Compendia for Governing the World: Mirrors for Princes between East and West

Compendia for Governing the World: Mirrors for Princes between East and West
Activity Date: 
Monday, May 21, 2018 to Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The manual of statecraft Jingshi dadian (“Compendium for Governing the World”), a Chinese compilation for the Mongol court, is one of the most important, yet most understudied documents about Mongol rule in China in the 13th -14th centuries. As a historical source, it is very much ingrained into the political and cultural context of 14th century Yuan China and very much part of the Eurasian dynamics of the period. As a literary and philosophical piece, it is one of many treatises dealing with the question of the art of statecraft, which stood at the center of the political and philosophical exchange between East and West for centuries, and which became especially crucial in the context of the Mongol expansion in medieval Eurasia.

The first aim of the conference will be to explore the philosophical importance and cultural impact of this treatise. Consequently, it will be instrumental to consider the Jingshi dadian in its wider Eurasian context – more specifically, by comparing its various conceptual aspects to their more “western” counterparts, as found in different examples of so-called “Mirrors for Princes” literature. By bringing together emerging and established scholars working on various examples of “Mirrors for Princes” in China, Inner Asia, the Middle East and Europe, the conference will reflect on the commensurability and differences between those specific cases in terms of style, format and various conceptual aspects.

The comparative approach to the Jingshi dadian would be a meaningful scholarly contribution not only to our understanding of that remarkable treatise, but also to our appreciation of the cultural and philosophical exchange within Medieval Eurasia. It will offer a platform to address questions regarding political structures: the various strategies of negotiating power between rulers and subjects, foreign and indigenous ideologies, discuss different perceptions of the state (as order, or as a bureaucratic system) and practices of legitimation (through religion, charisma, moral, law, etc.). In addition, the conference will discuss the princely model of conduct and the everyday etiquette and life aspects of individuals in the courtly elites. Most importantly, however, the encounter of the Jingshi dadian with other “Mirrors for Princes” reflects what may be regarded as a cultural aspect of the globalizing world under the Mongols, and its impact on the political discourse of the early-modern world.