Faction Theory and the Political Imagination of the Northern Song
This chapter conducts a broad diachronic study of Northern Song “Discourses on Factions,” explaining how five representative faction theorists imagined the hierarchical relationship between monarchical and ministerial authority. It opens with a court dialogue of 1044, in which Grand Councilor Fan Zhongyan admitted to Emperor Renzong that his Qingli reforming coalition was indeed a faction. In his exceptional “Discourse on Factions” (Pengdang lun) that followed, Ouyang Xiu used classical hermeneutics and historical analogies in a game-changing attempt to normalize and justify the existence of factional affiliations in the service of shared ideological aims. He theorized that true factions of superior men served the public good of the dynasty, as opposed to the false factions of petty men. But after Renzong dismissed Fan's reforming bloc from court, theorists unequivocally condemned factions as malevolent and destructive. In their “Discourses on Factions,” written subsequently, Sima Guang, Su Shi, and Qin Guan all warned of the danger that bureaucratic factions presented to dynastic survival, taking the perspective of past, current, and future rulers. While each of these theorists defined and interpreted faction in different ways, they employed similar classical authorities and historical analogies in a court-centered discourse of authority, in which they urged monarchs to employ factionless superior men and expel factious petty men to ensure dynastic survival.
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