Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800

Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800

Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800

Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800


Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighborschallenges readers to reconsider China's relations with the rest of Eurasia. Investigating interstate competition and cooperation between the successive Sui and Tang dynasties and Turkic states of Mongolia from 580 to 800, Jonathan Skaff upends the notion that inhabitants of China and Mongolia were irreconcilably different and hostile to each other. Rulers on both sides deployed strikingly similar diplomacy, warfare, ideologies of rulership, and patrimonial political networking to seek hegemony over each other and the peoples living in the pastoral borderlands between them. The book particularly disputes the supposed uniqueness of imperial China's tributary diplomacy by demonstrating that similar customary norms of interstate relations existed in a wide sphere in Eurasia as far west as Byzantium, India, and Iran. These previously unrecognized cultural connections, therefore, were arguably as much the work of Turko-Mongol pastoral nomads traversing the Eurasian steppe as the more commonly recognized Silk Road monks and merchants. This interdisciplinary and multi-perspective study will appeal to readers of comparative and world history, especially those interested in medieval warfare, diplomacy, and cultural studies.


It is high time to set about breaking down the outmoded topographical
compartments within which we seek to confine social realities, for they are
not large enough to hold the material we try to cram into them

—Marc Bloch (Address to the International Congress of Historical
Sciences, August 1928

Over eighty years after Bloch admonished historians to give greater attention to transnational history, we only have reached the early stages of understanding the entangled histories of China and Inner Asia. The topographical compartments of China and Inner Asia are still popularly considered to be irrevocably separate and hostile. China had a huge farming populace, which by premodern standards yielded enormous amounts of wealth and manpower. In contrast, the deserts and steppe of Inner Asia supported sparse populations of pastoral nomads and oasis farmers. Chinese agriculturists, whose staple product was grain, are normally regarded as distinct from pastoral nomads who raised large livestock—such as sheep, horses, cattle, and goats—that can subsist on the grasslands. Chinese farmers were sedentary, while nomads lived in tents as they migrated with their flocks. Militarily, this confrontation typically is depicted as a battle between large Chinese infantry armies of conscripted peasants versus smaller and swifter Inner Asian forces composed of cavalry. Ideologically, Chinese and steppe rulers also fought battles of words by negatively stereotyping each other. The polemics of state-level foreign relations have deeply influenced conventional, exclusivist perceptions of China and Inner Asia as irreconcilable.

This book takes a different “integrationist” perspective by reexamining relations between the Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) Empires and neighboring TurkoMongol pastoral nomadic peoples in the period from about 580 to 800. Particular attention is given to the successive Turkic khanates based in Mongolia, especially the First Türk (552–630) and Second Türk (682–742) Empires. Heeding Bloch’s . . .

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