- From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China by Matthew W. Mosca
Geography as a discipline/field/perspective, which exists independently of historical studies, currently defines itself and its relation to history. Peter K. Bol defines humanistic geography as (1) a focus on place as something socially and culturally constructed and (2) a recognition that the ways in which humans at a given time and place relate to the environment are mediated by the ways in which they understand themselves and their relation to the world. Humanistic geography has thus allowed historical studies to make a “spatial turn” from cultural and intellectual history to quantitative social science history.1 Indeed, as Yongtao Du and Jeff Kyong-McClain have mentioned, “changes in geographical imaginings [over the last five hundred years] have been no less profound and of practical significance than changes in social, political, or economic conditions.”2
Emphasizing the analysis of geographic vocabularies in general and placenames in particular, Matthew W. Mosca avoids the slippery concepts of identity and nationalism and has very deftly revised our understanding of relations between Qing China and British India. Far from being a failing empire that was unable to control its frontiers, Qing China possessed sophisticated and flexible policies, from the frontier to the foreign, to manage its borderlands. Mosca divides his explication of the Qing policy shift into four parts, which split the book chronologically and thematically. In part 1, he explores the plethora of textual information about India before and during the first century of Qing rule. In part 2, he focuses on the Qianlong era, engaging in close readings of court survey maps, Jesuit world maps, Qing imperial gazetteers, personal geographic writings, and official documents and letters from British, Chinese, and Manchu sources. In part 3, he describes how the emergence of British India, along with the death of Qianlong, had resulted in reciprocal adjustments in geographic knowledge for a new type of geopolitical worldview to form and accommodate the concept of “British India.” In part 4, he explains how Qing foreign relations became more centralized in the decades after the Opium War to adapt to foreign imperialism while steering clear of the radical idea of a tightly integrated empire operating in close alliances with foreign powers that Wei Yuan’s writings had proposed.
Breaking the mold of the Chinese universalistic imagination of all under Heaven and the tributary relations in explaining the complexities and dialectics of local-empire relations, Mosca has fused cultural and intellectual history with geography, politics, and foreign relations in his highly original and stimulating study of Qing perceptions of British India. By examining the shift in the Qing state’s external relations from a frontier policy to a foreign policy between 1750 and [End Page 651] 1860, as well as an equally significant internal change in the Qing empire’s information order in which private Han Chinese scholars began to take a greater interest in reforming the empire’s administration (pp. 2–3), Mosca reconsiders Qing foreign relations through his analytical lens of maps and written sources, which “might have influenced the strategic outlook of the state or private scholars” (pp. 6–7). Mosca argues that “the most important variable in Qing foreign relations was whether the court and private scholars considered themselves to be facing an assortment of discrete, localized challenges, or a single, integrated crisis involving the empire as a whole,” and Qing policymakers began to shift from “masterful disengagement” across many frontiers to a “grand strategy” that was comparable to that of their major rivals (p. 11), the greatest of whom were the British in India. After the Manchu rulers had defeated the Junghar Mongols and brought all of modern Mongolia and Xinjiang under their control (while gaining dominant influence in Tibet), new scholarly prominence to India as the Muslim land of Hindustan emerged in Qing China after...