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  • Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China
  • Zhao Gang (bio)
Laura Hostetler. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. xx, 257 pp. Paperback, ISBN 0-226-35420-2.

Both in China and in the West, much work has been done in the past to examine visual representations of the Qing empire produced during the Qing dynasty, such as the Imperial Illustrations of Tributaries (Zhigong tu), various albums, and Western- style Chinese atlases. However, until Hostetler authored Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China, none of this research had taken advantage of such materials to provide a new approach for addressing the issue of whether the paradigm of “the early modern” applies to Qing China, an important question still bothering Qing historians and discussed mainly in terms of economic and social change.

The latest conception of “early modern” extends its scope to include change not only at the social and economic level, but also in the cultural realm, especially “momentous changes in conceptions of space and thus cartography” and “the emergence of significant new empirical ethnography” (p. 1). Inspired by this received paradigm and on the basis of newly assessed visual materials depicting non-Han people, Hostetler reconsiders the applicability of the “early modern” model to Qing China by examining how Manchu rulers utilized cartography and ethnography for their colonization of Guizhou, a non-Han province in southwest China during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Hostetler argues that, in this case, Manchu cartography and ethnography not only moved away from traditional practices, they also displayed two trends similar to their early modern Western counterparts: direct observation and exacting measurement.

Besides an introduction and a conclusion, Hostetler’s work consists of seven chapters and features fifteen colorful pictures, most of which are from Miao albums made in the eighteenth century. The first three chapters deal with the Qing use of cartographical knowledge and techniques introduced by the Jesuits, while the remaining four chapters focus on Qing ethnography. Chapter 1 briefly outlines the Manchu strategy for ruling Han and non-Han people, examines how the Kangxi emperor understood the complicated international situations facing his empire, and discusses the political meaning of Imperial Illustrations of Tributaries (Zhigong tu), that is, as “a claim to universality.” In her opening chapter, the author uses Antoine Gaubil’s archives preserved in his letters from Beijing and previously unexamined by scholars to discuss Kangxi’s views on the Western world, advancing our understanding of Qing relations with the outside world, especially connections with Western countries. Also, her analysis of two edicts issued by the Qianlong emperor on making illustration of non-Han people is fascinating. Hostetler’s detailed exploration of [End Page 106] these edicts clarifies for the reader issues that were all once mysterious, such as the desires and goals of the emperor for the project, the political nature of these illustrations, and the concrete process of carrying them out.

In her second chapter, Hostetler points out that “although mapping in China is as old as Chinese civilization” (p. 4), traditional cartographic techniques did not feed the imperial Qing need to consolidate its colonization of the frontier. To respond to the problems of managing new territory, such as Guizhou, Manchu rulers embraced the accurate and to-scale mapping techniques introduced by Jesuits into China during the High Qing. However, this trend was not unique to Qing China, as it also occurred within other early modern expanding empires, such as France and Russia, which were plagued by similar problems during their colonial expansion. Hostetler stresses this point by comparing mapping activities in Qing China, Russia, and France.

Hostetler’s analysis is rather fresh and insightful because, prior to this work, few scholars placed the Qing use of Western cartographic techniques within the wider context of global colonization. However, some of her points could be more persuasive if additional attention was focused on the influence of the imperial pursuit of accurate and to-scale maps upon the private production of maps. Imperial mapping was suspended with the completion of the cartographic survey of Xinjiang during the 1760s, but this does not mean...


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