Bryn Hammond's Reviews > Wind Against the Mountain: The Crisis of Politics and Culture in Thirteenth-Century China

Wind Against the Mountain by Richard L. Davis
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Jun 10, 13

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What a wonderful book this is. At once the most detailed, intimate telling of the last years of Song I’ve read, and a cultural study of Song loyalism. Cultural, in that he felt the need to delve beyond the political, to explain the wave of Song suicides for the cause.

Loyalist suicide: in histories of the Mongol conquest you come across anecdotal mention of suicides so often you have to stop to wonder... the tally tots up in the back of your head and you think of ancient Romans (or I did), but in your usual sort of history, these martyrdoms are just seen along the way and not explored. Richard L. Davis, while writing his chapters on political history for the Cambridge History of China [Vol 5 Pt 1], became convinced there was more going on than met the eye, that face-value political motivations weren’t sufficient to account for this record of mass and individual suicide: that the cultural circumstances of Song, the specific psychology of the day, fed into what he presents as a tragic obsession, unique to the time and place. Factors include a masculine angst, from a perception that the southern Song were feminised or effeminate.

It’s a fascinating subject, and he writes (as I phrase it) like a frustrated novelist – I mean he crafts his sentences for style and not just substance. I enjoy history books so written. With his slow and circumstantial telling, I cared for the actors in his history as I might for people in a novel, and in fact I stayed up til midnight from reluctance to put the book down...
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