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During the 19th century, the great powers imposed a series of unequal treaties on China that violated the country’s sovereignty. These agreements guaranteed Europeans, Americans, and later the Japanese rights of extraterritoriality, opened an increasing number of treaty ports to international commerce, and fixed import tariffs at 5 percent to facilitate foreign penetration of Chinese markets. Qing officials launched an important reform movement called “Self-Strengthening” in the 1860s to enhance state power and combat foreign influence, and these efforts continued until China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Although the imperial court in Beijing placed its imprimatur on this political program, the principal impetus for these changes came from high-ranking provincial authorities of Han Chinese ethnic extraction such as Li Hongzhang, Zhang Zhidong, and Ding Richang. Despite the partial political decentralization of the period, these reforms had a lasting impact. Over the course of a half century, the Self-Strengthening Movement and the subsequent New Policies (1901–1911) laid the foundation of a powerful military-fiscal state in China, a polity organized around the imperative of war-making. This form of political organization combined money, guns, and bureaucracy in new ways and replicated certain institutional features of European states without, however, transforming China into a poor imitation of “the West.” Officials augmented these core reforms with a series of state-sponsored enterprises in shipping, telegraphy, mining, and banking to develop a small modern sector within the economy. At an intellectual level, authorities such as Li Hongzhang formulated a new conception of statecraft focused on the pursuit of wealth and power to protect the empire’s sovereignty. Meanings of this term remained fluid prior to 1895, but together with ideas such as rights, independence, and commercial warfare it served as part of the basic vocabulary for this new philosophy of governance. In sum, the late Qing state amassed the sinews of power with considerable success, particularly in urban areas, and strengthened itself beyond the minimal threshold necessary to retain its independence during the height of European imperialism.

Article

Emperors were the symbolic and administrative pivot of the Chinese empire ever since its establishment in 221 bce. They were arguably the most powerful human beings on earth. Their nominal authority was limitless, and it encompassed the administrative, military, economic, social, religious, and intellectual spheres to mention only a few. Moreover, the emperors’ semi-sacral status added superhuman dimensions to the imperial position. And yet, only very few emperors were able to impose their will in full. The combination of limitless institutional authority and limited personal power is the major paradox of China’s emperorship. The contradiction between the emperor’s nominal omnipotence and his limited ability to impose his personal will on his subjects was imbued into the imperial institution from its very inception. Chinese thinkers of pre-imperial age (pre-221 bce) sought peace and stability in their realm and came to the conclusion that these are attainable only under the omnipotent universal sovereign. Yet being aware of the dangers of the ruler’s potential mediocrity, these thinkers tried to create a system in which the ruler reigns but not rules, and the effective power rests with the ministers of proven intellectual and moral abilities. Although the system they envisioned never worked perfectly and allowed periodic recurrences of the emperors’ abuse of power, overall their goal was achieved. The imperial literati were more often than not able to moderate the emperor’s whims and create a viable mode of rule in which the hereditary monarchy at the top was maintained by the meritocratic bureaucracy below. Despite persistent tensions, the system was flexible enough to ensure the empire’s exceptional political durability.

Article

Alexandre Papas

The Khojas of Kashgar name a Sufi lineage, which became a ruling dynasty in eastern Turkestan or present-day Xinjiang in western China. Founded by the Samarkandi spiritual master Ahmad Kāsānī (d. 1542), a member of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order strongly implicated in politics, the lineage divided into two competing branches, one led by Ishāq Khoja (d. 1599) and the other by Āfāq Khoja (d. 1694). Both leaders were influential at the court in Yarkand and engaged in frequent proselytizing missions among Turkic, Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese populations. Yet, only Āfāq Khoja and his group of followers, the Āfāqiyya, with the support of Zunghar Mongols, created a kind of theocracy whose religious capital was Kashgar, and which was based on Sufi organization, practice, and ideology. Venerated as Sufi saints (īshān), the Khojas embodied a politico-religious form of Islamic sanctity (walāya) while promoting a doctrine of mystical renunciation. Paradoxically, although the regime did not survive internecine conflicts and the Qing conquest in 1759, the Khojas of Kashgar, including the Ishāqiyya sublineage, continued to be very active in the long run. They conducted insurrections throughout the Tarim basin and created short-lived enclaves until their complete neutralization in 1866 with the forced exile of the last great Khoja, Buzurg Khān Töre (d. 1869). In Xinjiang, the Khojas have remained venerated figures of the past until now, although collective memory kept a contradictory picture of them, oscillating between holy heroes and feudal oppressors. Descendants of the exiled Khojas in eastern Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan formed communities that still preserve relics and oral as well as written traditions.

Article

Paul A. Van Dyke

In 1684, China reopened its doors to trade with the outside world, which had a huge impact on the development of global commerce. Canton quickly emerged as one of the few ports in the world where everyone was welcomed and where everyone (except Japanese and Russians) had access to everything including tea, silk, and porcelain. Unlike other ports, individual traders in Canton could buy and sell the same high-quality products as those handled by the East India companies. As the Canton trade grew, international networks became more sophisticated; as more ships went to China, new forms of remittance such as Letters of Credit and Bills of Exchange became standard, which streamlined international finance; as more money flowed into Canton, more goods were distributed worldwide, which gave rise to globalization; as economies in both the eastern and western hemispheres became more integrated with the Chinese market, there was a parallel decline in the risks of conducting trade, which encouraged the advancement of private enterprise. One by one the large East India companies found it increasingly more difficult to compete and went broke. However, the success of the Canton trade was also its weakness. Because the legal trade was so dependent on silver collected from opium sales, and because a decline in opium sales would likely lead to a decline in rice imports, only minimal efforts were made by local officials to stop the smuggling. Foreigners were eventually able to overcome the system with the outbreak of war in the late 1830s, but this happened because the system had already defeated itself.

Article

In the popular imagination, the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is often conceptualized as one of violence; namely, Muslims destroying the Dharma. Of course, in more recent years this narrative has been problematized by the reality of Buddhist ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Yet, what needs to be recognized is that the meeting between Buddhists and Muslims has never simply been one of confrontation. Rather, the interaction of these two religions—which has been going on for more than one thousand years across the length and breadth of Asia (from Iran to China and Indonesia to Siberia)—has also involved much else, including artistic, cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges.

Article

Juha Janhunen

Ethnic groups of the geographical region of Manchuria can be understood in relation to their cultural, demographic, and linguistic differences and similarities; historical formation; and modern status. Manchuria is a macroscopic entity, Greater Manchuria, which comprises areas administered by China (the People’s Republic of China) and Russia (the Russian Federation) as well as, until recently, by Japan. Geographically Manchuria is closely associated with the maritime dimension formed by the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Islands as well as the island of Sakhalin.

Article

Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley

Famines have played an important role in China’s history. Because the Confucian classics interpreted natural disasters as warnings from Heaven, in ancient and imperial China feeding the people in times of crisis was viewed as an essential part of retaining the mandate to rule. Formative famine-relief measures were codified in China’s first imperial dynasty, the Qin (221–206 bce). The importance assigned to famine relief increased in the late imperial era, when a diverse array of local elites worked in tandem with officials to manage and fund relief operations. The Qing state (1644–1912) devoted an extraordinary amount of resources to famine relief, particularly during its 18th-century heyday. Beginning in the 19th century, however, the beleaguered late-Qing state increasingly lost the capacity to prevent droughts and floods from resulting in major famines. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, China’s nascent modern press drew national and international attention to frequent famines, leading to the burgeoning of foreign and nonstate relief activities in what came to be called the “land of famine.” After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, famines continued to be a test of state legitimacy. But Chinese modernizers largely rejected Confucian interpretations of famine in favor of the claim that modern science and technology would provide the best defense against disasters. By the 1940s, both the Chinese Nationalists and their Communist rivals called on people to sacrifice for the nation even during famine times. The Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949 promising that under Communist rule “not one person would starve to death,” but within a decade it presided over the most lethal famine in Chinese and world history. The horrors of the Great Leap Famine of 1958–1962 forced Chinese Communist Party leaders to make changes that ultimately paved the way for the rural reforms of the 1980s.