- Qing Governors and Their Provinces: The Evolution of Territorial Administration in China, 1644–1796
Kent Guy's groundbreaking institutional study of the evolution and role of the provincial governorship in the Qing period (1644–1911) examines one of the pivotal innovations that enabled the Qing dynasty to rule effectively such a large and culturally diverse empire for so long. He traces the evolution of the post of provincial governor from the founding of the dynasty in 1644 to the end of the Qianlong reign (1796) and alludes to its continuing importance in the dynasty's response to the crises of the nineteenth century to 1911.
The author treats the Qing governorship as an amalgam of earlier imperial experiments with governor-like positions that had served as links between central and local government—experiments that largely misfired either because these posts became the foci of regional opposition to dynastic interests or because they represented intrusive central interference in regional-local affairs. Among these [End Page 506] experiments, he highlights the importance of the Yuan dynasty's (1264–1368) practice of using centrally appointed agents to serve in territorial governance, as well as later Ming (1368–1644) attempts, largely unsuccessful, to pair and coordinate military and civilian administrators in the provinces.
The Qing, according to the author, overcame obstacles to effective regional administration through a series of steps taken in each reign from the Shunzhi to the mid-Qianlong periods (1644–1768) that added important features to the evolving post of governor. In general, these steps refined the routine system for appointing, evaluating, and promoting officials by factoring in and giving weight to those with administrative talent and special competencies. At the same time, the emperors carved out special appointment prerogatives for themselves that allowed them to bypass the routine process and appoint individuals to serve as governors. These officials would carry out new policy initiatives and/or had special abilities and experiences that facilitated Qing rule in discrete provincial settings, each with its own unique challenges. This enabled the Qing dynasty "to manufacture homogeneity" (p. 352) out of regional diversity. The special appointments, not surprisingly, spiked during the beginning of each new reign and also during emergencies. They decreased somewhat in the Qianlong (1736–1795) and Jiaqing (1796–1820) reigns after the institutions of governorship had crystallized in the Yongzheng reign (1723–1735), only to surge again in the nineteenth century when economic and social change, especially in the southeast coastal provinces, caused tensions between provinces and sparked unrest and rebellion (pp. 112–116).
By the eighteenth century, the author asserts, those who served as governors had developed into an extremely prestigious cadre of skilled and experienced administrators who functioned as pivotal middlemen between the court and a tightly organized provincial administrative hierarchy that reached down to the department (zhou) and county (xian). Thus, the governors played a dual role. On the one hand, each served as a central agent who was bound to the imperial agenda and court interests by the relationships that the emperor fostered through direct, secret communications and the special imperial appointment of governors. On the other hand, he also served a second set of interests as the head of tightly organized provincial bureaucracy for which he bore overall responsibility for fiscal accounting, the evaluation of official subordinates down to the county level, judicial review, grain storage and relief, military policing, and logistical support and supply of Qing armies during military emergencies.
As the governor emerged as a pivotal actor tying center and province into one stable imperial whole, his power and authority, too, gradually expanded. Particularly important in the growth of gubernatorial power, according to Guy, was the gradual increase in the governor's prerogatives in designated provinces to appoint and transfer local officials to subordinate posts deemed "important" or "very important"—posts that posed serious administrative challenges and required officials with...