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  • Volume 9, Part 1: The Ch'ing Empire to 1800
  • Edited by Willard J. Peterson, Princeton University, New Jersey

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This volume of the Cambridge History of China considers the political, military, social, and economic developments of the Ch'ing empire to 1800. The period begins with the end of the resurgent Ming dynasty, covered in volumes 7 and 8, and ends with the beginning of the collapse of the imperial system in the nineteenth century, described in volume 10. Taken together, the ten chapters elucidate the complexities of the dynamic interactions between emperors and their servitors, between Manchus and non-Manchu populations, between various elite groups, between competing regional interests, between merchant networks and agricultural producers, between rural and urban interests, and, at work among all these tensions, between the old and new. This volume presents the changes underway in this period prior to the advent of Western imperialist military power.


‘… this volume is and will be extremely useful for historians in general … at the same time, it will also be unofficial for historians of china who have the ambition to add an increasingly complex and sophisticated perspective to their own academic work. Last but not least, great parts of this volume can turn out to be inspiring for one’s own research … it should … be pointed out that the CHC, volume 9, part 1, for the first time perhaps, recognizes, in a sinological context outside of the narrow field of Manchurists and specialists of Ch'ing warfare, the crucial importance of Manchu sources for our understanding of both Manchu and Ch'ing history.’

Source: Etudes Chinoises

' … The Ch'ing dynasty to 1800 has all it takes to become a standard reference work on early and mid-Qing history.'

Source: School of Oriental & African Studies

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  • 1 - State Building before 1644
    pp 9-72
  • DOI:
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    The military success in 1644 and the subsequent expansion of the Ch'ing empire were rooted in two centuries of Jurchen multilateral relationships with Koreans, Mongols, and Chinese in the Northeast. During the Ming dynasty, Chinese distinguished three groups of Jurchens: the Wild Jurchens, the Hai-hsi Jurchens, and the Chien-chou Jurchens. By 1500, sable was a main item of trade between the Jurchens and China and Korea, and its volume continued to increase. Hung Taiji tried to establish Chinese equality with Manchus. International trade continued as a monopoly of the eight banners. Banner missions went to northern Manchuria in search of sable and to Ming borders to buy Chinese goods. The organizational and conceptual foundations laid during Nurhaci and Hung Taiji's reigns allowed the Manchus to make the successful transition and take advantage of events in north China.
  • 2 - The Shun-chih Reign
    pp 73-119
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    The Shun-chih reign is poorly documented and understood period. This chapter describes the process of political and military consolidation and the integration of the Han Chinese scholar-official elite into it. The death of Hung Taiji on September 9, 1643, presented the young Ch'ing state with its first major political crisis. In a manifesto that circulated with the Ch'ing pacification commissioners in the lower Yangtze region, Ch'ing praised Dodo's troops for their discipline and appealed to the literati to remember the myriad souls of the people. The momentum of conquest seems to have kept the Manchus together, as it had under Hung Taiji, but the factional rifts grew deeper as Dorgon acted more and more like the emperor his brothers Ajige and Dodo had wanted him to be. Dorgon got tired of the campaign to prevent corruption and factional division within the Chinese bureaucracy. The anticorruption edict had specifically attacked the Ministry of Revenue for ignoring inequities in tax collection.
  • 3 - The K'ang-hsi Reign
    pp 120-182
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    This chapter introduces the political history of the K'ang-hsi reign under six broad topical headings. They are: the accession to power of the young emperor; his reunification of the realm; his consolidation of imperial borders; the factional politics of his reign; the major administrative and economic policies; and some reflections on the cultural life. In 1678, the K'ang-hsi Emperor began to try and rally the Han Chinese literati more firmly behind the Ch'ing dynasty. The boy Hsüan-yeh, third son of the Shun-chih Emperor, was named heir apparent to the imperial throne when he was seven years old. Much of the credit for unification must go to the K'ang-hsi Emperor, giving him, if not the aura of a Ch'in Shih-huang-ti or a Sui Wenti, at least that of a Han Kao-tsu or Sung T'ai-tsu. Domestic consolidation and frontier stability were intimately linked as aspects of politics in the K'ang-hsi Emperor's thinking.
  • 4 - The Yung-cheng Reign
    pp 183-229
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    Nien Keng-yao, a member of the Han-chün bordered yellow banner and a 1700 chin-shih, had already established himself as both an administrator and a military leader before the Yung-cheng reign. Tseng Ch'ing's impeachment, taken together with the writings of Lü Liuliang, posed a grave challenge to the Ch'ing mandate to rule and to the Yung-cheng emperor's legitimacy as sovereign. Secret palace memorials were the chief means by which the emperor developed bonds of trust between himself and certain officials. Yung-cheng saw being emperor as a duty entrusted to him by Heaven and he felt uniquely equipped for the job not simply because Heaven had singled him out as possessing virtue. Of all the policies pursued during the Yung-cheng reign, military actions initiated in the mid-1720s would have the most enduring impact on the future of the Ch'ing empire. Under the Yung-cheng emperor, a series of measures were taken which hastened the colonization of Taiwan and the displacement of native populations.
  • 5 - The Ch'ien-lung Reign
    pp 230-309
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    Ch'ien-lung was, first of all, the emperor who finally ended independent nomad power in central Asia, with his defeat of the Dzungars in the 1750s. The instability of the Ch'ien-lung court, as it appeared to shrewd Chinese officials by looking back after the emperor Ch'ien-lung's death, had to do with the ethnic elements in the monarchy's double identity. This chapter describes Ch'ien-lung's five wars in Sinkiang and Tibet, and the postwar political and social orders in those regions. Chu Yün, the Anhwei educational commissioner representative of the scholars' hopes for the construction of an imperial treasury of Confucian learning. In 1779, the Ch'ien-lung emperor used censorship not merely to repress dissent but to shape politics in slightly more benign ways. Political theorists of the Ch'ien-lung reign and its aftermath were concerned by the breakdown of communications between rulers and ruled in the empire.
  • 6 - The Conquest Elite of the Ch'ing Empire
    pp 310-359
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    The conquest elite of the earlier Ch'ing underwent marked changes as expansion transformed the geographical contours, cultural content, and political dynamics of the empire. Distributions of affiliation and status in the early decades of the Ch'ing conquest were based on the previous decades of state and imperial formation. The three khans of Khalkha, who had established close ties with the Ch'ingin the Hung Taiji reign, were willing in the early decades after the conquest of north China to have their territories incorporated into the empire. As with other groups who had been incorporated into the Ch'ing conquest elite and understood the opportunities, the leading lineages of the Three Feudatories, the Wu, Keng, and Shang families, attempted to exploit Ch'ing dependence. Many educated members of the conquest elite became in effect historians, translating the deeds of their predecessors and in many cases of themselves into chapters in the imperial narrative.
  • 7 - The Social Roles of Literati in Early to Mid-Ch'ing
    pp 360-427
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    This chapter presents an institutional and social analysis of the transformation of literati roles from 1650 to 1800, the early and mid-Ch'ing period. It describes the interactions between the examination marketplace and elite cultural practice. The chapter explores the rise of Han Learning and interest in natural studies, which shows importance of literati intellectual life in and outside the precincts of the Ch'ing state. Ch'ing examinations include policy questions dealing with the statecraft issues of fiscal policy, military organization, or political institutions of the day. Under the provincial education commissioners, three categories of Ming-Ch'ing local education officials were placed incharge of the schools. When the Ming dynasty came to power in 1368, the Han-lin Academy was a fully developed government institution. One factor that distinguished Ch'ing scholars from their Ming predecessors was the prominence of academies in forming a relatively autonomous intellectual community committed to evidential research.
  • 8 - Women, Families, and Gender Relations
    pp 428-472
  • DOI:
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    This chapter traces the rising visibility of commoner households and the growth of extrafamilial networks of homosociability in early Ch'ing to 1800. It examines the impact of the Ch'ing conquest on women and gender relations, and stresses the ruptures that separate the late Ming and early Ch'ing periods. The chapter emphasizes overarching continuities especially those based on economic development that span the late Ming and early Ch'ing periods to shape gender relations. The science of women's medicine, begun in Sung times, had become a well-funded enterprise by the late Ming period. Both men and women in late Ming and Ch'ing China were being drawn into family relations and sojourning networks structured by economic relations, territorial expansion, and patterns of mobility that drew males and females apart. The chapter focuses on women's oppression that masked the importance of same-sex relations, of sojourning patterns, and of other historical changes.
  • 9 - Social Stability and Social Change
    pp 473-562
  • DOI:
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    The early and mid-Ch'ing era was one of extraordinary social dynamism and, indeed, transformation. The single dominating fact of early and mid-Ch'ing social history is population growth. This chapter explores division of geographic mobility into two varieties: permanent migration for resettlement, and relocation conceived by the party as a temporary sojourn. Hunan's early Ch'ing commercial boom led to far more pronounced social stratification, but tremendous payoffs for the most fortunate, reflected in a greatly increased incidence of examination success. An area reflecting social change was family and kinship. One of the vital arenas of social change in this era was in the empire's thousands of cities and towns. Early Ch'ing commercial prosperity in Kiangnan led to the rapid spread of largely urban plague-god cults, such as that of Marshall Wen, which had existed for centuries in Wenchou, Chekiang. The society that emerged from the mid-Ch'ing period was irreversibly different from what had entered the period.
  • 10 - Economic Developments, 1644–1800
    pp 563-646
  • DOI:
  • View abstract
    This chapter describes significant economic developments before 1800 and explains why they occurred. According to Chinese historians, embryonic capitalism appeared several centuries later in China than in Europe, but they were weak, and had atrophied by the 1800s. The chapter elucidates how state and private economic organizations, operating under new institutions or rules, reduced the economy's transformation and transaction costs. Recognizing that excessively taxing China's depressed and fragmented economy, the Ch'ing government tried to coordinate tax collection under central government control and disburse funds to lower administrations without imposing higher taxes. The Ch'ing government was committed to building an ideal Confucian society based on the rural way of life, in which peace, social harmony, and minimal prosperity would reign. The Chinese people responded to the Ch'ing reforms and the incentives and positive externalities that followed by organizing their households, lineages, and communities in ways that promoted growth.

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