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A Judge at the Crossroads of Cultures: Shi Tianlin

Florence Hodous EMAIL logo


Shi Tianlin is one of only two known officials who was appointed to act as judge both in the West and the East of the Mongol Empire, during the period of the united empire when officials were often appointed cross-regionally. Coming from near today’s Beijing, he came to prominence for his knowledge of languages, and was granted a Mongol name. He was a judge in a Western campaign, probably that of Batu against the Qipchaqs and Russians. Later, he was sent by Möngke Khan to Qaidu in Central Asia, and detained there for 28 years, before returning to Yuan China. Despite his long absence from China and though his activity as judge was very short (he declined to be re-appointed as judge when he arrived back in China), the prestige of the appointment stuck, and his son and grandson were both judges in China. The shendaobei, or Spirit-Way Inscription, of Shi Tianlin is particularly interesting for the way in which it explains Mongol concepts in Chinese terms. One of these is the jasagh (held to be the law code of Chinggis Khan), which is equated with Chinese falü (statute or law code). Rather than explaining its contents however, the inscription talks about the importance of following “the jasagh of Confucius”, namely the Lunyu or Analects of Confucius. The inscription – and presumably Shi Tianlin during his lifetime – thus uses a widely-known Mongol concept to promote Chinese values, showing the complexities of intercultural communication and exchange during the Mongol era.

Funding statement: The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement n. 312397.


Many thanks to Professor Christopher Atwood and Michal Biran for their comments on this paper. Any errors remain my own.


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Published Online: 2018-2-1
Published in Print: 2018-2-23

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