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In nineteenth-century China, various groups could produce political power by creating meaningful places. This article examines such politically-charged constructions in the city of Nanjing, which in 1864 was in ruins in the aftermath of the Taiping Rebellion. From 1864 to 1872, Zeng Guofan was a key figure in the reconstruction of city buildings as well as local government. Having developed a network of personnel to manage the waging of war, he now used this staff to raise funds for reconstruction, to allocate labor and building materials, to seize control of urban property, to feed the impoverished populace, and to perform rituals honoring the dead. By these means Zeng implemented a new vision of government in the city, one in which the activism of people in Nanjing, and not the virtues of Qing emperors, was the key to a harmonious society. “Tongzhi Restoration” is thus a misnomer. Nanjing’s new institutions, buildings, and rituals extended the reach of the Qing state at the expense of the personal authority of Qing monarchs.