Theses Doctoral

Origins, Ancestors, and Imperial Authority in Early Northern Wei Historiography

Duthie, Nina Natasha

In this dissertation, I explore Wei shu historiography on the early Northern Wei imperial state, which was founded by the Tuoba Xianbei in the late fourth century C.E. In examining the Wei shu narrative of the Northern Wei founding, I illuminate not only the representation of cultural and imperial authority in the reigns of the early Northern Wei emperors, but also investigate historiography on the pre-imperial Tuoba past. I argue that the Wei shu narrative of Tuoba origins and ancestors is constructed from the perspective of the moment of the Northern Wei founding. Or, to view it the other way around, the founding of the Northern Wei imperial state by Tuoba Gui signifies the culmination of the Wei shu narrative on the early Tuoba.

This narrative of the early Tuoba past is of course teleological: Essentially everything in this phase of Tuoba historiography leads up to the moment of the Northern Wei imperial founding, including genealogical descent from a son of Huangdi, who is represented as the Xianbei progenitor, in a remote northern wilderness; the continuous succession of Tuoba rulers that followed; and the journeys that brought the Tuoba out of the wilderness and toward the geographical center.

In focusing on the account of the inaugural reign of Tuoba Gui, the Northern Wei founder, and the record of his ritual practice as emperor, I have discovered tensions in Wei shu historiography that I believe signal toward some of the actual cultural contestation that attended the founding of the Northern Wei imperial state. The Wei shu historiography on Buddhism in the early Northern Wei then, I argue, presents an alternative source of authority, one that stands outside both an imperial Han inheritance and a culturally Tuoba tradition.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Hymes, Robert Paul
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 25, 2015