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Frontiers of History in China

ISSN 1673-3401 (Print)
ISSN 1673-3525 (Online)
CN 11-5740/K
Postal Subscription Code 80-980


, Volume 14 Issue 1

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Editor’s Note
Di Wang
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 1-1.
Abstract   PDF (78KB)

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Spies and Postmen: Communications Liaisons and the Evolution of the Qing Bureaucracy
Emily Mokros
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 19-50.
Abstract   PDF (418KB)

This article introduces the “communications liaison” (titang guan)—an official category little acknowledged in past scholarship on the late imperial Chinese state. Communications liaisons stationed at garrisons and administrative seats compiled intelligence and news reports for supervising officials in distant locations. In Beijing, capital liaisons compiled documents into court gazettes and supervised the distribution of documents, seals of office, and imperial gifts to the provinces. Besides these responsibilities, capital liaisons acquired reputations for following personal and patronage agendas that undermined the integrity of the bureaucratic state. Longstanding financial and administrative inconsistencies within the Qing bureaucracy induced liaisons to misbehave. Still, characterizations of liaison malfeasance transformed over the course of the dynasty due to institutional developments including the implementation of new communications systems, the standardization of provincial administrations, and the expansion of office sales. Whereas liaisons in the early and mid-Qing periods were parties to political exchanges among the bureaucratic elite, by the dynasty’s waning years, liaisons provided services for the larger population of bureaucratic personnel. The liaisons’ transformation from spies into postmen, as seen through the eyes of official critics, offers an opportunity to evaluate the impact of major changes in the Qing bureaucracy upon some of its least known officeholders.

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Information and Local Activism: The Case of Two County Instructors in Early Nineteenth-Century Fujian and Taiwan
John R. Bandy
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 51-81.
Abstract   PDF (352KB)

This article examines the efforts of two county instructors (jiaoyu), Xie Jinluan and Zheng Jiancai, to bolster the security of the maritime frontier and stabilize local society in early 19th century Fujian and Taiwan. Occurring during the Jiaqing transition in which Chinese elites increasingly voiced concerns about problems afflicting the empire, Xie and Zheng waged an information campaign to lobby for local issues while embedded in county educational posts. Printing their treatises through their alma mater, the Aofeng Academy, Fuzhou’s premier educational institution that promoted a rigorous Neo-Confucian scholarly orientation, and using well-positioned Aofeng alumni to take their causes to Beijing, the instructors were able to make changes on the local level and provide Qing officials with a new source of “expert” local information that bypassed the regular bureaucracy. By producing information on themes of local governance and manipulating the elite network of the Aofeng Academy that connected Fujian to circles of power in Beijing, Xie and Zheng became models of local political action, influencing new generations of Fujianese scholars over the 19th century.

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Returned Diplomats, French Engineers, and the Qingxi Ironworks: Self-Strengthening and Self-Representation in the Late Qing
Ke Ren
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 82-108.
Abstract   PDF (341KB)

This article explores the history of the Qingxi Ironworks in late Qing Guizhou. Instead of focusing on state-centered industrialization or technology transfer and scientific knowledge in Qing mining and coal enterprises, this study focuses on the individual ambitions and identity construction of two returned diplomats—Chen Jitong and Chen Mingyuan—who sought to claim authority over a mining interest in China’s southwest interior. By leveraging their knowledge of the West to serve as intermediaries between state and foreign commercial interests, these cosmopolitan yet marginalized elites sought to convert their foreign expertise and avowed commitment to “self-strengthening” into new forms of social and political capital. An examination of the personal networks and written accounts surrounding their entrepreneurial ventures sheds light on the opportunities and challenges experienced by a generation of “foreign affairs” experts in repositioning themselves within the transforming Qing polity through participation in industrialization projects.

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Healing, Entertaining, and Accumulating Merit: The Circulation of Medical Recipes from the Late Ming through the Qing
Ying Zhang
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 109-136.
Abstract   PDF (2070KB)

This article examines the circulation of medical recipes through vernacular literature and personal networks from the late Ming through the Qing. During this period, vernacular texts played a leading role in circulating practical instructions for everyday healing techniques, especially in the form of recipes. Recipes became a versatile textual form for recording and transmitting experience in quotidian practice. They moved among different genres of texts, providing information about healing, offering advice for entertainment, and delivering moral lessons. Literati sociability as well as philanthropic and religious commitments motivated people of varied social means to distribute vernacular texts bearing healing information to a broad audience. Recipes acquired legitimacy and authority by clearly marking their provenance and thus its relationship to particular social networks and, sometimes, a religious purpose as well.

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Embellishing Appearances with Fragrant Cosmetic Cases : Transforming Women’s Bodies to Nourish Life in the Late Ming
Xiaoqian Ji
Front. Hist. China. 2019, 14 (1): 137-162.
Abstract   PDF (454KB)

Through a close examination of late Ming publisher Hu Wenhuan’s Embellishing Appearances with Fragrant Cosmetic Cases, this article shows how beautification techniques became part of the culture of nourishing life. Hu encouraged women to make and use cosmetics as a way of practicing womanly work. For men, these techniques became a means of investigating things and cultivating the self. Hu’s text is an example of amateur experimentation involving medical knowledge in late imperial China that went beyond proprietary expertise. The practice-oriented recipes in Fragrant Cosmetic Cases helped readers to translate written knowledge into practical knowledge, and to circulate them to a broad group of users that included women, the less literate, and even the illiterate. By the early seventeenth century, what Hu marketed as knowledge to nourish the lives of women had become common knowledge for male elites.

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7 articles