Yubin Shen

Inspired by recent environmental historical studies on animal extinctions and human-animal relations, this paper shifts scholarly attention from the plague-centered narrative of the great Pneumonic Plague Epidemics (1910–11) to the fate of the plague host animals, Tarbagan marmots (Marmota sibirica), and examines their near-extinction in Northwest Manchuria (Hulunbuir) from the 1900s to 1930s. Focusing on changing images of Tarbagan marmots from “inexpensive,” “sacred,” and “beneficial” in the pre-modern period to “valuable,” “dangerous,” and “noxious” in the early twentieth century, it argues that three interrelated factors: the international fur trade, pneumonic plagues, and environment changes together resulted in the “retreat of the marmots.” It also uses this case study to help us better understand larger historical changes that occurred by contextualizing them in terms of human-marmot relations in Manchuria, China and beyond.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Yuan Chang

This paper examines the predicament of modern Chinese conservatism. I use the eminent historian Qian Mu (1895–1990) as an example to show that under the influence of modernity and in an effort to preserve tradition, a prominent conservative like Qian needed to “modernize” Chinese tradition so that it could be saved. I will examine Qian’s reconstruction of Chinese history, which was not just a reiteration of China’s past, but a new type of understanding of Chinese tradition influenced by modern Western concepts. By focusing on Qian’s most prominent work, Guoshi dagang , we can get a sense of the struggle of modern Chinese conservatives as they tried to fend off the detractors of Chinese tradition.

Yi Ren

At the beginning of the 20th century, American officials, newspapermen, and businessmen in China promoted and participated in the establishment of a branch of the Committee on Public Information (CPI) in China. The purposes of the China station were to compete with other foreign states seeking influence in China, to promote American values and to eventually lead China down an “American” path. The CPI China station built an image of America as a friendly country which offered political and economic assistance and held a leading position in the new postwar order, an example which China could use for its own development. Chinese people were quick to respond to this propaganda as they wanted their concerns to be addressed at the Paris Peace Conference and sought to reform their national identity. The idea of a Wilsonian international order gained support in China through effective propaganda. After the diplomatic defeat in Paris, however, some Chinese began to consider a path very different from that of America. The CPI’s promotion of a particular development path for China and new world order had various effects on the country. The propaganda came at a time when the Chinese were searching for a new national identity and gained support from many groups. In addition, the Chinese people were not passive listeners of the propaganda and did not blindly accept the information that was “fed” to them.

Pavel Ratmanov, Yan Liu and Fengmin Zhang

This study analyzes medical practitioners’ adaptation to a dynamic cultural and political scene and examines the impact of medical refugees on a local community. In the early 1920s, there was an influential Russian medical community in Harbin that established medical societies and medical schools. The organization of medical societies was a part of the active formation of a professional community and represented a thoughtful measure for countering the control of Chinese officials. The high degree of cooperation between Russian and Chinese medical personnel in the medical-sanitary department of the Chinese Eastern Railway and in Harbin municipal medical facilities was a part of Harbin physicians’ activities.

Yihong Pan

In a fragmented wartime China (1931–45), the levels of violence, suffering, and resistance varied in different regions. The Anti-Japanese War left people with different experiences and memories. To date, both Chinese- and English-language scholarship have paid insufficient attention to the more than two hundred million common Chinese who stayed in Japanese-occupied areas. To help fill this gap, this study provides a thematic analysis of interviews conducted by the author with six Chinese women of the urban middle-class about their experiences in the Japanese-occupied areas. It adds voices and perspectives of ordinary, middle-class women to the rich tapestry of everyday life of wartime China. The oral narratives of these women are everyday accounts of uncertainty, fear, and survival. More important, they are testimonies to the evolution of their gender consciousness and their determination to pursue an education as a means of resisting gender inequality. In addition, these oral narratives show how these women developed strategies in their marriages, work, and political views to reconcile with the reality of living with the enemy. Their everyday forms of resistance helped them maintain dignity in the face of foreign imperialism.

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.

Liu Yingsheng

The first section of this article begins by investigating the term “going down to the Western Oceans” (xia xiyang 下西洋), which was used as early as the time of Zheng He. It also discusses the origin of the concepts of the Eastern and Western Oceans. The second section discusses the influx of overseas geographical knowledge into China before the time of Zheng He, especially over two important periods: first, the coming of Indian geographical knowledge along with Buddhism to China from the Wei-Jin period (220–420 ce), and second, the advent of Islamic geographical knowledge during the Mongol-Yuan period (ca. 1206–1368). The third section discusses the contributions of foreign members in Zheng He’s fleet, especially fanhuozhang 番火長 (foreign pilot). Through an analysis of the records of three military encounters—the suppression of the pirate Chen Zuyi 陳祖義, the attack on Ceylon, and the battle with pirates on a return journey—we find that the term fanhuozhang appears in all three cases, showing that foreign experts were commonly present in all branches or segments of Zheng He’s fleet, and that it must have been their job to navigate in the Indian ocean portion of the journey. Based on these findings, the author suggests that even before the beginning of Ming, Chinese people had developed an understanding of navigation technology and absorbed expertise from other peoples, and that this knowledge formed the technological foundation of Zheng He’s long-distance voyages, evident of the fact that China’s ancient navigational technology was an open knowledge system.

Zhongping Chen

Using newly developed concepts of network theory, this paper tries to advance the theoretical analysis of Zheng He’s seven epic voyages across the Indian Ocean between 1405 and 1433, and to resolve some long-debated key issues on the subject. It also attempts to reveal how Zheng He helped change Sino-foreign relations in the early fifteenth century by developing tribute-trade networks overseas, and thereby influenced the history of China, the Indian Ocean region, and globalization in general. An examination of the primary sources from the network perspective indicates that the development of tribute-trade relations overseas made up the primary purpose, major activities and enduring historical legacies of Zheng He’s voyages. Zheng He initiated the construction of overseas bases for navigation and trade, and thus greatly promoted the institutionalization and expansion of tribute-trade relations between China and the Indian Ocean world. Both the tribute and trade networks contracted after Zheng He’s voyages ended because of their failure to diversify beyond state-monopolized diplomacy and trade. But their development in the early fifteenth century and their continuity thereafter brought China and Indian Ocean countries into unprecedented interactions. The dual networks also provided a foundation for the European “geographic discoveries” in the Indian Ocean later on, for the early contact between China and the West and ultimately for the globalization of the modern world. Therefore, a network analysis of Zheng He’s voyages and the subsequent tribute-trade relations between China and the Indian Ocean world can refine the current theoretical paradigms and narrative frameworks of world history, which are still centered on the rise and expansion of modern Europe and the West. It also reveals how such non-Western historical movements and premodern tribute-trade relations exerted influence on a global network revolution, which linked the old and new worlds through an unprecedented level of relational institutionalization, expansion, diversification and interactions between varied network members in global history.

Wan Ming

In the history of the development of human civilization, the Silk Road has been an important route of traffic and exchange between the East and the West. From Zhang Qian’s 張騫 opening up of the Silk Road across the Western Regions (Xiyue 西域) to Zheng He’s 鄭和 sailing to the Western Oceans (xia xiyang 下西洋) more than 1500 years later, China had a continuous desire to explore beyond its borders. At the time of Zheng He, the term “Western Oceans” (xiyang 西洋) had a specific meaning. As shown by the account of Ma Huan 馬歡, who personally joined Zheng He on the voyages, the people of Ming China considered the “Western Oceans” to be the Namoli Ocean (Namoli yang 那没黎洋), later called the Indian Ocean. Thus, it could be concluded that the Western Oceans where Zheng He’s fleet went meant the Indian Ocean. Even today most scholars still divide the Eastern and Western Oceans at Brunei, with no clear understanding of where the Western Oceans to which Zheng He sailed were actually located. It is therefore important to make clear that the Western Oceans in his time referred to the Indian Ocean, before moving on to investigate the purpose of the voyages and related historical issues. Even more important is to point out that Zheng He’s expeditions in the early fifteenth century reflected that Chinese people took to the seas on a scale larger than ever before and joined the maritime and overland silk routes together. The place where this occurred was the Indian Ocean.

Ewout Frankema


Patrick Manning has been one of the leading scholars of African historical demography since the late 1970s. This essay takes stock of his contribution to the field and highlights some of the debates in which Manning has participated over the past forty years. The essay also discusses some of the main challenges of extrapolating African population series into previous centuries, arguing that the models designed by Manning capture the potential negative consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on African population development since 1500 well, but that the next step forward requires methods for estimating the positive effects of the introduction and diffusion of New World food crops in Africa.

Dennis O. Flynn


The unconventional model presented herein—Laws of Supplies and Demands— furnishes a view of the discipline of economics as both a social science and a physical science. This essay begins with Big History origins of Earthly mineral foundations upon which the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and today’s Computer Age were based, according to prominent geologist Walter Alvarez. Alvarez argues persuasively that geographical concentrations of specific productive inputs across Earth have been essential prerequisites for existence of all economic ages. This essay complements Alvarez’s focus upon economic inputs by extending consideration to geographical concentrations of economic outputs (goods). Mechanisms that explain concentrations of final goods in specific geographical locations across Earth comprise the core of the Laws of Supplies and Demands model. The flows-only orientation of conventional microeconomics (Laws of Supply and Demand) and conventional macroeconomics—both of which limit attention to time-dimensioned variables such as incomes and expenditures—is broadened to incorporate accumulations: wealth components (point-in-time-snapshots). By definition, services cannot be stocked, whereas goods accumulate as wealth components. The Laws of Supplies and Demands provide theoretical underpinnings for widespread interest today in empirical social science investigations of wealth accumulations and wealth distributions.

Bennett G. Sherry


In the 1980s, over a million Iranian asylum seekers transited through Turkey on their way west, most moving through irregular migration channels. While much has been made of Turkey’s evolving role in more recent refugee crises, this literature neglects the importance of the 1980s Iranian refugee migrations in shaping the global refugee system. By connecting the story of the international human rights movement to the Ankara office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), this paper emphasizes the role of non-state actors. Based on research in the archives of the UNHCR, this paper argues that the UNHCR and Amnesty International used human rights as a tool to pressure Turkey to open its doors to Iranian refugees in the early 1980s, and that this tactic backfired when the West closed its own doors on refugees later in the decade. The result was the increased forcible return of refugees by Turkish authorities to Iran and newly restrictive asylum policies, which would shape refugee migrations through Turkey for decades. For millions of refugees, Turkey has served as transit hub on their journey west; in the 1980s, human rights hypocrisy made it a cul-de-sac.

George Dehner


Patrick Manning, in his book Navigating World History, suggests that world history “has the potential to become a scholarly nexus linking many fields of study” that will enable historians to escape the “national paradigm that continues to constrain most studies in humanities and social sciences.” This article will test Manning’s proposal in the developing field of environmental history by examining the topics of panels and papers selected for the annual conferences of the American Society of Environmental Historians in the years following the 2003 publication of Navigating World History. Environmental history has evolved to enlarge its lens of analysis to span both borders and time frames. Born with a strong interdisciplinary base and shaped by works that straddle world and environmental history, the field has had a natural affinity with world history. Increasingly, research topics have served to blur the line between environmental and world history.

Jean-Jacques Ngor Sène


Few scholars have been successful at articulating with as much clarity as Patrick Manning does, the relevance and centrality of African history to world history. The historical experiences of the peoples of Africa, within, above, and beyond the Anthropocene, had not been synthetized with a view of globalizing certain Forms of the African Past as integral pieces of the mosaic of the Human Adventure. This essay presents the extent of Manning’s contributions to the debates regarding the general concept of Afrocentricity in practice, namely in relation to the construction of functional global institutions where learned citizens congregate to boost humanity’s intellectual capital. Pat Manning stands out for deconstructing in engaging arrangements—that is, in bravura and substance—the marginalization of Africa and Africans in the academic deliberations about the emergence of cosmopolitan Modernity over the past six or seven centuries at a global scale. Manning-Senseï reverberates in global academia the influences of Black peoples on “the Human System in Movement.” On the other hand, Manning arguably evades the moralization of the discourse that participates in the travails for the restoration of historical consciousness in Black Africa, inducing thereby the ubiquitous question of contemporary world historians’ political responsibility.

Yinghong Cheng


This biographical essay sketches Patrick Manning’s career in world history and the contributions he has made to the field. Starting as a social and economic historian of Africa, Manning has continued to expand his interests by responding to the calls that history as an intellectual enterprise receives from society. As an educator and academic organizer, Manning taught for many years at Northeastern University and the University of Pittsburgh, established and helped to build many graduate programs and scholarly associations, and served as vice president (2004–2006) and president (2016–2017) of the American Historical Association.

Jin Cao


Over the last millennium, the priority for imperial China’s parallel bimetallic monetary system shifted from copper cash to silver bullion, a development that gained momentum with the influx of New World silver during the sixteenth century. This trend was altered when the Qing government increased copper production in the Southwest, thus inaugurating China’s last copper century around 1705. This study focuses on those provinces where the wealth of China’s copper economy was created: Yunnan, where copper for the metropolitan mints in Beijing was mined under relatively strict governmental control; and especially Sichuan, which maintained China’s largest provincial mint and favored a more flexible cooperation between state and private structures. In these provinces, the interrelations between mining and minting can be observed most closely, the copper century lasted longer and showed a deeper impact, and the symptoms of its final crisis, like counterfeiting or coin debasement, became most apparent. This study aims to reassess our understanding of Chinese mint-metal mining and copper-coin production in practice and theory. It shows the importance of the internal market in huge land empires like China but also—through its interrelation with silver in the bimetallic system—its deep involvement in an increasingly integrated global economy.

Saul Guerrero


In the sixteenth century the Spanish Empire would find itself owner and conqueror of the largest deposits of primary silver and mercury in the world, a geopolitical conjunction which would lead to the use of mercury at an industrial scale in the production of plata de azogue (silver by mercury) from silver sulfide deposits found in the Americas. Thus, two refining processes, the millennia-old two-stage smelting process based on lead and high temperatures, and the upstart based on mercury sine igne (without fire), came to share in nearly equal parts the aggregate global production of silver from the sixteenth to the final decade of the nineteenth century. These processes relied on the extensive use of two of the heavy metals most toxic to humans, and their anthropogenic emissions to the environment have caused impacts lasting over subsequent centuries. However, the successful use of haifuki-hō (smelting-cupellation process) in Japan to produce silver from silver sulfide ores with 0.2 percent silver content demonstrates that the extensive use of mercury by Spanish refiners in the New World was not the consequence of the geochemistry or silver content of the ores.

Rila Mukherjee

Aparna Vaidik and Gwendolyn Kelly


In this paper we examine some of the problems of world historical frames especially as they are made manifest in the classroom, and we show how we designed a course to resist and avoid reproducing Eurocentrism and other biases. We reject frameworks that insist on focusing solely on connectivities, entanglements, braidedness, and “Big History.” Drawing pedagogical and intellectual inspiration from the writings of Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, John Holt, and Rudolf Steiner, we make a case for widening the scope of world history by insisting that it take on board the ruptures, dissonances, and messiness of a human past that defies easy cataloguing and facile connectivities. We centered the course around developing students’ understanding of how history is constructed and written, including how we can construct, write, and teach many possible narratives of world history. We argue that a course taught in such a way can be a vehicle for deepening human understanding, for decolonizing thought, and for helping students understand and articulate their position in the world.

Tiffany Trimmer


Discussion of Patrick Manning’s legacy as a world historian must include the way he taught us to write historical narratives that not only shift between the perspectives of diverse individuals and interest groups, but also bring those perspectives into conversation with each other. This relational world history-writing methodology requires analysis of both local, transregional, and global historical forces and the experiences of people who tried to deploy or resist those forces. In the spirit of Manning’s approach, this article highlights how competing narratives about emigration from Britain and the Indian subcontinent to British Malaya from the 1920s until 1940 can be understood more clearly by demonstrating how three interest groups defined their relationship to the colony’s Malayan Indian population. Analyzing this contested discourse among British civil servants, Indian immigrant community representatives, and individuals trying to rally the Indians Overseas labor diaspora illustrates the kinds of circumstances that had the potential to promote or constrain meaningful social change for Indian-born and Indian-descended settlers in Malaya.

Di Wang

Xiaoqian Ji

Through a close examination of late Ming publisher Hu Wenhuan’s Embellishing Appearances with Fragrant Cosmetic Cases , this article shows how beautification techniques became part of the culture of nourishing life. Hu encouraged women to make and use cosmetics as a way of practicing womanly work. For men, these techniques became a means of investigating things and cultivating the self. Hu’s text is an example of amateur experimentation involving medical knowledge in late imperial China that went beyond proprietary expertise. The practice-oriented recipes in Fragrant Cosmetic Cases helped readers to translate written knowledge into practical knowledge, and to circulate them to a broad group of users that included women, the less literate, and even the illiterate. By the early seventeenth century, what Hu marketed as knowledge to nourish the lives of women had become common knowledge for male elites.

Ying Zhang

This article examines the circulation of medical recipes through vernacular literature and personal networks from the late Ming through the Qing. During this period, vernacular texts played a leading role in circulating practical instructions for everyday healing techniques, especially in the form of recipes. Recipes became a versatile textual form for recording and transmitting experience in quotidian practice. They moved among different genres of texts, providing information about healing, offering advice for entertainment, and delivering moral lessons. Literati sociability as well as philanthropic and religious commitments motivated people of varied social means to distribute vernacular texts bearing healing information to a broad audience. Recipes acquired legitimacy and authority by clearly marking their provenance and thus its relationship to particular social networks and, sometimes, a religious purpose as well.

John R. Bandy

This article examines the efforts of two county instructors (jiaoyu), Xie Jinluan and Zheng Jiancai, to bolster the security of the maritime frontier and stabilize local society in early 19th century Fujian and Taiwan. Occurring during the Jiaqing transition in which Chinese elites increasingly voiced concerns about problems afflicting the empire, Xie and Zheng waged an information campaign to lobby for local issues while embedded in county educational posts. Printing their treatises through their alma mater, the Aofeng Academy, Fuzhou’s premier educational institution that promoted a rigorous Neo-Confucian scholarly orientation, and using well-positioned Aofeng alumni to take their causes to Beijing, the instructors were able to make changes on the local level and provide Qing officials with a new source of “expert” local information that bypassed the regular bureaucracy. By producing information on themes of local governance and manipulating the elite network of the Aofeng Academy that connected Fujian to circles of power in Beijing, Xie and Zheng became models of local political action, influencing new generations of Fujianese scholars over the 19th century.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Ke Ren

This article explores the history of the Qingxi Ironworks in late Qing Guizhou. Instead of focusing on state-centered industrialization or technology transfer and scientific knowledge in Qing mining and coal enterprises, this study focuses on the individual ambitions and identity construction of two returned diplomats—Chen Jitong and Chen Mingyuan—who sought to claim authority over a mining interest in China’s southwest interior. By leveraging their knowledge of the West to serve as intermediaries between state and foreign commercial interests, these cosmopolitan yet marginalized elites sought to convert their foreign expertise and avowed commitment to “self-strengthening” into new forms of social and political capital. An examination of the personal networks and written accounts surrounding their entrepreneurial ventures sheds light on the opportunities and challenges experienced by a generation of “foreign affairs” experts in repositioning themselves within the transforming Qing polity through participation in industrialization projects.

Emily Mokros

This article introduces the “communications liaison” (titang guan)—an official category little acknowledged in past scholarship on the late imperial Chinese state. Communications liaisons stationed at garrisons and administrative seats compiled intelligence and news reports for supervising officials in distant locations. In Beijing, capital liaisons compiled documents into court gazettes and supervised the distribution of documents, seals of office, and imperial gifts to the provinces. Besides these responsibilities, capital liaisons acquired reputations for following personal and patronage agendas that undermined the integrity of the bureaucratic state. Longstanding financial and administrative inconsistencies within the Qing bureaucracy induced liaisons to misbehave. Still, characterizations of liaison malfeasance transformed over the course of the dynasty due to institutional developments including the implementation of new communications systems, the standardization of provincial administrations, and the expansion of office sales. Whereas liaisons in the early and mid-Qing periods were parties to political exchanges among the bureaucratic elite, by the dynasty’s waning years, liaisons provided services for the larger population of bureaucratic personnel. The liaisons’ transformation from spies into postmen, as seen through the eyes of official critics, offers an opportunity to evaluate the impact of major changes in the Qing bureaucracy upon some of its least known officeholders.

Chang Jianhua

In the wake of the Chinese economic reform, Chinese scholars have welcomed in the resurgence of historical social research. Looking back over the past 30-odd years of research development, it could be said there existed four general periods: A brainstorm period, an initial “beginning” period, a period of maturation and lastly an expansion period. From looking at the context of [its] theoretical development, it is clear that scholars researching Chinese social history were, from the beginning, focused on how exactly to define “society.” This, however, resulted in much debate about the different concepts of social history itself. Though the matter has yet to be settled, the ultimate research objective for the field of historical social research is in its pursuit of truth. In recent years following the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries, the interdisciplinary viewpoint(s) established by social and cultural history have also provided forth a new horizon for the development of Chinese historical social research.

Alan Baumler

This article analyzes China’s attempts to participate in and use the negotiations about reforming the international opium control system in the interwar period. China had a contentious relationship with the international opium control system from its creation in the International Opium Convention of 1912 through the League of Nations opium control system of the 1920s and 1930s. The Chinese government wanted to gain acceptance for China as a modern state no longer in need of tutelage from the international community. They also wanted to portray the Chinese people as a modern race as a way of undermining colonial opium monopolies, which made a disproportionate amount of their profits from sales to Overseas Chinese. While they were not fully successful in either of these efforts, China did manage to win some support, drawing the United States into closer agreement with China’s positions. Engagement with the international system also had a considerable impact on China’s domestic opium politics and its broader diplomatic relationship with the major powers.

Lifeng Han

The category of “customs,” or fengsu , was important for the literati of the Song dynasty in writing local histories. It covers local practices of festival rituals, weddings and funerals, rites for passage into adulthood, sacrificial rites, and the like. The main purpose behind the literati’s efforts to record fengsu was not to acknowledge local variations but to censor local customs and transform society. This paper looks at these type of texts as a discourse that is meant to promote the correct, standard performance of rites and suppress those deemed improper. It uses boat racing in Song records of fengsu as a case study to illustrate how the imperial spectacle of boat racing in spring was propagated and how the linkage between the death anniversary of Qu Yuan and Duanwu were reinforced. Meanwhile, the popular ritual of boat racing during the summer, which bore distinct violent and shamanic attributes, was strongly criticised. Through these efforts by the literati, a normative discourse of the boat-racing ritual was repeated and reinforced in the fengsu recording.

Zhao Shiyu

Increasingly, Chinese history is becoming a more significant component of academic international history. This is particularly true in light of the Chinese economic reform, whereby historical narrative has been able to go beyond more traditional standards of periodization, allowing, for example, Ming and Qing-era historical research to grow and develop qualitatively as well as quantitatively. In this sense, the field has greatly benefitted from the “ideological liberation” which followed in wake of the reform. However in a broader sense, this development is also closely related with academic exchange. Communications among domestic and international scholars of Ming and Qing history, as well as of international history, has normalized in the years following the reforms. This has not only led to a considerable influx of “overseas” historical research to China’s mainland, but has also allowed for a larger-scale access to and citation of Chinese historical research by these overseas scholars. Domestic and international scholars have, from this, established much closer academic relations with one another. This tremendous progress made within the field Ming and Qing-era historical research during the past forty years was established upon the foundation of Chinese scholars’ assiduous efforts as well as their increasingly frequent exchanges with international scholars and academics.

Hiu Yu Cheung

In considering the vital role played by imperial rites in claiming political legitimacy and maintaining social stability, Chinese emperors endeavored to present themselves as the perfect model for their subjects in terms of ritual performance. Focusing on a Northern Song (960–1127) ritual debate over the placement of imperial ancestors’ spirit tablets and ancestral chambers, especially that of the Primal Ancestor, this study aims to contribute to a better understanding of discussions on ancestral rituals and how they were intensified during the implementation of Wang Anshi’s New Policies. More importantly, this study reveals the differences between Song scholar-officials’ political positions and intellectual interests, thus providing a new interpretation of Song factionalism from the perspective of ritual politics.

Hilla Halla-aho

Hilla Halla-aho

Hilla Halla-aho

Huan Jin

The publication of The Taiping Heavenly Chronicle (Taiping tianri) in 1862 marks a critical moment in the development of the Taiping propaganda machine. Printed with copper plate printing technology that evinces imperial authority, this text is the only official history written by the Taipings in their quest to institute an overarching narrative of the movement. A systematic description of the origin and nature of the Taiping movement, The Taiping Heavenly Chronicle aims to establish Hong Xiuquan as the sole religious and political leader after the internecine Tianjing Incident (1856), which radically restructured the Taiping leadership. Using imagery, popular literary tropes, and narrative devices, this text incorporates the heterogeneous elements found in the Christian-inspired Taiping discourse to rewrite thousands of years of Chinese history.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Yao Dadui

Taiping leaders were adept at using material from traditional Chinese sources and Western Protestant writings. The Taiping Three Character Classic, or Sanzijing (SZJ) exemplifies the Taipings’ skillful adaptation of a pre-existing popular text in order to propagate its religious doctrine and political ideology. The traditional SZJ featured an appealing style and imparted Neo-Confucian values to readers. The style of traditional SZJ contained a unique pattern that was kept in latter adaptations, while the text’s content was modified to suit new realities. The Taiping SZJ followed the structure of the traditional SZJ, but it provided its own historical ideas and utopian visions, which differed from Christian Millennialism. The Taiping utopian vision was not about the future, but about a return to the period of the “the three dynasties” in Chinese history, an approach also used by Confucian intellectuals. The persuasive power in Taiping propaganda text lies in Taiping’s exploitation of Chinese and Western resources, especially in utilizing existing concepts, popular texts and cultural patterns.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

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.

Suchandra Ghosh


Gujarat’s role in the international trade network has long been researched. During the first half of the second millennium CE, the Indian Ocean emerged as a vast trading zone; its western termini were Siraf/Basra/Baghdad in the Persian Gulf zone and Alexandria/Fustat (old Cairo) in the Red Sea area, while the eastern terminus extended up to the ports in China. However, this essay privileges a single place, Anahilapura, which acted as a hinterland to many of the ports of Gujarat.

Kenneth R. Hall


Western historiography placed the indigenous Asia beyond the court political centers and the most commercially prominent ports-of-trade in the background of an exogenous (colonial) foreground. Western historical research from the sixteenth century onward privileged selected aspects and voices of the exogenous, focusing on the Arabic and Persian Middle East, India, China, and the West, represented from the nineteenth century onward by the terms Islamization, Indianization, Sinification, and Westernization. Today, historians who study the Indian Ocean give “agency” to things indigenous when they are juxtaposed to things exogenous. Local activities, events, beliefs, institutions, communities, individuals, and historical narratives are emphasized, given weight, and “privileged” over dependency on the exogenous. Simply taking agency away from the exogenous and giving it to the indigenous may seem to be a more realistic approach to overcoming the “from the deck of a ship” critique, but the issue of emphasis and privileging at the expense of “another” remains. Historians researching the non-West have tempered their previously held stance on this issue and now admit the depth and scale of influence that major exogenous civilizations (e.g., the Middle East, China, India, and the West) have had on some local cultures.

Shigeru Akita


The traditional and orthodox interpretation of the British Raj (colonial rule in India) characterizes it in terms of the economic exploitation of India. However, recent historical studies have focused on the revival or development of the Indian cotton industry at the turn of the twentieth century. This article pays special attention to the rapid development of the Indian cotton-spinning industry as an export industry for the Chinese market and its implications for intra-Asian competition.

Stewart Gordon


This paper explores relations between Western Indian cities and the supply areas connected to them. It begins with a discussion of the term “hinterland,” frequently used to describe these relations. As we shall see, the term greatly simplifies a complex set of relationships between cities, smaller towns, and rural villages. We will consider three case studies of money advanced against future assets. The first concerns the relation of thirteenth-century Jewish traders to their indigenous spice suppliers on the Malabar Coast; the second, the relation of eighteenth-century East India Company traders to cloth producers; and the third, the relation of Pune investors to taxation areas against which they loaned money to the Maratha government. In a time of slow communications and transportation the central problem was “trust at a distance”; the operative relationships were as much emotional and moral as economic. Finally, I will suggest a new way to conceptualize cities and their hinterlands.

Rila Mukherjee


The worlds of Central Asia and the Indian Ocean have been seen as discrete, seemingly unconnected except by way of the vertical silk roads descending through feeder routes into port cities situated along the Indian Ocean and its many seas, gulfs, and bays. Before Central Asia lost historical centrality and was regarded increasingly as a blank space on the map, it was a dynamic region. The Indian Ocean world with its spice, cotton, and silk routes was more known, having entered European geographical knowledge— and fantasy—from antiquity. The two worlds—terrestrial and oceanic—have been seen as diametrically opposed, with historiography privileging the latter. This essay links the two worlds by evoking people, places, and mobility through the legend of Prester John, a mysterious Christian monarch and putative ally against Muslims.

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

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Charles W. Hayford

Since 1990, New Chinese Military History in the West has remedied scholarly neglect of Chinese warfare and changed the usual stories of modern China. These studies disproved Orientalist assumptions of a unique “Chinese way of war” or a strategic culture that avoided aggressive confrontation. Scholars also challenge the assumption that Confucian immobility led to a clash of civilizations and decisive defeat in the Opium Wars, First Sino-Japanese War, and Boxer War of 1900. In fact, Qing officials were quick and successful in creating a new military regime. New military histories of the warlords, the Sino-Japanese Wars, and the Chinese Civil War show that developing new types of warfare was central in creating the new nation. All these wars split the country into factions that were supported by outside powers: they were internationalized civil wars. The article also asks how the choice of terms, labels, and categories shapes interpretations and political messages.

Editors Frontiers of History in China

Editors Frontiers of History in China