Tang Heavenly Qaghans and Türk Sons of Heaven: The Origins of Simultaneous Kingship in Eastern Eurasia

Tang Heavenly Qaghans and Türk Sons of Heaven: The Origins of Simultaneous Kingship in Eastern Eurasia

Jon Skaff - Professor of History, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Room 312, Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) See map
320 York Street
New Haven, CT 6511

Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty conventionally is credited with the invention of simultaneous kingship in Eastern Eurasia. Chinese emperors normally took the orthodox titles of “Son of Heaven” and “August Emperor,” but in 630 Taizong adopted the additional epithet of “Heavenly Qaghan” (tian kehan). The latter title served to justify his rule over Turko-Mongol pastoral nomads, thus staking claim to simultaneous rule over China and Inner Asia. Although Taizong had coined an original title, the attention lauded on him as the originator of simultaneous kingship in Eastern Eurasia is partly due to his well-known penchant for self-promotion. This paper argues that the title Heavenly Qaghan is only one example of a long-running ideological competition between China-based Sui and Tang emperors and Mongolia-based Turkic qaghans (kings) in the period from approximately 580 to 750. As the burgeoning Türk and Sui-Tang empires competed militarily and diplomatically for control over Inner Mongolia and other parts of the steppe, they also engaged in a war of ideas. Before and after Taizong’s reign, both sides made claims of simultaneous, heaven-mandated rulership over nomadic and farming people. The competition was made possible by a pre-existing overlap in Chinese and Turko-Mongol ideological systems, particularly the belief that a heavenly deity chose earthly rulers. Ongoing innovations in titles during the period from 580 to 750 were feasible because of the willingness of rulers in China and Mongolia to employ a multilingual and multiethnic array of officials who were capable of devising bilingual imperial epithets. As the competition waned by the late eighth century, Taizong’s model of simultaneous kingship dominated historical memory. Even though rulers of many later non-Han dynasties in China consciously imitated Taizong in claiming titles of simultaneous kingship, Taizong more accurately should be viewed as the popularizer of the trend, not the innovator. Dr. Jonathan Skaff, is a Professor of History and Director of the International Studies Program at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. After teaching English at universities in Shanghai from 1984 to 1986 Skaff pursued graduate studies at The University of Michigan where he received his Ph.D. in History in 1998. His book, Sui-Tang China and its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580-800 published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, received fellowship support from the Institute for Advanced Study, National Endowment for Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society. He has eleven other publications consisting of book chapters from publishers including Harvard University Press, and peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Asia Major and Journal of World History.

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The Council on East Asian Studies CEAS Colloquium Series is generously supported by the Edward H. Hume Memorial Lectureship Fund.