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Rania Huntington

Among the dramatists who depicted the Taiping Civil War, attempting to find meaning in the carnage and chaos, Yu Zhi (1809–74) is unique. He wrote plays during and after the war, so he considers the chaos from two historical vantage points. As one of the earliest literati to write plays in the newly popular pihuang form, he addressed different actual and imagined audiences compared to his peers. Although virtually all extant plays take an absolute anti-Taiping stance, his plays differ from his contemporaries’ in their focus on morality rather than sentiment, and on edification rather than commemoration. At the root of these differences is an understanding of the nature of evil, redemption, and belief.

Chuck Wooldridge

Between 1853 and 1858, the militia and hired braves of Luhe county, Jiangsu, distinguished themselves by successfully defending against Taiping attack when surrounding counties and cities all fell. The historian Xu Zi (1810–62) served as a militia leader, commanding a company of troops and working to raise funds to pay for provisions. At the same time, he was writing his history of the Southern Ming Courts: Annals of a Fallen State, With Appended Annotations (Xiaotian jinian fukao). In his history, Xu Zi included anecdotes of his wartime experiences, writing the Taiping War into the history of the Southern Ming. What does history do? Xu Zi hoped it could help establish and maintain the coherence of the forces fighting the Taiping. To that end, he presented exemplary figures from the past for people of his own time to emulate, and he narrated those stories to his fellow soldiers. At the same time, his work suggests that the practices of the historian—including investigation of sources, expressions of emotion, and evaluation of policy—could provide avenues for defeating the Taiping. By writing himself into his history of the Southern Ming, he showed how the past could become a tool of war.

Xin Zhang

Academic and popular accounts of the Opium War have gone through nearly two centuries of change in focus, view, and scope. My study probes this extensive historiography by tracing the evolvement of our understanding of the war through various phases among which we saw the rise of the “China-centered approach” and the beginning of a new trend towards combining government archives with personal records such as memoirs, personal correspondence, and private journals in research. Based on the observation, I will indicate, despite their undeniable achievements, most of the existing scholarships have paid little attention to the ordinary people in China whose lives were deeply affected by the war. It is high time that we pay more attention to human experience of the Chinese people in order to understand not only the war itself but also the history it helped shape.

Berezkin Rostislav

This article examines special features of “Chinoiserie” or “Chinese fashion” (“Kitaischina”) in Russia from the late 17th to the early 18th century: The reign of Peter the First. It discusses this cultural phenomenon’s historical origins, demonstrates the role of Chinese luxury goods and art objects in the era’s Russo-Chinese cultural exchange, and illustrates how Chinese decorative arts were used in Russian palaces. While Chinoiserie in Russia was influenced by similar trends in Western Europe, it was rooted in the unique history of regular contacts between Russia and the Qing Empire. Chinese objects not only appeared as commodities in the higher levels of Russian society, they also contributed to the prestige of the Russian state. Peter the First had a political purpose behind the collection, display and imitation of Chinese art objects in Russian palaces, as these practices demonstrated the growing wealth and power of newly established Russian Empire, which enjoyed trade connections with the Qing Empire. While contemporary perceptions of China in Russia were derived mostly by the exotic images of export art, ethnographic collections of genuine Chinese utensils, which were founded during that period, also contributed to Russian views of China. This research uses a comprehensive methodology, combining studies of material objects preserved in Russian museums and written sources, including archival records.

Editors Frontiers of History in China