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A Tale of Two Taizongs

Tue, June 23, 4:05 to 6:00pm, South Building, Floor: 7th Floor, S702


In 986, after his second failed attempt to capture the Sixteen Prefectures, Song Taizong Zhao Kuangyi bestowed some of his own calligraphy on his Prime Minister and other officials, commenting that after holding court in addition to his reading he had recently been studying Flying White (feibai 飛白) style calligraphy. This display of imperial favor allowed Zhao Kuangyi to assert his own cultural pursuits and to tie himself to another second emperor, Tang Taizong. Tang Taizong was famous for his Flying White calligraphy and for bestowing a piece of his writing in that style on the Jin shrines near Taiyuan. Kuangyi’s gift of Flying White calligraphy would have reminded officials of his own military success at Taiyuan in 979 and linked him culturally to the great Tang emperor.

In this paper I argue that Zhao Kuangyi’s turn to the cultural sphere to gain political power was both broad based and quite specific. By 986 it was safe for Kuangyi to connect himself to Tang Taizong because all members of his own family who might have threatened his throne were dead. Tang Taizong had murdered his brother and overthrown his father, yet had proven an effective ruler famed for his collegiality with his close officials. Zhao Kuangyi, himself suspected of similar family bloodletting, may have been leery of invoking the second Tang emperor before his position was secure. Once secure, however, this model of a great second emperor was Song Taizong’s ideal.