“Slanderous Report”: Political Communication and Political Culture in Southern Song

CHEN Song

Recent scholarship on political communication in the Song period has focused largely on formal, bureaucratic institutions of collecting and transmitting information and assumed a uniform interest at high levels of government in maximizing the accuracy and efficiency in the communications system. Yet it pays less attention to informal channels through which political messages were circulated and risks the danger of oversimplifying the motivational structure of political actors. By looking at “slanderous reports” (bangshu 謗書) and the way in which Song politicians interpreted and responded to them, this paper explores the complex interactions between political institutions, political culture, and the behavior of political actors. Lying outside the statutorily regulated, bureaucratic realm of political communication and constantly seeking to “dock on” on it, the practice of filing these reports created a politically charged, highly symbolic space in which political trust was tested and political allies identified. This paper argues that institutional arrangements, both formal and informal, in the Song engendered a distinctive political culture, through which the actions of political actors were interpreted by their contemporaries, and that the anticipation of such interpretations, in turn, framed the way in which they acted.

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