Late Imperial China

Discipline: History of East Asia
Instructor: Guy
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 0800
End: 0915
Field Work: Day 1 - Shanghai - 6 February | China Download Syllabus

During the early modern period (ca. seventeenth to nineteenth centuries) China, like most of Asia, was incorporated politically into an empire.  Asian empires had their origins in the conquests of Genghis Khan in the fourteenth century, and the institutions which he and his successor Mongols formed to govern the vast territories they conquered.  The dynamics of these early empires find their echoes today in borders and ethnic complexities of India and China, and a host of other phenomena.

This course will examine the cultural, social and political life of China’s later empires, the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911).  The course will begin with a discussion of Genghis Khan and his conquests, and the particular brand of fourteenth century globalization, with exotic visitors, free trade and pre-modern cultural convergence.  Great conquerors, the Mongols were poor administrators, and their fall saw one of the rare cases in Chinese history when a peasant became emperor.  This event allows us to reflect on how the Chinese peasantry would have organized their empire, had they had more opportunities to do so.   Although it had its limits, the Ming proved to be rather resilient, and produced some genuine echoes of modernity in its development of commercial printing, and it’s questioning of orthodox morality, and participation in an international silver market.  The Ming also saw the remarkable voyages of Zheng He, whose route through Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and Africa parallels our own.

Ultimately the Ming fell, however, to another group of foreigners, the Manchus, and it was in the course of their Qing empire, that the huge multi –ethnic, multi-confessional and multi-lingual entity we today know as China was built.   Who were the Manchus?    How did the Manchus hold it all together for 267 years, what did they draw from their own tradition, what did they take from the Chinese and what legacy did they leave for the modern Chinese state?  What was their effect on Chinese history?

Most of the multi-ethnic empires of the early modern world – the Spanish, the Ottoman and the Moghul, could not survive the rise of modern nationalism.  In the last portion of the course, we will consider how the Qing tried to adapt itself to the nineteenth century world, and how the Manchu’s ultimately fell, victim of the nationalistic politics of the twentieth century.

The course objectives will be:  (1.) To foster an appreciation of late imperial Chinese political social and cultural forms; (2) to consider how they resembled and differed from European developments; and (3.) To assess the legacy of Chinese empires in contemporary Asia.

Field Work

Country: China
Day: 1 - Shanghai - 6 February

We will visit one of grandest houses of the traditional Chinese gentry, the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou.  Built in the sixteenth century, it embodies to power and style of the late Ming Dynasty elite, who are the subjects of the first half of our class.  The Garden also demonstrates elite imitation of and competition with the imperial palace in Beijing.  The journey to the Garden will take us through the lower Yangzi delta, which is central to our history.  A Chinese lunch in Suzhou style will be provided. Academic Objectives:

  1.  Understand the material life of the Chinese gentry.
  2. Travel to the Suzhou world historical site.
  3. Understand the nature of Jiangnan, in many respects the crucial region for late imperial history.