P. (Puning) Liu

  • PhD Student
  • Chinese Studies

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2727
E-Mail: p.liu@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SAS China
Office Address: Arsenaal
Arsenaalstraat 1
2311 CT Leiden

PhD research

Chinese or Barbarian? Ethnicity and Legitimacy of the Northern Wei Dynasty
Supervisors: Dr. Paul van Els, Prof. dr. Frank Pieke 

Ancient Chinese held the ideal that the state should be united and everlasting. During several periods in Chinese history, however, the geographical area we now call “China” was governed by more than one dynasty at the same time. The question, then, became which dynasty was the “legitimate” one? This was a question of the highest importance not only at the time, but also later, when historians had to decide retrospectively which dynasties continued the Mandate of Heaven, the continuing line of Chinese history from the earliest beginnings to their present day.
One period in Chinese history where the issue of legitimacy played a crucial role, was the Northern Wei Dynasty 北魏 (386-557). Ruling over the nortern parts of China, this dynasty competed for political legitimacy with the southern dynasties of Song 宋 (420-479), Qi 齊 (479-502), and Liang 梁 (502-557). Ethnicity plays an important role in this conflict, as the Northern Wei rulers were of non-Chinese nomadic origins, whereas the southern dynasties were governed by Han-Chinese. Each side applied various policies and strategies to demonstrate its “legitimacy,” while rebuking the other side as “barbarian.” Likewise, later historians fiercely debated which power—the nomadic Northern Wei or Chinese southern dynasties—were “legitimate.”
Whereas ethnic non-Chinese (such as Xianbei, Jurchen, or Mongol) held sway over Chinese territory during other periods of Chinese history as well, the Northern Wei was the first dynasty that successfully ruled over China for an extensive period of time. As such, the Northern Wei’s efforts to be legitimate are new, and highly relevant for study. Although the Northern Wei is relatively well-studied, few scholars analyzed it from perspectives such as ethnic interaction or political philosophy. Similarly, the question of how later historians viewed this case is neglected to date. In my view, the Northern Wei offers a fascinating insight into how ancient Chinese viewed issues of ethnicity and political legitimacy. Studying the case of the Northern Wei will not only enhance our understanding of this period in Chinese history, but also provide insight into the mechanics of situations where one ethnic group is governed by another ethnic group, be it in China or elsewhere in the world.


M.A., Chinese Philosophy, Renmin University, 2010-2013.
B.A., Philosophy, Shanxi University, 2006-2010.


Excellent Postgraduates, 2012
First-Class Scholarship, Renmin University, 2010-2011
Meritorious Student of Shanxi University, 2007


“Interview on Liu Hedong ”, in The Development Report of Confucianism 2001-2010, Baoding: University of Hebei Press, 2011: 85-96.

“A new research aspect towards Chinese classical political culture: review on Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China”, in Religion Study·2012, Beijing: Religion Culture Press, 2013: 241-250.

Last Modified: 11-12-2015