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Stephen R. Halsey

This historiographic essay contends that warfare made and unmade the Qing dynasty between 1644 and 1911, and its study has helped to create the field of modern Chinese history during the past seventy years. It advances three principal claims. First, the literature on war, especially interstate conflict, can serve as a synecdoche for the development of the modern China field as a whole since the 1950s. The research interests of late Qing specialists have oscillated along an “external-internal-external” axis that corresponds with three distinct periods of intellectual inquiry, scholarly production, and generational dominance. Second, historians have reached inaccurate conclusions about the state capacity of the Qing Empire after 1840 through a crude analysis of the First Sino-Japanese War, a mistake they can rectify by adopting a longer-term perspective on the state-making process. Third, scholars have deftly traced the changing role of military power in modern Chinese politics but have also adopted the interpretive categories of wen and wu from literati discourse without sufficient critical reflection. In the future, researchers may seek to explore the intersection of warfare and the environment, technology, and ethnic identity, approaches that will continue to move the field in comparative, global, and Inner Asian directions.

J. Megan Greene

Historical periodization frequently takes wars as turning points—as ruptures that signify the end or beginning of an era. At the same time, front lines have often been taken as boundaries that contain the activities of one side or the other. Thus, discontinuity and disjuncture rather than continuity and fluidity have often been the points of emphasis among historians who have taken war events as turning points, or who have seen lines of combat as impermeable. A new focus on the Sino-Japanese War period has begun to reveal ways in which that moment served not as an interruption but as a part of longer term processes of change and development that characterized China’s mid-twentieth century. It also permits us to gain a deeper understanding of the fluidity of human movement and socio-economic interaction that frequently crossed both political and military boundaries and to think about similarities, linkages, and differences between various Chinese spaces. The aim of this paper is to consider ways in which the new generation of scholarship on the Sino-Japanese War period offers new ways of thinking about continuity, change, similarity and difference across both temporal and physical boundaries that have served as the parameters for much of the earlier scholarship on the period. To this end, the paper examines recent literature on the Sino-Japanese War period, as well as literature that crosses that period, to examine ways in which this historiography has challenged conventional periodizations and political and geographical delineations.

Bo Chen

In the New Policies period of the late Qing, the central government’s power had declined due to an expansion of power at the local-government level. After gaining the right to independently fundraise during the Self-Strengthening Movement, local governments also obtained the privilege of issuing currency. Following a downward trend in China’s fiscal power, the issuance of banknotes by local government had become a noticeable problem. The influence of foreign banks in China, meanwhile, was continuing to expand, the increasing number of countries involved as well as the growing number of banks being just two examples. Because the central government lacked strong supervision, the rate of issuance of banknotes by foreign banks thus gradually increased, leading to growing prices. In addition, this dispersion of financial power further boosted inflation. Since the Qing government focused on reforming its approaches to finance and strengthening its central role during the New Policies, reorganizing its banknote policy was its primary agenda. However, to a large extent, the policy was guided by the idea that monetary policy should be subordinate to financial needs. Thus, the very limited effect of the Qing government’s banknote-reorganization policy also marked the regime’s failure to bring about the modernization of China.

Huaiyin Li

This article re-examines the formation of the Qing state and its nature from a global perspective. It underscores the key roles of geopolitical setting and fiscal constitution in shaping the course of frontier expeditions and territorial expansions, unlike past studies that have centered on the dynasty’s administrative institutions and the ruling elites’ ideologies or lifestyles to defend or question the thesis of “Sinicization” in Qing historiography. This study demonstrates the different motivations and varying strategies behind the Qing dynasty’s two waves of military conquests, which lasted until the 1750s, and explains how the Qing state’s peculiar geopolitical interests and the low-level equilibrium in its fiscal constitution shaped the “cycles” in its military operations and frontier building. The article ends by comparing the Qing with early modern European states and the Ottoman empire to discuss its vulnerability as well as resilience in the transition to modern sovereign statehood in the nineteenth century.