Empire to Nation

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What did it mean to be a subject of the Qing dynasty in 1800 or a citizen of one of the modern Chinese Republics founded in the 20th century? What changed in the course of that century and a half? This course is a reading seminar in China’s fitful transition from the empire of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty (1644-1911) to the nation-state of the PRC (1949-present). The Qing dynasty was massive. From its height in the 18th century to the middle of the 20th, this continental power was remade into a member of the modern international community of nation-states. As we chart this process, recurring themes will be the changing nature of (state) sovereignty, relations with outsiders/foreigners, and the relationship of individuals to state power. We will examine the sinews of the Manchu dynasty’s domestic authority, including the balancing act between the emperor’s personal will and the bureaucracy’s routinized power. Qing colonialism in Xinjiang will illuminate the multiethnic nature of its empire and its interactions with foreign “others.” Despite internal challenges, external relations were what brought fundamental challenges to the imperial state—particularly the corrosive interactions with another imperial power, the seafaring British. The role of translation (of Western philosophy and international law) will be our entry point for China’s slide into the modern international system of nation-states. The concept of race highlights how Chinese struggled with the definition of “nation” itself. From there, we will turn to the growth of a modern nation-state. Keeping in mind the distinction between rural and urban environments, the changing nature of power, the relationship between the state and individuals, and revolutionary political mobilization will be topics of particular interest.