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  • Stretching the Qing Bureaucracy in the 1826 Sea Transport Experiment by Jane Kate Leonard
  • R Kent Guy (bio)
Jane Kate Leonard. Stretching the Qing Bureaucracy in the 1826 Sea Transport Experiment. Boston: Brill, 2019. xi, 193 pp. Hardcover $113.00, isbn 978-90-04-38457-6.

Jane Kate Leonard's new volume makes a substantial contribution to the literature on nineteenth-century Chinese history. Through a career devoted to the study of the theory and practice of nineteenth-century statecraft, Leonard has shown us above all a functional Qing dynasty, facing issues of corruption, population pressure, and ecological crisis with vigor, intelligence, and some imagination. She has, moreover, become master of the terminology and realties associated with riverine infrastructure of northern Jiangsu, and the tribute grain that was shipped along it. All who study this period and the many complex issues it poses owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Leonard, and her work leaves a vital legacy to the field.

The new book represents an expansion of the last chapter of her previous Controlling from Afar: The Daoguang Emperor's Management of the Grand Canal Crisis, 1824–1826. In Controlling from Afar, she showed the nineteenth-century Qing state's response to the flooding of the Yellow River and the resulting silting up of the Grand Canal in 1824. The issue was particularly fraught since the dynasty relied on shipping up the canal for the transport of grain from the empire's breadbasket to its capital. One of the dynasty's responses was to explore the possibility of shipping tribute grain by sea from Shanghai to Tianjin, then along the river to the granaries at Tongzhou where the central government stored its reserves. Stretching the Bureaucracy details the exploration of sea transport, and shows how it was accomplished.

The unlikely hero of Controlling from Afar was the Daoguang emperor, who clearly saw the dangers that flooding and the degradation of infrastructure in northern Jiangsu posed, and pressed his officials to offer clear reports and practical solutions. The heroes of Stretching the Bureaucracy are a small group of enlightened officials committed to shipment of grain by sea who undertake the heavy lifting necessary to accomplish the trade.

Linqing (1791–1846) was a member of the Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner who rose from prefectural posts to a governorship, and also served twice in as river director. He developed specialized expertise in river management and produced in two remarkably useful volumes that summarized the river work of the Qianlong period. Linqing's point in the volumes appeared to be that lower-level officials, who actually understood the river, had no power to manage it, whereas senior officials, who did have authority didn't understand what they are dealing with.

Yinghe (1771–1839) was a jinshi holding Manchu originally from a bond servant family, who had acquired by 1825 a very senior position as adviser to [End Page 134] the emperor and supervising minister of the Board of Revenue. His two memorials, written in the fourth and fifth lunar months of 1825, proposed undertaking sea transport of the following year's tribute grain. He was the only one among Daoguang senior officials who was willing to raise the possibility of sea transport, and for many months was its only advocate.

Qishan (1786–1854) served as Liangjiang governor general and organized such repairs of canal infrastructure as could be accomplished in 1825–1826, the hiring of private ships to ferry tribute grain to the north, and the complex and unprecedented tasks of moving tribute grain off the barges and onto oceangoing vessels at Shanghai. He proved to be blunt and realistic in his memorials, and practical and effective in his administration.

Nayanchang (1764–1833) was the son of the Qianlong minister Agui. In 1825, he was the governor general of Zhili who received the grain at Tianjin and arranged for it to be shipped upriver via lighter to the imperial granaries at Tongzhou outside the capital. He was thorough, thoughtful, and committed to completing the undertaking without excessive corruption. The shipment could hardly have been completed without his efforts.

The striking thing about all four of these individuals is that they were...


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