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  • Managing Frontiers in Qing China: The Lifanyuan and Libu Revisited ed. by Dittmar Schorkowitz and Chia Ning
  • Carl Déry
Managing Frontiers in Qing China: The Lifanyuan and Libu Revisited. Edited by dittmar schorkowitz and chia ning. New York: Brill, 2017. 462 pp. $146.00 (hardcover).


This book offers a stimulating overview of recent studies on Qing dynasty's institutions related to managing frontier issues and non-Han peoples, the Lifanyuan 理藩院 and the Libu 礼部. Since it represents "the first comprehensive study" on Lifanyuan (Di Cosmo, p. viii), it will certainly be warmly welcomed by scholars of the Qing dynasty, but it also offers a World historical comparative perspective, revealing a unique practice of early modern empire building, departing from both Western imperial narratives as well as Chinese political traditions. The book originated from a conference that took place in April 2011 at the Max Planck Institute, and the resulting edited work has been very well achieved. Despite differences in tone and viewpoint, cohesiveness is reinforced by the addition of colored maps and illustrations, insightful tables, a glossary for Chinese words and expressions, as well as detailed bibliographies for each chapter. Most of the texts have also benefited from recent publications of rarely studied archives in Manchu, Chinese, and Mongolian, including court regulations and case management taken from the Collected statutes, as well as various official reports (tiben, 题本) issued by the Lifanyuan, providing evidence on the day-to-day businesses of the institution. Following a rich and detailed introduction that recalls the historiography of studies on both institutions, the book is divided into 13 chapters to which 14 different authors have contributed. The texts are chronologically presented, but some are more introductory in tone or have a focus on specific functions, and others have a comprehensive stance or a longue durée approach. In order to do justice to this diversity, I have chosen a brief presentation for each chapter rather than proposing an attempt to synthesize the whole.

The first chapters are concerned with the formative years of the Lifanyuan. Chia Ning begins by comparing the evolving roles and structures of the Lifanyuan and the Libu during the process of early Qing empire building (pp. 43–69). As the Libu was a Ming-inherited institution and the Lifanyuan was created in 1638 as an extension of the Menggu yamen 蒙古衙门, previously established by the Qing in 1634 for the management of Manchu-Mongol relations, the two bodies worked in cooperation in the early years of the dynasty. But the more the conquest of Inner Asia went on, the more their "basic spheres of responsibilities [were] partitioned" as Lifanyuan's responsibility increased significantly, and "Libu's activities became more and more [End Page 409] limited to tribute affairs outside the Inner Asian zone" (pp. 44–45). A clear distinction of duties was established by an imperial decree of Yongzheng in 1726, and the difference between the two institutions came to be related to their zones of activities and their tasks, their structures, and their lines of communication with the emperor as well as to the nationality of their various members, as for example, Mongols accounted for over 56% of Lifanyuan's officials and less than 1% of those of the Libu (p. 51). Despite distinctive features, they nonetheless often work hand in hand with regard to questions of morality, ritual affairs, and religious life. Moreover, while the Libu tended to work in close cooperation with other imperial bureaus and agencies, the Lifanyuan, in contrast, "largely relied on itself in dealing with all kinds of duties that went along with governing Inner Asia" (p. 54). Michael Weiers' chapter brings us to the core of the Manchu-Mongol origins of the Lifanyuan, as he emphasizes the impact various political events had on the transformation of the institution throughout its formative period, between 1638 and 1764 (pp. 70–91). The author especially warns us about the changing political discourse of the Qianlong emperor after 1764, resulting in "textual alterations" (p. 77) and historical reinterpretations on the origin and the evolution of the institution. To avoid these pitfalls, he invites us to consult original documents and pre-Siku quanshu 四库全书 sources. Therefore, the recent...


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