The Emperor of Dunhuang: Rethinking political regionalism in tenth century China*

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The political history of medieval China is written primarily on the basis of official records produced at centers of political power by victors in the preceding trans-dynastic war. With the help of alternative sources, one can hope to challenge the triumphalist and teleological narrative imbedded in these records. In this article, I use documents preserved in the Dunhuang “library cave” to uncover a failed attempt to establish a regional state with imperial pretensions in Dunhuang immediately after the fall of the Tang. This kind of political regionalism seen in Dunhuang is also found in several other post-Tang states in Sichuan and Guangdong. My investigation of their similarities exposes the teleological nature of the conventional framework of “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms,” and demands that we rethink the political history of China after the fall of the Tang.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-68
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Chinese History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 27 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


  • Dunhuang
  • Five Dynasties
  • Political Regionalism
  • Ten Kingdoms
  • The Fall of the Tang


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