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Reviewed by:
  • The Qing Formation in World-Historical Time
  • Laura Hostetler
The Qing Formation in World-Historical Time. Edited by Lynn A. Struve. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. 405 pp. $49.50 (cloth).

This volume grew out of a conference on "The Qing Formation in World and Chinese Time," held at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1999. "Qing formation" refers to the formative period of the Qing dynasty (1636–1911) broadly construed. The concern with "world-historical time" reflects ongoing debate among historians of China over how one reconciles events and periodization within China in relation to broader global processes, and specifically over the applicability of the term "early modern" to China.

For historians of late imperial China, periodization reflects China's place in the world and engages a whole array of debates that grew out of the historiography and events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include assumptions about China's fitness to enter the modern world, European superiority, China's isolation and ability to undergo internal change, and so forth. Scholars who find that China, as well as Europe, can be aptly described as early modern argue implicitly that Europe was not somehow uniquely qualified (racially or culturally) to dominate world markets and politics. Nor was China willfully isolated during this period or innately incapable of developing and employing technologies that Europe enjoyed. Other scholars feel that using a term developed in the context of European history continues to subjugate the study of China to a model of "normalcy" and a trajectory to modernity that is not appropriate. The essays in this volume each explore questions of China's "early modernity" in different ways and represent a range of views on the use of the term.

The eight essays and extensive introduction cover a broad range of topics and geographical distribution. In this respect, the book as a [End Page 110] whole resembles a snapshot of the field at a time during a creative, not to say chaotic, period of discussion and exploration. Aimed at specialists and graduate students, the book assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. Individual scholars explore specific questions relating to the regions and topics they study, but in ways that relate to larger questions addressed by the volume and by the field. The goal of the editor was to provide a venue for exploration and dialogue about the "Qing formation in world-historical time," not to provide definitive answers.

Evelyn S. Rawski's highly readable, synthetic essay "The Qing Formation and the Early-Modern Period" (chapter 5) provides a good overview of the debates on early modernity. Rawski embraces the term. For her, early modernity signals important shifts taking place in various parts of the world, most notably "the emergence of a centralized state" (p. 208). More specifically she is interested in the roughly contemporaneous imperial formations of the Qing, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Imperial Russia and their use of similar technologies of measurement, engagement in commerce, political institutions, and cultural practices. By viewing these changes in their broader geographical and historical context rather than through the lense of national history we can see them as global processes.

Jack Goldstone's contribution, "Neither Late Imperial nor Early Modern: Efflorescences and the Qing Formation in World History" (chapter 6), critiques the term "early modern" as teleological. For him, "early modern" implies early modernity will and should lead to modernity, when in fact this is not the case. Modernity began more abruptly with the application of steam power to manufacturing in Britain. He defines it as part and parcel of the cultural, political, and economic milieu that allowed for the extraction of energy that fueled possibilities not previously imagined. To describe periods of economic, cultural, and demographic flourishing both during the period 1500–1800 and earlier Goldstone prefers "efflorescence." He proposes "late premodern" to describe the period from ca. 1350 to 1900.

The other essays are more narrowly focused. Peter Perdue examines parallels between Qing and Muscovite histories of conquest in Central Asia. James Millward views Qing expansion from the perspective of events in Central Asia from 1500 to 1800, emphasizing the importance of the...