Qing Statesmen, Archivists, and Historians and the Question of Memory
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The great government book-collecting project of eighteenth -century China, the “Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature,”1 offered the Qing government (1644–1912) an opportunity to proscribe and even destroy works it found offensive, particularly those that expressed antigovernment or anti-Qing sentiments. An imperial edict deputed high ofacials to supervise the burning of the works on the government’s Index Expurgatorius at a site outside the capital city, Peking. After that, except for a remnant surviving in Japan or Europe, the presumption was that all copies of these works were permanently lost, just as the court had intended. But the story has a happy ending: when the Qing archives were opened after the fall of the dynasty in 1912, the forbidden and supposedly destroyed books were found safely secreted inside the Grand Council archival vaults in the imperial palace. These works had survived because an unknown eighteenth-century hero—probably a high ofacial with archive-supervisory responsibilities— deaed the court’s directive. He could not bear to destroy books. Apparently he was more concerned with memory than with obedience.2 A second story illustrates a similar archival impulse. In some Qing reports to the throne, the three characters for the name of Sun Yat-sen, the rebel leader who eventually rose to be extolled as the founding father of modern China, were disparaged by being written with a dog signiac to the left of each character—a common form of derision (in our parlance, probably similar to calling someone “a dirty dog”). The repository, a Republic of China government organization, felt it had to prohibit such sacrilege—mocking the founder of the nation could not be allowed. I am told that the reports in question have been removed from the open collection and are now hidden away in the Taibei Palace Museum, available only by special permission.3 Again, the evidence was not destroyed but secreted. These stories allow us to see one of the driving principles behind Qing archival preservation—save everything . As demonstrated by the preservation of the forbidden books and the documents with the derogatory dog symbols, this imperative included saving items not necessarily in the government’s interest. This has been fortunate for the cause of preserving social memory. Although the Qing government made very little effort to reach out into the society and collect what might be regarded as items of social memory, and although these did not survive well when left beyond the government’s protection, if such items did reach the archives, there was little risk of discard or loss. Fortunately, the concept of prearchivage —weeding out documents deemed of minimal interest before turning them over for storage—was not known to the archivists of Qing times.4 Yet another feature of the Qing archives illustrated by these stories was that many Chinese government archival installations—and there are very few private holdings— are pleasingly eclectic, with contents going far beyond the category of government documents. As in the tale of the eighteenth-century books saved from burning, Chinese archives may even preserve printed books.5 In addition, artifacts (not just drawings of the artifacts, which are also preserved, but in some cases the artifacts themselves) were saved, as well as song-sheets, court circulars, and even a few private papers. Newspapers and other items we might not consider appropriately archival frequently turn up. A Chinese archive is likely to be a repository of 417 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Qing Statesmen, Archivists, and Historians and the Question of Memory Beatrice S. Bartlett ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ a vast assortment of items. Anything may be held in its vaults. A Chinese Deenition of Social Memory? In writing this essay, I have not found a clear deanition of Chinese or even Qing “social memory” that might and favor with the archival profession. Because the discussion of memory has been a debate conducted primarily among historians in the West, their deanitions do not precisely at the Chinese case. Maurice Halbwachs, one of the earliest Western historians to grapple with the problem, drew his main distinction between “individual memory” on the one hand and “collective” or “social memory” on the other.6 Some analysts have found the two principal kinds of memory to be “private” and “public.”7 Two comparative historians discussing memories of twentieth-century wars in Japan, Germany, and the United States equate memory of the wars with the ofacial versions that dominate news stories and textbooks and suggest that social memory is unofacial memory .8 For the Chinese case...