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Visible Leisure, Invisible Demands: The Daily Life of Imperial Library Officials in 12th-13th century China

Wednesday 12 December 2018
China Seminar
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

In 12th and 13th century China, the ruling Song dynasty used the Imperial Library as a sustainable reservoir of policy makers. The state selected and nurtured promising individuals through placing them to serve in the Imperial Library. In memorials, Song officials often described Imperial Library incumbents, a category of officials with the most admirable career prospects at that time, who “worked serenely” (優游 youyou), in contrast to officials who served in other government organs, struggling with endless tasks. Reading books, discussing politics with colleagues, attending imperial cultural events and composing literary works were perceived as an integral part of Imperial Library service.

Yet, the ostensibly serene Library service actually functioned as a trial. The authorities waited for Imperial Library incumbents to demonstrate their reliability in governance, whereas the incumbents waited for optimal career opportunities. This study aims to illuminate the expectations placed on the Library incumbents and how those expectations shaped the “agency-in-waiting” of officeholders in the Imperial Library.

Huei-Lan Xiong works on the social and political history of imperial China. Her recent research interests focus on how the perception of “talent” shaped Chinese politics and influenced the lives of Chinese literati from the 10th century onward. Her current study, which explores the “nurturing talent” policy and applies network analysis to investigate the career advancement of Imperial Library officials, will be published in the 49th issue of the Journal of Song-Yuan Studies.

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