Barbarians at the Gate

The Khitans and their Empire

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

As featured eagle-hunting in the banner image above, the Khitan were a proto-Mongol people from regions of present-day Mongolia and Northeast China, whose history stretches back to the 4th century. In 907 they founded the Liao Empire, one of the first expansive empires in China to establish their capital in the area around modern Beijing. Two centuries later, caught between a rising Chinese empire in the Song (960-1279) and a new power in the Northeast, the proto-Manchu Jurchen, the Liao Empire fell in 1125 and the Khitan were scattered once more across Asia. In this old episode of Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer discuss the history of the Khitans, their empire and their legacy – helped along by analogies to the Godfather trilogy and Game of Thrones:

Barbarians at the Gate

The An Lushan Rebellion

The emperor, the concubine and the general who defied a dynasty

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

Having syndicated four recent episodes of the show’s revival (subscribe for new episodes on iTunes here), we’re going back to the origins of Barbarians at the Gate and running another four from its original run back in 2016, when the focus was more squarely on barbarians and uprisings. The inaugural episode – cohosted by Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer – looks at An Lushan, the Göktürk general who charmed his way into the court of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, then almost succeeded in bringing down the empire from 755-763. It’s a story made for imperial slash fiction: the aging emperor Xuanzong, his concubine Yang Guifei, and the outsider who came between them. The audio quality is not so crisp, but the sharp insights make up for it:

Barbarians at the Gate

The Common Tongue (Part 2)

Dialect and nationalism in China, with guest Gina Anne Tam

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, Barbarians at the Gate returns to the contentious topic of language reform in China and the fate of fangyan, the various local speech forms referred to as “dialects.” Joining Jeremiah and David on the podcast is Gina Anne Tam, Assistant Professor in History at Trinity University, and the author of the recent book Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960.  Picking up the threads of the earlier podcast on putonghua, they explore issues such as the central role of language unification in the task of nation building; the tension between the goal of national unity and preserving China’s rich cultural diversity as manifested in fangyan; the future survival of the many local speech forms in the face of China’s ongoing national putonghua promotion policy; and a brief discussion of Chengdu rappers and the sociological implications of Sichuan dialect rap:

Barbarians at the Gate

Neither Boxers Nor A Rebellion

A discussion of the Boxer Rebellion, with guest Jeffrey Wasserstrom

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, Jeremiah and David welcome historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom to the show. Jeff is Chancellor's Professor of History at UC Irvine (and founder of the China Channel), and is not only a prolific academic scholar but also one of the most sought after China analysts appearing on mainstream news media outlets such as BBC and NPR. His most recent book, Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink, documents the recent political unrest in Hong Kong, putting the movement into historical context. On the show, Jeremiah and David delve into Jeff’s current project, a historical  reevaluation of the Boxer War of 1899-1901. The conversation draws parallels between the xenophobia and anti-foreign sentiment in China during the Boxer incident and the nationalistic and racial divisions between China and the West engendered by the coronavirus crisis:

Barbarians at the Gate

The Common Tongue

How putonghua, standard spoken Chinese, remains controversial

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser examine putonghua, the spoken Chinese language most people refer to as Mandarin. What is its history, and what does that say about competing national and regional identities in Chinese history? What’s the difference between a dialect and a language? And how do we differentiate between Mandarin in the Qing Dynasty, guoyu in the Republican Period, and putonghua in the PRC? The hosts discuss David’s research for his 2016 book A Billion Voices on the evolution of Putonghua in China, as well as the recent controversy over the app Douyin penalizing users who post videos in other Chinese languages, especially Cantonese. They also get an assist from Zhang Yajun, host of the Wo Men Podcast on Radii China, who talks with David about the differences between Beijing or Northern-Chinese “dialect” and "standard" putonghua. If you enjoy this, also listen to the recently released follow-up episode with guest Gina Anne Tam.