Inked: Tattooed Soldiers and the Song Empire’s Penal-Military Complex
By Elad Alyagon
Harvard University Asia Center
This is a sad tale of how the government of the Song Dynasty created and maintained a military force using the lower-class populations of medieval China. Millions of Chinese people were subjected to this system, which included tattooing.
The story of the Song dynasty has another side, one that has been hidden in plain sight. That is the story of the penal-military complex, the Song empire’s vast system for the extraction of labor, social control, and warfare. Millions of men and women lived under the shadow of the military institutions of the Song state. For these millions, the state was a violent, predatory entity. Economic growth meant exploitation and servitude, while war provided new opportunities for escape, revenge, and glory. At the heart of this group stood the tattooed soldiers of the Song military, and this is their story.
Who is this book for?
This fascinating account is a social history, but will also find a readership in those interested in military history. It also serves as a valuable work about medieval China, and the Song Dynasty era (960–1279) in particular.
You can also watch him talk about his research here:
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