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Powerful Relations

Powerful Relations

Kinship, Status, and the State in Sung China (960–1279)

Beverly Bossler

ISBN 9780674695924

Publication date: 04/20/1998

The realignment of the Chinese social order that took place over the course of the Sung dynasty set the pattern for Chinese society throughout most of the later imperial era. This study examines that realignment from the perspective of specific Sung families, using data on two groups of Sung elites—the grand councilors who led the bureaucracy and locally prominent gentlemen in Wu-chou (in modern Chekiang).

By analyzing kinship relationships, Beverly Bossler demonstrates the importance of family relations to the establishment and perpetuation of social status locally and in the capital. She shows how social position was measured and acted upon, how status shaped personal relationships (and vice versa), and how both status and personal relationships conditioned—and were conditioned by—political success. Finally, in a contribution to the ongoing discussion of localism in the Sung, Bossler details the varied networks that connected the local elite to the capital and elsewhere.


  • Beverly J. Bossler’s study of the marriage and kinship practices of grand councilors and the Wu-chou local elite falls within the scope of the social history of China in the seventh to thirteenth centuries. Largely relying on privately commissioned funerary inscriptions of mostly men and some women, Bossler marshals ample documentary evidence to confirm an important theme in current scholarship: the transformation and expansion of the educated class from aristocratic pedigree to the political elite, whose survival depended on success in the civil service examinations, local economic clout, property base, and marriage alliances...The author’s contribution lies in providing informative marriage data from screening the large number of funerary inscriptions, the data confirms that marriage was ‘an integrating force in society’ and that public office has a close connection to social and financial status.

    —Jennifer W. Jay, American Historical Review


  • Beverly Bossler is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center

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