholarship rather then seemingly having control of his household, administration and politics. I can see why, given the lack of support he had got under the Dowager, he would cling closely to his oldest allies and friends though

-Minor things: Never considered not having a child as a viable strategy before, glad Cai Lun got to go out on his own terms, the man had served his masters well and the advancement of civilization, loved the comment about Emperor An’s visit to ancestors tombs. Yang Zhen was unwise to draw up such a complaint while Emperor An was out of capital, gave Wang Shen and co time to counter-attack
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