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Roger V. Des Forges

From 1644 to 2003, many Chinese historians and novelists debated the existence and the identity of a provincial graduate from Qi county in Henan province who reportedly helped the commoner rebel Li Zicheng overthrow the Ming polity (1368−1644) only to be suspected of disloyalty and killed by the rebel leader, thus clearing the way for the Qing that ruled China from 1644 to 1911. In 2004 there was discovered a genealogical manuscript that goes far towards solving the Li Yan puzzle and allows us to see how rumors were incorporated into histories and literary works that appealed to a wide variety of people over the course of three and a half centuries. In this essay, I compare and contrast the emerging mythistorical figure of Li Yan with other scholar-rebel-advisors in Chinese and world history and suggest that he was most akin to the Lord Chancellor Thomas More in sixteenth-century England who spoke truth to power and was celebrated in twentieth-century history and literature.

Daniel Barish

The physical spaces of imperial education during the Qing were carefully constructed sites of political architecture that sought to shape the behavior of princes, emperors, and their teachers while projecting dynamic images of power. This article examines a range of buildings associated with the Qing pedagogical apparatus. It argues that the changing spaces of imperial education drew on both classical ideals and international iconographies of power to create and disseminate a fluid vision of rule. In the eighteenth century, the Qianlong emperor ordered the construction of the Biyong Hall at the center of the Imperial Academy in Beijing for exclusive use by the emperor during the Imperial Lecture, combining classical Han Chinese and Manchu expressions of authority. Throughout the nineteenth century, heirs to the throne and young emperors were trained in classrooms filled with calligraphy penned by their ancestors. Aphorisms drawing on the Confucian classics, as well as Daoist and Buddhist texts, urged the young rulers to strive for dynastic renewal. Finally, at the start of the twentieth century as the Qing worked to transition to a constitutional monarchy, imperial classrooms around Beijing were infused with Western architectural styles, incorporating new strands of authority for the reforming Qing dynasty.

Sarah Schneewind

Although post-mortem apotheosis and secular honor in temples have received more attention, shrines to living men were also ordinary institutions from Han times onwards in Chinese history. Previous scholarship so far on pre-mortem shrines in Tang and Song relates them to pre-mortem commemoration in inscribed records of local commendation on the one hand and Neo-Confucian Daoxue Shrines to Local Worthies on the other. That scholarly work suggests that Tang and Song premortem shrines when political were basically elite institutions; and that when common people were involved their motivations were religious rather than political. In Ming times, by contrast, premortem shrines were normatively established by commoners and constituted a venue for popular political participation, while the steles commemorating the shrines explicitly argued that non-elite people had the right to political speech. This article speculates, as a hypothesis awaiting further research, that both Yuan modes of government generally, and creative uses of premortem enshrinement in Yuan times specifically, may have contributed to Ming populism.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Patrick Fuliang Shan

This article investigates one of the last polygamous families in modern China, the household of Yuan Shikai, who was the first president of the Republic of China. Before his presidency, Yuan was a prominent reformer and high-ranking official in the late Qing Empire. Although he implemented numerous influential progressive reforms to promote China’s modernization, he himself led a traditional private life within his own home: He married ten women, built himself a large harem, and fathered thirty-two children. This article explores Yuan’s polygamous marriages by revealing the characteristics of his marital life, probing the styles of his nuptial experience, and examining his approach of managing his family. Through this study, we can see another aspect of China’s transformation from tradition to modernity, along with its national transformation from empire to republic. Therefore, this study help us not only explore the long-relinquished old-style marriage system and uncover a long forgotten system of spousal union, but also unmask the role of polygamy in shaping the lives of Chinese social and political elites before its final abolition in the early 20th century.

Di Wang