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Reviewed by:
  • Qingchao Huangwei Jicheng Zhidu 清朝皇位继承制度 (The Institution of Qing Throne Succession)
  • Chia Ning (bio)
Yang Zhen . Qingchao Huangwei Jicheng Zhidu (The Institution of Qing Throne Succession). Beijing: Xueyuan Chubanshe , 2001. vi, 630 pp. Paperback RMB 38.50, ISBN 7–5077–1784–4.

Yang Zhen’s book scrutinizes the highly politicized father-son relationship between the khan/emperor and his heir apparent in the Manchu ruling family. This relationship was institutionalized as the throne succession. Achieving an exceptional merit among the existing publications on the topic, the book elaborately demonstrates every single succession case, from the creator Manchu power, Nurhaci, to the end of the Qing dynasty. Each case also discloses the participation of all who, in various ways, were involved in the power struggles over throne succession, including the ruling family’s immediate and extended members and the imperial officials both at court and in local offices. From the copious life stories, the author develops profound analyses that deepen our understanding of Manchu and Qing throne succession. Her intensive use of the Manchu archives, especially those not translated into Chinese and not compiled into publications (see bibliography pp. 619–620), makes her research extraordinarily valuable. Her proficient textual research on the most important Qing documents in Chinese language enhances the academic credibility of the book as well.

From 1943 to 2000, Chinese scholars have published a good number of journal articles and book chapters discussing Qing throne succession (see titles on pp. 15–20). The English monograph on the topic is Silas H. L. Wu’s Passage to Power, K’ang-his and His Heir Apparent, 1661–1722 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979). These publications have applied the model of a case study by focusing on one Manchu emperor and his heir apparent. Yang’s book is different in that it embraces all four types of throne succession throughout Manchu and Qing history: khan selection through noble voting , Chinese throne succession monopolized by the eldest son born by the empress , secret heir succession , and decision-at-will heir selection . The three Chinese books, which examined dynastic succession as well and containing meaningful insights in one way or another, cannot compare to Yang’s book in depth of discussion and quality of research. Zhang Yufen’s Qingchao huangsi zhidu (Dalian, China: Dalian Chubanshe 1991) is factual-based writing, more for nonacademic readers. Xie Junmei’s Zhengzhi zhidu yu jindai zhongguo (Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe , 1995) has a very brief historical narrative of the throne succession from pages 21 to 31. Xing Hongwei’s. Qingdai jianchu zhidu bianqian (Beijing: Zijincheng Chubanshe , 1996) is an edited volume with fifty-seven contributors. Yang’s book, the longest of these monographs, [End Page 280] holds the most comprehensive theoretical and narrative capacity in the study of Qing throne succession. It represents the most complete and up-to-date scholarship in this key part of the Manchu political and family institution.

Integrating the political history centered at the primacy of the emperor’s power and the family history centered at the heirship, the author persuasively exemplifies the ruling Manchus’ unique tussle over power succession as well as their matchless resolution to China’s long-existing succession problems. In this regard, secret heir selection, the third type of Manchu succession, which was initiated by the Kangxi emperor in his last years and practiced for 128 years by the Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang emperors, is particularly studied as a Manchu creation and is an emphasis of the book. Many previously untold or less-known family stories in the book vividly illustrate the origin, development, and the decline of this type of Manchu throne succession. The family stories also reveal the fact that the succession issue often instigated the most important historical events, profound institutional changes, official reassignments, and even policy shifts of the imperial court. Along with the author’s other influential volume, The Family of the Kangxi Emperor (1994 first edition, 1999 second edition, 2003 third edition), this book on throne succession significantly succeeds at showing the author to be an eminent historian in Manchu and Qing studies with her specialty in politics and family combined history.

Chapter 1 serves as an introduction and...