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This article examines Richard White’s concept of the “middle ground” and its prospective application to the study of China’s Qing (1644–1911) borderlands from the late eighteenth century. It argues that although White’s model, in its specific formulation, is problematic to apply due to the dissimilarity of Qing conditions, it yet has value and can be adapted. One possibility is advanced in the notion of “middle ground moments,” briefly explored in the cases of Shaanxi’s Dabashan highlands in a “population boom,” Hunan’s Miao Frontier in the “fog of war,” and Xinjiang’s Kashgar crossroads during the “fall of empires.” Focusing on group exchange, adaptation, and hybridization offers insight into regional cultural creation, as well as a means to question received narratives of breakdown, pacification, resistance, or Great Game struggle. Such modeling, and shared attention to accommodation perspectives generally, also presents a space for dialogue across the New Qing History and Chinese nationalist divide in Qing frontier studies.
Studies in recent decades conducted from the angle of provincial-level local self-government have done much to help relativize narratives of the 1911 Revolution in China that emphasize the importance of armed uprisings. However, these endeavors still have room to locate the revolution within a global context and to understand its implications as a revolution conducted through the conduits of culture and thought. More importantly, these existing studies are also insufficient in terms of viewing the Late Qing Revolution through a longer time span to see the Revolution as the new development and continuity of a much longer revolution that began with the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64). The Taiping Rebellion substantially weakened the rule of the Qing court. In other words, this author regards the Late Qing Revolution as a part of the long revolution starting from the outbreak of the Taiping Rebellion. Through this analysis, the author demonstrates how the Late Qing Revolution was comprised of three key components: armed uprisings, self-government movements, and finally, a revolution through words and culture including the student movements at home and in Tokyo. It argues that, to a certain degree, it is the Taiping Rebellion that made the Revolution successful in a relatively pacifistic way, and that, in particular, made possible the non-violent revolutions of self-government and the revolution through words and culture.
When discussing the trans-formative shifts having occurred in the field of Chinese modern history following the economic reforms, one cannot avoid mention of the “revolutionary history paradigm,” the “paradigm of modernization” as well as the “postmodern paradigm.” According to popular belief, the course of development taken by the academic world during the past forty years was marked by a series of transformations: First was the progressive replacement of the “revolutionary history paradigm” by that of the “paradigm of modernization”; following that was the rise of the “postmodern paradigm” and the challenging of its predecessor. This set of divisions, though logically clear and succinct, cannot possibly conform to the realities of history in all of its complexness. While academic circles in the 1980’s were largely concerned with the issues of “what exactly is the historical driving force of Marxism” and “who are the revolutionary class,” the notion of the “paradigm of modernization” was rather a product of the conservative historical viewpoint and its rise during the late 1990’s. In this sense, then, the latter cannot possibly embody the former. On the surface of things, though the “postmodern paradigm” appears to refuse the narrative of revolutionary history, it in fact shares deeper connections with Chinese revolutionary thought at its roots. In short, then, these trans-formative shifts in modern Chinese history are not a simple “exchange” whereby one paradigm transfers into the next, but are rather a process of incessant and interconnected change.