The Closed Circle
The Closed Circle
Factional Rhetoric in the Antireform Era, 1085–1093
This chapter explains how the antireform coalition returned to power after Shenzong's death in 1085 and used a similar court-centered discourse of authority to justify their political agenda and similar polarizing rhetoric to eliminate their adversaries. Empress Dowager Xuanren (1032–1093), Yingzong's widowed consort, was appointed regent to her grandson, the eight-year-old Emperor Zhezong, and identified herself with the antireform ideological vision of “reversion” (genghua). Sima Guang returned from exile to become grand councilor, leading a bureaucratic coalition that expeditiously abolished the New Policies within a year. Pressuring the regent to dismiss the reformists as a faction of petty men, the antireform coalition expelled the reformist leaders Cai Que (1037–1093) and Zhang Dun (1035–1105) from court. But after Sima Guang's death in 1086, his bureaucratic coalition foundered over personal animosities and policy disagreements, and three regional fractions of ministers contended for power at court, each accusing the others of factional treachery. This internal conflict sputtered out by 1089, when the antireformist ministry instigated a literary inquisition against Cai Que, the exiled leader of the reform faction, charging him with slandering the empress dowager. Antireformist remonstrators persuaded a willing Xuanren to order Cai's banishment to the malarial wastes of Lingnan, in the empire's far south. The pronouncement of this virtual death sentence upon a leader of the opposition was the first step in the brutalization of the factional conflict. Under the vertical alliance of Xuanren and her chosen councilors, ideological intolerance drove antireform rhetoricians to accuse opposition elements both inside and outside their coalition of factionalism, using the same divisive language that the reformists had used against them.
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