New York University
Levene, David S.; Tseng, Lillian
The dissertation is a comparative study in the ethnographic traditions of Greco-Roman and Chinese civilizations from their beginnings up through the early medieval period. In concentrating on the ways in which the Wars of Procopius of Caesarea and the Jinshu [晉書] of the Tang Bureau of Historiography engaged with their classical ethnographic precedents, the dissertation examines the tension inherent in efforts to emulate and restore the ideals of the past while acknowledging and coming to terms with the realities of the present, a tension that characterized the cultural and political imaginations of literary elites of the Roman and Chinese Empires.
This comparative approach throws into stark relief what appears as an all the more significant absence of ethnic identity as a criterion in the discourse of political legitimacy in the Wars of Procopius. It is argued here that this aspect of late antique political thought has its roots in the earlier Greco-Roman historiographical and political traditions, and that it allowed for the conceptual possibility of legitimate political centers of power within the former imperium that were not required to identify themselves ethnically with the Roman state. The officials of the Tang Bureau of Historiography, on the other hand, despite the fact that they worked under a ruling dynasty that itself had strong ties to the steppe and inner-Asian traditions, nevertheless re-drew a stark line of distinction between a Chinese center and a barbarian periphery. The dissertation thus provides an ideological explanation for the marked contrast in strategies of political identification in the late-Roman and early Tang periods.