Frontiers of History in China

ISSN 1673-3401

ISSN 1673-3525(Online)

CN 11-5740/K

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The Formation of the Qing State in Global Perspective: A Geopolitical and Fiscal Analysis
Huaiyin Li
Front. Hist. China    2018, 13 (4): 437-472.
Abstract   PDF (559KB)

This article re-examines the formation of the Qing state and its nature from a global perspective. It underscores the key roles of geopolitical setting and fiscal constitution in shaping the course of frontier expeditions and territorial expansions, unlike past studies that have centered on the dynasty’s administrative institutions and the ruling elites’ ideologies or lifestyles to defend or question the thesis of “Sinicization” in Qing historiography. This study demonstrates the different motivations and varying strategies behind the Qing dynasty’s two waves of military conquests, which lasted until the 1750s, and explains how the Qing state’s peculiar geopolitical interests and the low-level equilibrium in its fiscal constitution shaped the “cycles” in its military operations and frontier building. The article ends by comparing the Qing with early modern European states and the Ottoman empire to discuss its vulnerability as well as resilience in the transition to modern sovereign statehood in the nineteenth century.

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Ritual and Politics: An Examination of the 1072 Primal Ancestor Debate in the Northern Song
Hiu Yu Cheung
Front. Hist. China    2018, 13 (3): 275-310.
Abstract   PDF (414KB)

In considering the vital role played by imperial rites in claiming political legitimacy and maintaining social stability, Chinese emperors endeavored to present themselves as the perfect model for their subjects in terms of ritual performance. Focusing on a Northern Song (960–1127) ritual debate over the placement of imperial ancestors’ spirit tablets and ancestral chambers, especially that of the Primal Ancestor, this study aims to contribute to a better understanding of discussions on ancestral rituals and how they were intensified during the implementation of Wang Anshi’s New Policies. More importantly, this study reveals the differences between Song scholar-officials’ political positions and intellectual interests, thus providing a new interpretation of Song factionalism from the perspective of ritual politics.

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Rethinking the Histories of War in Modern China
Kenneth Pomeranz
Front. Hist. China    2018, 13 (1): 2-27.
Abstract   PDF (275KB)

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Remapping Chinese Cities: From Empire’s Political Centers to Battlefields of “Commercial Warfare”
Zhiguo Ye
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (4): 519-537.
Abstract   PDF (852KB)

This article examines the late Qing urban transformation as a conscious effort by reformist officials, like Zhang Zhidong, to confront imperialist expansion and the challenges of the treaty port system during the dynasty’s last decades. It shows how “commercial warfare (shangzhan)” thought among the urban, reformist elite provided impetus for the radical transformation of traditional cities from military and administrative centers to battlefields of commercial warfare (shangzhan) against the West. No place better illustrates the urban structural changes in the late Qing dynasty than the tri-cities of Wuchang, Hanyang, and Hankou, the base of Zhang Zhidong’s late Qing reform in Hubei. Zhang’s daring urban modernizing efforts replaced the hierarchical structure of the three cities with relatively equal and symbiotic relationships. More importantly, Zhang Zhidong resurrected the concept of shangzhan (commercial warfare)—the idea that China could fight foreign expansion through commercial competition, which Zeng Guofan first used to address Western commercial advancement in the 1860s. This thought enabled Zhang to use the increasing global pressure and Chinese nationalistic sentiments to advance his reform agenda and break from the restrictions of the traditional urban ideal. Analyzing the intellectual foundations of late Qing urban reform is also crucial to understanding cities’ central position in Qing’s defensive global engagement.

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The Literati’s Polyphonic Answers to Social Changes in Late Imperial China
Paolo Santangelo
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (3): 357-432.
Abstract   PDF (765KB)

The article aims to rethink the pluralistic intellectual currents and social changes of the last centuries in China: How literati reacted to the historical changes, the economic developments, the collapse of the hierarchical order, and the social mobility from the end of the Ming to the middle of the Qing dynasty. Urbanisation, the great silver inflow, the acceleration of trade, and social mobility raised new challenges to the orthodox view of the world and to Neo-Confucian norms. These new attitudes of the Chinese literati—which can be inferred both from literary and philosophical works—uncover new attitudes in the mental structure of the intellectual strata of the time. In the history of ideas we notice a progressive detachment from the orthodox view of the conflictual relationship between principle and desires, especially in the ambit of the Taizhou school. The elaboration of a new anthropological mindset aimed at the rehabilitation of passions and desires culminated with Li Zhi. This trend went on in the Qing period, from Wang Fuzhi to Dai Zhen. In literature, a similar trend, the so-called “cult of qing ,” can be found with the moral justification of emotion-desire (establishing emotion as a genuine and active source of virtue), and with the vitalistic identification of emotions as the source of life and reproduction. Another indication of change is the challenge of common and accepted truisms through the praise of “folly” in real life situations and literary works: To be “crazy” and “foolish” became a sign of distinction among certain intellectual circles, in contrast with the pedant orthodox scholars and officials and the vulgar nouveaux riches . The unconventional character of the anti-hero Baoyu is emblematic, with his aversion for any kind of official ceremony and convention, his abnormal sensibility and impractical and na?ve mentality, and his consciousness of being different from others. The crisis of the established ladder of values can be seen in the exaltation of “amoral” wisdom and in the presentation of various dimensions of love, from the idealistic sentiment of “the talented student and the beautiful girl” to the metaphysical passion that overcomes death, and to the minimalist concept of “love is like food” in a carpe diem perspective. And finally another challenge is exemplified by Yuan Mei’s reflections on the concept of Heavenly Mandate, retribution, human responsibility, and historical constructions by resorting to “abnormal” phenomena to uncover the absurdity of reality and unconscious imagery. His questions testify the polyphonic debates of the late imperial China, besides established conventions and Neo-Confucian orthodoxy.

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Conflict, Order, Harmony: The Modern Meaning of the Confucian Tradition
Lee H. Yearley
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (2): 155-180.
Abstract   PDF (289KB)

An examination of how a focus on the reading of traditional Confucian texts as a spiritual exercise can enable us to deal productively with modern understandings of the divergences among different ideals of human excellence. An investigation of such ideals has often focused on virtue discourse, but that discourse generates understandable suspicions in many people. A productive approach to these suspicions is to examine both the idea that new virtues (such as spiritual regret) are needed, and the notion that three distinctive modern emphases must play a central role in any contemporary consideration of the relationships among diverse ideals. After considering two kinds of principled opposition to this approach, we turn to Walter Benjamin’s exemplary account of the huge gulf between modern and traditional understandings, and the possible aid some texts may offer in bridging it. Focusing on the distinctive operation of specific forms of presentation in the Confucian tradition, we conclude by investigating the idea that reading Confucian texts can be seen even today as an illuminating kind of spiritual exercise.

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A College Student’s Rural Journey: Early Sociology and Anthropology in China Seen through Fieldwork on Sichuan’s Secret Society
Di Wang
Front. Hist. China    2017, 12 (1): 1-31.
Abstract   PDF (385KB)

This paper focuses on the investigators of rural society in the Republican period, specifically research made through fieldwork on the Gowned Brothers (or, Paoge) in 1940s Sichuan. It takes up one such investigator, Shen Baoyuan—a student at Yenching University; her youthful work never became published or recognized. The present study reveals how the pioneers of Chinese sociology and anthropology, who called themselves “rural activists,” tried to understand rural China. It argues that the developments in those fields in China of the 1920s and 1940s made it possible for us today to have a better understanding of the contemporary rural problems. The investigators played an important role in the Rural Construction and Rural Education Movements in Republican China. They show us how Western sociology and anthropology were localized in order to answer “Chinese questions” and to solve “Chinese problems.” As source material, these investigations have given us rich records, which in turn have become precious sources and historical memories of rural China’s past.

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Chinese Secret Societies and Popular Religions Revisited: An Introduction
Robert J. Antony,Joseph Tse-Hei Lee
Front. Hist. China    2016, 11 (4): 503-509.
Abstract   PDF (219KB)
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