- The Qing Dynasty and Traditional Chinese Culture by Richard J. Smith
With the growing archives of Manchu-written primary texts as well as the application of varied analytical methods to the texts, early modern Chinese history (specifically Qing China) has drawn much attention from the world of English-language scholarship. The Qing dynasty governed almost twice as much land as the previous dynasty (the Han-Chinese dynasty), and thus an issue that has piqued scholars' interest is how the Qing dynasty could effectively and successfully govern this vast stretch of land (including China proper and newly annexed territories such as Xinjiang) for over 250 years (from roughly 1644 to 1911). In exploring this issue, scholars have reexamined the diverse characteristics of the Qing dynasty including how the dynasty, which was ruled by Manchu people, inherited cultural traditions from the Ming dynasty and established new political and military institutions in response to new challenges. In this regard, a specific question is whether the Qing-era Manchu people preserved their ethnic identity or underwent Sinicization. The question of Sinicization has resulted in an academic debate regarding how historians have interpreted the formation, characteristics, and evolution of the Qing empire.
Rather than focus on one specific area of Qing-era Sinicization, Richard J. Smith's The Qing Dynasty and Traditional Chinese Culture discusses the significance of the Qing dynasty's many diverse contributions to China. In the introduction, Smith emphasizes traditional Chinese culture, which included a wide range of knowledge embodied in classical texts, ceremonial practices, social structures, and political institutions. Despite not being ethnic Han Chinese, the Manchu knew how to use cultural Han traditions. At the same time, however, these Manchu cautiously preserved their own ethnic identity, thus demonstrating their shared "outsider" status with southwestern non-Han Chinese and with minorities in such frontier regions as Mongolia and Tibet.
In chapter 1, entitled "The Ming Dynasty Legacy," Smith precedes his exploration of the Qing dynasty's significance with a review of the Ming dynasty, in which he discusses the establishment and evolution of prominent Ming administrative and military institutions. These institutions helped the Ming dynasty function smoothly throughout most of its history. In terms of internal affairs, Smith makes a point of noting that the involvement of eunuchs in Ming politics eventually caused political instability. In terms of external relations with the frontier states, the Ming dynasty's tributary system functioned well, especially in the northeast and southeast. The emergence of printing culture strongly promoted literature, philosophy, and thoughts in general, all of which formed an indispensable heritage passed on to the Qing dynasty. In chapter 2, entitled "Conquest and Consolidation," [End Page 68] Smith first examines the transition from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty and then explains how the Manchu rose from their tribal roots to become an influential political group in Northeast China. After the early Qing dynasty conquered the "revolt of the three feudatories," the "Great Qing Dynasty" emerged. Three emperors in particular—Kangxi, Yongzeng, and Qianlong—made great contributions to the strengthening of Qing rule.
In chapter 3, entitled "The Qing Political Order," Smith turns his attention to the Qing dynasty's political order by examining Qing emperors' diligence in their work, the structures of Qing political institutions (from the central level throughout provincial administration to local affairs), and the operation of the Eight Banner military system, all of which bolstered the functioning of the Qing empire. In chapter 4, entitled "Social and Economic Institutions," Smith investigates social and economic development in the Qing dynasty. As in the previous Chinese dynasties, society under Qing rule consisted of four social classes: gentry, peasant, artisan, and merchant. The role of merchants in the Qing dynasty, however, became more important than in the other Chinese dynasties because of the marked growth in Qing-era merchants' ability to create wealth that enriched the society at large. Moreover, commercial development in the Qing dynasty was more prosperous than in previous dynasties, and guilds and other institutions...