UCSC seminar–Part 2
The second set of readings includes the first chapter of Rosenthal and Wong's Before and Beyond Divergence: The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe, John Elliott's "A Europe of Composite Monarchies," and the second part of R. Kent Guy's Qing Governors and Their Provinces: The Evolution of Territorial Administration in China, 1644-1796.
The Language of Union:
Conquest, territorial management (such river work and transportation), ecological characteristics, and provincial governance (such as tax collection and disaster relief) all featured in Guy's Qing Governors and Their Provinces. We only read the second half of the book. The first half is about the extraordinarily active appointment and dismissal of Qing governors, assessment of their competence, and central coordination of territorial control, tactical and logistical concerns of border defence, revenue collection for the imperial coffer, etc. Elite activism on behalf of the Qing state, along with other titanic efforts, stitch the provinces together into the Qing territorial empire. One cannot help but wonder: Why didn't China break into smaller states? Wasn't that an easier solution politically? Disunity occurred periodically in history of imperial China. The conventional wisdom that many Chinese elites believed, is the dynastic cycles will always bring China back to a unified state. But why? Why was it a better political solution? Given the diversity and political price so many political elites had to pay in order to maintain a territorial empire, I wonder why so many political forces eventually came together for the unity of the Qing state?
One thing for sure was the powerful language of union to which virtually all Chinese elites subscribed. Perhaps this time the Qing state had to forge a different language of union from before? Does the language of union reflect but not explain the desire of the intellectual and political elites to maintain their imperial vision and unity? In the European case:
seventeenth-century rulers were everywhere talking the language of union. Yet by the 1620s there are indications among these rulers of growing impatience with the system of union aeque principaliter, and its corollary of unification by slow, pragmatic, methods.
Elliott continues to argue:
war and economic depression appeared to strengthen the case for the concentration of power. Resources had to be mobilized, economic activity directed, and crown revenues increased to meet the costs of defence. All this made a higher degree of union the order of the day.
Yet in reality, small, competitive and some composite states remained the norm in Europe by 1700. Their language of union was primarily conceived in terms of "uniformity of religion, laws and taxation." In China, the Qing empire was coherently ruled by a centralized polity coupled with flexible provincial governance. As R. Bin Wong suggests, the large-scale of political structure in Qing China should be explained, not taken for granted. In turn the size of Chinese polity should serve as one factor among many to explain why, for instance, relative development of formal economy and informal economy, diverged from Europe throughout the eighteenth century.