The question of why clans that had figured among the politically dominant elite of Chinese states and empires for centuries suddenly disappeared from the record in the course of the tenth and eleventh centuries has occupied historians for a long time. The transformation of the political elite has become part of survey histories, usually recounted as part of the larger economic and demographic changes that took place between the eighth and twelfth centuries, spanning the reigns of the Tang and Song dynasties. By and large, historians agree that Tang China was ruled by an aristocratic elite based in the capital. During the eleventh century, the ruling elite began to rely on examination degrees rather than family pedigree but remained predominantly metropolitan until the following century, when Song political elites tied to the center via the examinations settled down in counties across the southern Chinese territories. In The Destruction of the...

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