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Reviewed by:
  • Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times: A Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman
  • Zheng Yangwen (bio)
Jospeh W. Esherick , editor. Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times: A Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman. Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2006. 323 pp. Paperback $25.00, ISBN 1–55729–084–9.

This volume showcases some of the key subject matters that Frederic Wakeman dealt with in his career, and it is a perfect tribute to a man who was more than "a scholar, a teacher and a friend."

Part 1,"Unofficial Accounts," sheds light on sources. As Mark Elliot gave an excellent review of the Qing biji that yielded vital information on Manchu origin, institution, and culture, Richard Shek helps us make sense of the appalling sixteenth-century Ming emperors through Journey to the West—real life characters in "fictional garb." Melissa Macauley traces the bad image of litigation masters in popular gossip or fiction, public notices, and official guidebooks even though evidences of their alleged misconduct are few in legal archives. Ann Waltner discusses aspects of transgression and displacement in Six Records of a Floating Life.

What these four chapters, and indeed a few other chapters in this volume, speak to is the importance of unofficial/unconventional sources—biji, fiction, public notices, or official guidebooks, memoirs, and later account books and family genealogy. They explain to us the ways in which we can read them; they also caution us to potential problems. These chapters should be must-reads for entry-level graduate students so that they learn to decipher the code early. Perhaps we [End Page 426] should even encourage them to start with and pay more attention to these unofficial and unconventional sources as they provide us with an equal amount, if not more, information—sometimes vital leads—than the so-called official/conventional sources when it comes to sensitive or marginal topics.

Part 2, "Politics in Economy," discusses the role of political regimes/states in local economic development. Sifting through scanty sources, Madeleine Zelin has dug deeply into the local, socioeconomic and political grounds behind the slow development of eastern Sichuan's coal industry. The Canton delta has been praised as a model of economic development; Robert Eng traces the rise of the delta region through cash cropping and, more important, polder reclamation. Local power brokers, when a strong state was missing from the picture, held the key to local economy. This was the same with another locality and another product as Linda Grove demonstrates that Chinese merchants in Tianjin often sold Japanese cloth or products made with them in Chinese brands. It was, therefore, impossible to tell the difference between tu, or indigenous, and yang, or foreign/imported, when politics—economic nationalism in this case—intervened between commerce and consumption.

These three chapters demonstrate how local sociopolitics, in the absence of a strong state, fundamentally affected the ways in which regional economies developed. These sociopolitics, be they local land tenure in the case of eastern Sichuan, local social organization in the case of the delta region, or economic nationalism, dictated the commercialization and industrialization of a region and, therefore, the economic well-being of its people. In our effort to better understand Chinese economic development, and in particular the role of political regimes and states, it is probably better, as these chapters show, to tackle local socioeconomic and cultural traditions/institutions and dominant national politics first since they matter a great deal in the making of local economies.

Part 3, "Beyond the Binary," compares and contrasts historical processes. By examining the intellectual exchange, if not quarrel, between Jesuit missionaries and Chinese scholars, Lionel Jenson illustrates the pluralism of Chinese cultural ecology and the sinicisation of Catholicism, which bore much resemblance to that of Buddhism. It also speaks to the sinicisation of a few other foreign ideas and ideologies in the late nineteenth and the entire twentieth century. Jenson has indeed taught us how to look and walk beyond the binary. By comparing the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion and the terrorist attacks of September 11, Jeffrey Wasserstrom enlightens us...


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pp. 426-429
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