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52 China Review International: Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1995 Beatrice S. Bartlett. Monarchs and Ministers: The Grand Council in MidCh 'ing China, 1723-1820. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1991. xxi, 417 pp. Paperback $18.00. In this work, Beatrice S. Bardett examines the origins and development of the Grand Council, a powerful group ofadvisors to the emperors ofthe middle and late Qing dynasty. She describes how the Grand Council, which was created to increase administrative efficiency and maximize imperial control, grew to dominate the administration of the Chinese empire. The result, she argues, was the gradual transformation of central government decision making from direct monarchical control to ministerial administration, a development that "enabled the dynasty to rise to greatness in its middle years and at the end prolonged its life" (p. 1). In the first part of the book (chapters 1^4), Professor Bartlett describes the origins of the Grand Council during the reign of the Yongzheng emperor (1723— 1735), characterizing its formation as part ofa monarchical strategy to increase imperial control over the central government administration by circumventing the bureaucracy and relying on a small, handpicked group ofloyal councillors. She bases her analysis on an "inner court/outer court" model in which the monarch and councillors ofthe "inner court" are pitted against the bureaucrats of the "outer court," where the ostensible goal of the latter was to isolate the emperor and increase their control over the administration of the realm. Within this analytical framework, the Yongzheng emperor's creation of a confidential, extralegal advisory group is presented as a victory ofthe "inner court" imperial faction over the ambitions of the "outer court" bureaucratic faction. Professor Bartlett argues that the Yongzheng emperor was able to solidify his personal control over the central government by keeping the Grand Council "small and weak," while simultaneously increasing the scope of its activities. His strategy for accomplishing this, she explains, was to prevent the councillors from concentrating their power in a single, strong organization, and to rely on "scattered " groups ofimperial advisors and their staffs. Thus, the emperor avoided establishing a permanent ministerial agency, instead appointing ad hoc committees to deal with important issues. By these means, he was able to rule autocratically, supervising and coordinating policies with the assistance of a loyal, yet fragmented , group of advisors. By contrast, Professor Bartlett argues that the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-© 1995 by University 1795) presided over a "consolidated" Grand Council, the ambitions ofwhose oj awai ? ressmembers led to a gradual usurpation ofimperial prerogatives. Thus, in the second part ofthe book (chapters 5-7), her description of the "mature" Grand Council that emerged after the death ofthe Yongzheng emperor focuses on what Reviews 53 she calls "the council's astonishing rise to dominance over the central government " (p. 3). She writes that during the Qianlong emperor's sixty-year reign and the three years following his formal abdication (1796-1799), the Grand Council enlarged its responsibilities and gradually expanded its influence over the administration of the Chinese empire. She concludes that by the nineteenth century, described in the third part of the book (chapter 8, Epilogue), neither the emperor nor the outer court bureaucracy was able to mount a significant challenge to the Grand Council's predominant role in central government decision making. As this brief overview suggests, Monarchs and Ministers is a vital source for anyone interested in the political or institutional history of the Qing dynasty. Based on a wealth ofarchival and published sources from Taiwan and Beijing, the bookprovides a fascinating glimpse into the personalities and politics ofeighteenthcentury China, challenging and refining previous assumptions about the origin, organization, and functions of the Grand Council. Moreover, Professor Bardett's detailed descriptions of Qing communications systems and archival materials, the culmination ofyears ofresearch and writing on the Chinese imperial archives, make the book an indispensable source for historians of China's last dynasty. Despite, or perhaps because of, the overall value of the book, some ofits conclusions are certain to provoke further study and debate. For example, Professor Bartlett's reliance on an inner court/outer court model is somewhat problematic. Although she attempts to differentiate between inner court...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 52-55
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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