The Dynastic Centre and the Provinces

Agents & Interactions


Maintaining the connections between the dynastic court and the provinces was a major challenge for pre-modern governments. The allegiance of governors shifted easily from the centre to the provinces. Ritual and festive occasions, equally important to generate cohesion, were rarely shaped wholly by either side. Agents & Interactions examines these connections in late imperial China, early modern Europe, and the Ottoman empire. Contributions highlight the different and evolving notions of the governor, the choreography of rulers touring their realm, and the interpretations of sources describing such events. Important intercultural parallels appear, and it becomes clear that the domains of politics and culture cannot be separated. The chapters in this volume suggest important revisions and outline an agenda for comparison. This title is available online in its entirety in Open Access Contributors include: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Jürgen Osterhammel, R. Kent Guy, Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, I. Metin Kunt, Michael G. Chang, Margit Thøfner, Yingcong Dai, Neil Murphy, Christian Büschges
Open Access


Open Access

Biographical Note

Jeroen Duindam (Leiden University) is the author of Vienna and Versailles. The Court of Europe’s Dynastic Rivals (Cambridge, 2013) and Myths of Power. Norbert Elias and the Early Modern European Court (Amsterdam, 1995). Currently Duindam writes Dynasty: A Global History 1300-1800, to be published by Cambridge University Press. Sabine Dabringhaus‘ (Freiburg University) publications include Das Qing-Imperium als Vision und Wirklichkeit: Tibet in Laufbahn und Schriften des Song Yun, 1752-1835 (Stuttgart, 1994), Territorialer Nationalismus in China. Historisch-Geographisches Denken, 1900-1949 (Cologne 2006) and Chinas Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert (Munich, 2009).

Table of contents

Acknowledgements Notes on Editors and Contributors List of Figures and Maps Jeroen Duindam, Introduction PART ONE AGENTS Jürgen Osterhammel, The Imperial Viceroy: Reflections on an Historical Type İ. Metin Kunt, Devolution from the Centre to the Periphery: an Overview of Ottoman Provincial Administration Yingcong Dai, Broken Passage to the Summit: Nayancheng’s Botched Mission in the White Lotus War R. Kent Guy, Routine Promotions: Li Hu and the Dusty Byways of Empire Christian Büschges, Ceremonial demarcations. The viceregal court as space of political communication in the Spanish monarchy (Valencia, Naples, and Mexico 1621-1635) Sabine Dabringhaus, The Ambans of Tibet – Imperial Rule at the Inner Asian Periphery PART TWO INTERACTIONS Patricia Ebrey, Remonstrating against Royal Extravagance in Imperial China Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ‘True and Historical Descriptions’? European Festivals and the Printed Record Neil Murphy, Ceremonial Entries and the Confirmation of Urban Privileges in France, c. 1350-1550 Margit Thøfner, ‘Willingly we follow a gentle leader…’: Joyous Entries into Antwerp Michael G. Chang, Historical Narratives of the Kangxi Emperor's Inaugural Visit to Suzhou, 1684 Jeroen Duindam, Towards a comparative understanding of rulership: discourses, practices, patterns Index INTRODUCTION JEROEN DUINDAM Throughout global history empires have been expanding and contracting, rising and declining. New dynasties challenged their predecessors, only to be ousted in their turn. Conquerors stunned their contemporaries by overrunning huge landmasses, but their successors frequently proved unable to maintain even a semblance of unity. Chinese history, at first glance the epitome of continuity, hides repeated and protracted phases of violent contestation and sweeping geographical reconfiguration. Many dynasties, moreover, show a pattern of alternation between centralising and regionalising phases. In Europe, never unified under one single political or religious authority, the same patterns can be observed on the smaller-scale level of its dynastic mosaic. Traditionally, Europe and China were seen as opposites, with China standing for unity, harmony, and continuity, Europe for division, competition and dynamism. Echoes of this view can still be found in debates on the ‘rise of the West’ and to some extent they reflect real differences. However, such essentialist perspectives on European and Asian history tend to be self-confirmatory; they can be re-examined only by adopting a radically different approach based on focused comparison of well-defined themes. Comparative history has been practiced largely at the level of secondary sources within a restricted field of languages: it almost inevitably reproduces clichés of the older literature. Mastering the languages and research traditions of Chinese as well as European history reaches beyond the lifespan and capabilities of most individual scholars. By bringing together specialists studying the connections between dynastic centres and the territories formally under their sway, mostly in Late Imperial China and Early Modern Europe, this volume explores the uncharted path towards comparison at a different level. The concentrated and detailed chapters are not themselves comparative in nature, but they powerfully suggest the intellectual potential of combining a global scope with a keen awareness of the complications of local sources. This introduction outlines the themes under scrutiny; an epilogue elaborates some of the consequences of the contributions assembled here for further comparative research in this field. Powers wax and wane – not only in terms of territorial scope but also in the degree to which the centre can control the provinces. Imperial centres can command respect and extract tribute without actively governing outlying regions; as soon as the authority of the centre wanes, however, tributaries tend to drift away. Loss of control and political cohesion threatens even modern states supported by a technology of communication and infrastructures beyond the wildest imagination of any pre-modern ruler. How could leaders hope to secure the acquiescence of populations they ruled, particularly in remote areas? This classic question, examined at length in Max Weber’s influential typology of power, can be answered in many ways. Three different ingredients figure in most durable political arrangements, albeit in variously proportioned combinations: coercion, interests, and ideals. It is difficult to conceive of any political constellation binding together a variety of groups and territories without 1) the threat of violent retribution, 2) the promise of material rewards, and 3) the appeal to shared values and ideas. The French Revolution expanded greatly the potential of states in each of these respects, a development enhanced by a sequence of technological breakthroughs. Not only did the revolution entail a sharp polarisation of political ideas and an upsurge of popular political action; it also caused an explosion of the repressive apparatus, adopted voluntarily by restoration monarchs. The growth of state power throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries went hand in hand with a differentiating and expanding agenda of state activities, and – in democratic regimes – with a rise in the numbers of voters and stakeholders. The protracted phase of change from the final decades of the ancien régime into our contemporary world powerfully suggested a more linear view of history; it has also shaped our perception of pre-revolutionary forms of power. Post-revolutionary critique underlined the omnipotence and arbitrariness of monarchical government as well as its disregard for the interest of its peoples. The legacies of dynastic power, in the form of palaces, images, and texts, likewise suggested strength, inflated self-importance, and detachment from public needs. With the demise of the moral underpinning of monarchical rule, it became difficult to differentiate its religious-hierarchical mandate from blatant abuse and self-enrichment. Amidst mostly negative associations one appreciative note remained: monarchy had triumphed over feudal anarchy and baronial power. In the national historiographies of Europe, particularly of France, monarchy appeared as an intermediate stage, with rulers laying the groundwork for the modern state by subduing their overmighty noble subjects. This overstated and one-sided view of royal power firmly dominated European history textbooks until recently. A gradual revision of European ‘absolutism’ took shape in the last decades of the twentieth century largely on the basis of research in archives that added regional and elite perspectives to the top-down monarchical view. The language of fidelity and subservience went together with a keen defence of local corporate interests. While the monarchical state harshly punished open defiance, it accepted regional elites as necessary partners in government, as a rule accommodating local interests and rights. At the heart of the monarchical state a similar pattern predominated: open challenges were never tolerated, but loyal supporters were granted extensive rights. The household, long understood as a gilded cage where once-powerful nobles were captured in a contest for vain honours, was never wholly detached from governance. Louis XIV’s successful attempt to attach the highest nobles to his court by rewarding them with prestigious offices and privileges created an aristocratic stronghold that would persist until the revolution. The rulers themselves, whether strong or weak, relied at least a part of their lives on the support and advice of confidants in their domestic environment. In addition to the qualification of the reach and force of royal power, it has become clearer that dynastic rulers, too, cherished a moral view of their responsibilities, even if in practice they often ignored the dictates of their mandate. The tension between the practices outlined in Machiavelli’s The Prince and the moral code voiced in numerous princely mirrors reflects the Janus-faced nature of political action in general. Can this process of revision profitably be extended to Chinese dynastic power? The European perception of Asian dynastic constellations was encumbered not only by the generic legacies of revolution and dynastic propaganda: in addition it has been plagued by the clichés of ‘Oriental despotism’. While omnipotence, arbitrariness, luxury, and decadence can be found among the negative connotations of European dynastic rule, they have dominated the European view of Asian rulers from Montesquieu to Wittfogel. Montesquieu’s typology of the leading principles of despotism (fear), monarchy (honour), and republic (virtue), to some extent reflect the three categories outlined above: coercion, interests, and ideals. His understanding of monarchy, based on the distribution of ‘honours’ in the sense of advantages and titles as much as on the principle of honour, comes close to material interests. Montesquieu located the republican principle of virtue in antiquity and actually could no longer trace it in the republics of eighteenth-century Europe. The empires of Asia, finally, served as his main example of despotic rule based on fear. Montesquieu did not accept his Jesuit contemporaries’ appreciative view of China’s government and failed to see honour and virtue among the Chinese, ‘à qui’, he stressed, ‘on ne fait rien faire qu’à coups de baton’. Traditional Chinese dynastic histories, written from the perspective of the scholarly elite of officials, gave pride of place to wise advisers admonishing the emperor – their ideal role. On the whole, however, they too have underlined the unchallen¬geable powers of the emperor, corrupted only under weaker emperors by the malicious influence of eunuchs and dowagers – the scholars’ inner-court rivals. Will different sources, at court or in the regions, bring to light different perspectives? An abundant harvest of recent literature tends to answer affirmatively. The relatively small imperial magistracy ruling over huge and populous territories forcefully suggests that power necessarily was based on local co-operation and co-optation. At court, strong emperors wielding power actively and weaklings reigning without ruling can both be expected to have been influenced by their confidants and restrained by the accumulation of ritual responsibilities. No emperor escaped entirely from the pressures and restrictions dictated by his office and its socio-cultural embedding. This preliminary discussion outlines some of the issues behind the initiative culminating in this volume: 1) One of the key questions of government can be found in the changing relationship between a political centre and the provinces under its authority. 2) The post-revolutionary stress on coercion as the key element in pre-modern dynastic states or empires needs to be re-examined, allowing more room for the interplay of coercion, interests and ideals. 3) The revision of ‘absolutism’ in the European context and the reconfiguration of the history of European dynastic states on the basis partly of new source materials raise the question to what extent these changing interpretations are relevant for Asian dynastic states and empires, notably Late Imperial China. 4) Recent publications on dynastic power in Late Imperial Chinese history likewise suggest a revision of traditional images of dynastic power – can they be understood as converging with European revisionism? Only by bringing together specialists on European and Chinese history can we hope to effectively start answering such questions. Our effort took shape in two meetings, the first concentrating on occasions where rulers visited the regions or met regional representatives, the second focusing on persons representing the ruler in the provinces. These two poles form the sections of the current book: agents & interactions. While this introduction outlines the general themes of this volume, a more extensive and probing opening chapter by Jürgen Osterhammel examines the patterns recurring in the history of the ruler’s most eminent representatives. For some rulers traveling could substitute for the appointment of local agents. Dynastic rule long retained a mobile character, following a seasonal-liturgical-political calendar of movement. Most Early Modern European courts developed a single prominent winter residence but usually travelled to a sequence of hunting lodges in spring, summer, and early autumn. No Early Modern European court refrained from travel altogether – even the French court after its installation in Versailles moved to Fontainebleau for a six-week sojourn every autumn and undertook shorter trips to various other palaces. These patterns echoed the tradition of Reisekönigtum, in which the ruler himself moved from province to province, being hosted by his various regional stalwarts who at the same time confirmed their loyalty. From the later seventeenth century onwards, however, most European monarchies could rely on a more developed system of regional government, reducing the political necessity for travel – or placing it on the shoulders of regional representatives, who in turn were expected to report to the centre. Chinese emperors had long since established a sedentary court in their various capitals, but this did not prevent them from moving on hunting expeditions, inspection tours, or visits to dynastic tombs and important shrines. The late Ming emperors were notorious homebodies, hiding behind the moat and walls of the Forbidden City, some to the point of refusing to face their outer-court officials. Conversely, their Qing successors proved more mobile, sometimes to the point of provoking the classic admonitions of their Confucian advisers. Clearly in Early Modern Europe and in Late Imperial China the rulers’ travels were an addition to, rather than a replacement for, a system of regional administration. Apparently, a network of regional agents supported by a system of government by paper, highly developed in the Chinese case and rapidly gaining pace in most European countries, did not necessarily take away the need to meet in person. The feudal hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation still expected vassals to perform an act of homage to the emperor, although this ritual was increasingly performed by proxies. The highest office-holders in France pledged their oath to the king in person, ‘entre les mains de sa majesté’. All European dynastic rulers expected a share of their elites to attend ritual highlights and festive occasions, wherever these took place. Personal attendance and notably access into the ruler’s direct proximity retained great importance for elites. The numerous honorary servitors of the European court cultivated their rights of access even if they served at court only haphazardly. The persistent importance of personal interaction, or ‘Anwesenheits¬gesellschaft’, around dynastic rulers was extended into distant territories by sending out representatives who could be seen as the ruler’s alter ego. Ambassadors and viceroys personally performed royalty in the name of their ruler. High-placed personal representatives could operate as the head of a well-developed central administration in the region; often, however, they served first and foremost as a prestigious personal intermediary between the distant ruler and local elites. Most extended empires left room for various arrangements ranging from a closely monitored core territory, via outlying regions with more autonomy, to a frontier based mostly on tributary connections or alliances. The differentiated conditions shaped the forms of interaction and the status and functions of agents. Did rulers distance themselves from the population at large


All interested in the comparative history of courts, rulers, government and ritual interaction; specialists in Late Imperial China, Early Modern Europe and the Ottoman Empire.