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Reviewed by:
  • Gengzi qinwang yu wan Qing zhengju
  • Justin Jacobs (bio)
Sang Bing 桑兵. Gengzi qinwang yu wan Qing zhengju 庚子勤王与晚清政局 (The 1900 loyalist movement and late Qing politics). Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2004. 488 pp. Paperback 37.00 RMB, isbn 7-301-07079-9.

Originally published as a series of separate essays on the 1900 loyalist movement and late Qing politics in general, Sang Bing's Gengzi qinwang yu wan Qing zhengju (2004) strives mostly to complicate the received historiographical demarcation of "revolutionaries" from "reformers." In the process, Sang methodically pokes holes in what he sees as the misleadingly righteous—and historically manipulative—rhetorical façade of Kang Youwei, and, to a lesser extent, his former disciple and frequent disputant Liang Qichao. Indeed, were it not for the inclusion of a lengthy, polemical introductory chapter in which Sang sounds off against the recent and decidedly lamentable invasion of theory-driven foreign scholarship into mainland scholarship, the author could very well have paid tribute to the unofficial dean of American postmodern scholarship on China by retitling his book Rescuing History from the Baohuanghui. It is precisely Kang's and Liang's "heavy hands in manufacturing the historical record that leads to such widespread confusion in [evaluating] the importance and authenticity of the documents available" to the historian (p. 6). Add to that Sang's conviction that Kang and his disciples consistently "aimed to overstate their own role in the 1898 reform movement and suppress that of others … while simultaneously taking great pains to conceal their critical role in the armed uprisings of the 1900 loyalist movement" (p. 7), and Sang has convincingly made the case for a thorough reappraisal of a Kang-Liang-centered narrative of late Qing politics.

Sang Bing prefaces his study with a majestic tirade against the intrusion of theory-laden, "outside" scholarship into the field of Chinese history, and more specifically the "young scholars" in China who have recently adapted this fashionable—and conspicuously foreign—theory to a historical milieu supposedly ill-suited for its application. In form and content, Sang's critique of such scholarship closely resembles the empiricist side of the well-known 1998 debate in the pages of the journal Modern China regarding the utility and applicability of postmodern scholarship in the field of Chinese history.1 Sang accuses such historians of letting "theory take precedent" (guannian xianxing 观念先行) and forming conclusions "not based on what the historical documents actually record as having happened, but rather on theories that have arrived from abroad after the events in question took place" (p. 3). He deplores empirically handicapped scholars who "look at a text and invent meaning" (wangwen shengyi [End Page 539] 望文生义) and rely upon "supratextual analysis" (yanwai zhiyi 言外之意, or "meaning outside the text").

Having stated emphatically his lack of patience for theoretical musings that depart from the source material, Sang Bing then proceeds to delve into a flood of detail culled largely from a slew of new diaries (penned mostly by reformers and overseas Chinese) and Baohuanghui 保皇会 ("Protect the Emperor Society") documents that have come to light since the late 1970s. The reformist diaries and collected jottings include those of Sun Baoxuan 孫寶瑄, Zheng Xiaodan 鄭孝蛋, and Wang Kangnian 汪康年, while the Baohuanghui-related documents pertain to speeches and published material that appeared in overseas Chinese communities in the United States, Japan, and Singapore. This wealth of new material, Sang laments, has scarcely been acknowledged by the current generation of historians. "Though today's scholars have access to materials that were far beyond the grasp of their predecessors, our ability to read such sources scarcely approaches that of our forebears … and the number of people who are even looking at these sources today is decreasing daily" (p. 12). If Sang Bing is, indeed, the besieged gatekeeper of a dying breed of old-fashioned empiricist historians, then is it fair to say that his magnum opus on late Qing politics is a defiant and successful testament to the continued relevance of staunchly empirical scholarship painstakingly founded on a mountain of sources and details?

The answer is less enthusiastic than it should be for a scholar as accomplished and capable as Sang Bing. Gengzi qinwang yu wan Qing zhengju contains a mind...


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