It is now well-known that the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) sharply altered their predecessors’ understandings of what it meant to rule “all under heaven”; meanwhile Qing conquests doubled the empire’s land area. Initially, much of the Chinese elite saw much of this new territory as mere buffer zones, to be occupied only insofar as this kept hostile nomads from doing so. A central reason for this skepticism was that many of the newly-acquired lands were ill-suited to agriculture, the “fundamental occupation” of “civilized” life.
By roughly 1850, however, many Han literati came to see many frontier regions as properly “Chinese” territory. More gradually, they also came to see certain previously despised groups of people – including such common frontier figures as miners and loggers – as potential “good subjects.” These transformations – influenced both by changes in official discourse and changes in who was actually migrating – set the stage for further changes later: ones which re-imagined China’s far west as resource-rich territories which had to be held and “developed,” even when the Chinese state was hard-pressed on other fronts. A still further shift occurred in the 20th century, in which the people involved in exploiting these remote territories, not only ceased to be denigrated as dangerous “drifters,” but came to be seen as part of the vanguard of the nation.
First come, first served. Please click here to register.
Kenneth Pomeranz, FBA
Author of The Great Divergence
University Professor in History and the College
Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago
Kenneth Pomeranz is a University Professor of History and in the College; he previously taught at the University of California, Irvine. His work focuses mostly on China, though he is also very interested in comparative and world history. Most of his research is in social, economic, and environmental history, though he has also worked on state formation, imperialism, religion, gender, and other topics. His publications include The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2000), which won the John K. Fairbank Prize from the AHA, and shared the World History Association book prize; The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society and Economy in Inland North China, 1853–1937 (1993), which also won the Fairbank Prize; The World that Trade Created (with Steven Topik, first edition 1999, 3rd edition 2012), and a collection of his essays, recently published in France. He has also edited or co-edited five books, and was one of the founding editors of the Journal of Global History. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, American Council of Learned Societies, the Institute for Advanced Studies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and other sources. His current projects include a history of Chinese political economy from the seventeenth century to the present, and a book called Why Is China So Big? which tries to explain, from various perspectives, how and why contemporary China’s huge land mass and population have wound up forming a single political unit.