Imperial Discourse, Regional Elite, and Local Landscape on the South China Frontier, 1577-1722

In: Journal of Early Modern History


This article describes the consolidation of imperial control and the increase of regional migration on China's southern frontier from 1577 to 1722. After a large-scale military campaign, the Ming state created two neighboring counties in a mountainous area of Guangdong province that had previously been dominated by an unregistered, unsettled, and unruly segment of the population. The Chinese literati elite residing in the more settled and commercially prosperous delta downstream from the two new counties wrote numerous essays celebrating the spread of imperial rule across this landscape. These essays also reveal some ways in which the socioeconomic interests of the delta elite were served by the state's consolidation of the frontier. The two new counties offered opportunities for various kinds of delta residents: merchants organizing the extraction of natural resources, settlers claiming newly emptied lands, and aspiring literati taking advantage of new quotas and less competition in the civil service examinations.

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