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date: 23 April 2018

Empire and Historiography in Southwest China

Summary and Keywords

Although frontier studies enjoy a long and robust history in China, a disproportionate amount of attention has focused on North China and its relations with Central and Northeast Asia, while only a handful of historians have paid much attention to the history of South and Southwest China. Those that do invariably offer a narrative that presents Southwest China (the current provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and the southwestern portion of Sichuan) as unequivocal parts of greater China since at least the end of the 3rd century bce. They accomplish this by selectively including only the events that reinforce inflated notions of Han superiority, while at the same time expunging from the historical records events and episodes that challenge the internal cohesion of this metanarrative and disparage the Han. Throughout China’s long history, they argue, Han from the Central Plain (zhongyuan) region of North China have continuously migrated south in search of land and opportunity, and over time Han cultural practices, centralized and hierarchical political institutions, a sophisticated written language, and a socially differentiated society that generates surplus revenue, have transformed nearly all of the “barbarian” non-Han into civilized Han. What the Chinese metanarrative fails to offer, however, is perspective, for it not only deprives the southwest of its own history, such as a thoughtful examination of the vibrant kingdoms that existed in the southwest, like the Cuan (338–747), Muege (c. 300–1283), Nanzhao (738–937), and Dali (937–1253) kingdoms, to name just a few, but also it refuses to offer a critical examination of how the Chinese empire colonized this territory.

Keywords: Southwest China, Ming China, Qing China, Yunnan, Guizhou, historiography, sinicization, Native Chieftains, metanarrative

What would Chinese history look like if we were to examine it from the perspective of the peoples living along China’s periphery? How might a non-Chinese perspective challenge the dominant themes in Chinese historiography, themes that represent Chinese history as a linear narrative arising from the Central Plain and its original inhabitants, the Han Chinese?1 In recent years (since the 1980s), Manchu sources have afforded scholars the opportunity to negotiate more vigorously with Chinese texts, challenge many of the basic assumptions regarding the power and magnetism of traditional Chinese cultural institutions, and question the very foundations of China’s long-standing nationalist metanarrative. The steadfast belief that the adoption of Chinese institutions and cultural practices irreversibly “turned” the borrower into a devotee of Chinese civilization has come under increased scrutiny, not just because Manchu sources have shown that the Jurchens/Manchus remained cognizant and proud of their own heritage long after they occupied China in 1644, but, as Beatrice Bartlett, Mark Elliott, and Evelyn Rawski have shown quite convincingly, because these same sources illustrate the lengths to which the Manchus erected physical, social, and institutional barriers to create separation from and assert control over Han Chinese.2 Likewise, Jim Millward, Pamela Crossley, Nicola Di Cosmo, and Peter Perdue have revealed the extent to which the Manchus relied on a multicultural façade to rule a sprawling culturally diverse empire.3 Simply put, not all Manchus were in awe of Chinese cultural practices, as most Chinese sources might have us believe, nor did the Manchus rely on Chinese institutions to extend Qing hegemony into the Inner Asian Steppe. But what about Southwest China (the present-day provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and the southwest portion of Sichuan)? Given that so few non-Han peoples in the southwest kept written records of their encounter with the Han, how might we assess the Chinese empire and the linear nationalist metanarrative that purports to describe Southwest China as an integral part of China since the end of the 3rd century bce?

The Han Snowball

Although frontier studies enjoy a long and robust history in China, a disproportionate amount of attention has focused on North China and its relations with Central and Northeast Asia, while only a handful of historians have paid much attention to the history of South and Southwest China. Moreover, in contrast to the complex, multifaceted investigations of Central and Northeast Asia, the historical analysis of China’s relationship with South and Southwest China is highly formulaic: throughout China’s long history Han from the Central Plain (zhongyuan) region of North China have continuously migrated south in search of land and opportunity, and over time Han cultural practices, centralized and hierarchical political institutions, a sophisticated written language, and a socially differentiated society that generates surplus revenue, have transformed nearly all of the “barbarian” non-Han into civilized Han.4 The most recent variation of this nationalistic metanarrative was published in 1999 by Xu Jieshun and titled Xueqiu: Han minzu de renleixue fenxi (Snowball: An Anthropological Analysis of the Han Nationality).5 For the better part of two millennia, Xu tells us, Han superior culture has hypnotized and lured non-Hans into wanting to become Han, and they were welcomed into this civilized Han world precisely because Han culture possesses a “rare ability to absorb” others, or what Ho Ping-ti referred to in his passionate defense of sinicization, Han civilization’s “open-mindedness” and “large-heartedness.”6 Building on a conceptual framework first elaborated by the eminent anthropologist Fei Xiaotong, Xu sees Han civilization as a nonviolent snowball (xueqiu) rolling across a sullied (non-Han) landscape constantly expanding in size and density, but never sacrificing its purity by becoming dirty from the soil it comes in contact with, even if the non-Han peoples, let’s call them Mongols for argument’s sake, had conquered China, subjugated its population, and aggressively discriminated against the Han.

Because this nationalistic metanarrative is focused almost exclusively on the positive aspects of Han expansion southward, the Chinese empire is generally described as a bloodless enterprise devoid of any appreciable violence. Chinese historians get away with this by simply refusing to offer a thoughtful examination of the vibrant kingdoms that existed in the southwest, like the Cuan (338–747), Muege (c. 300–1283), Nanzhao (738–937), and Dali (937–1253) kingdoms, to name just a few. Such an omission exists despite the fact that on three separate occasions, Nanzhao armies attacked Chengdu, the cultural and commercial center of Southwest China during the Tang (618–906), they repeatedly marched across present-day Guizhou and attacked Han settlements in Hunan, and twice Nanzhao forces occupied Northern Vietnam, a tribute vassal of Tang China. Evidence of a thriving transnational trade network linking Southwest China with Vietnam, Burma, and other South and Southeast Asian countries, known as the Southwest Silk Road, receives only perfunctory mention in Chinese accounts of the region.7 Even Kublai Khan’s (1215–1294) crucial defeat of the Dali kingdom in 1253 rarely earns the mention it deserves precisely because a thoughtful examination of this Mongol campaign would expose its importance to the eventual incorporation of the southwest with China proper and reveal that these southwest kingdoms probably had more in common with Southeast Asian regimes than with China prior to 1253. The Chinese metanarrative presents Southwest China as unequivocal parts of greater China since at least the end of the 3rd century bce, and it accomplishes this task by selectively including only the events that reinforce inflated notions of Han superiority, while at the same time expunging those events that challenge the internal cohesion of this metanarrative and disparage the Han. In short, what the Chinese metanarrative fails to offer is perspective, for it not only deprives the southwest of its own history, but it refuses to offer a critical examination of how the Chinese empire colonized this territory.

A Counter Narrative: The Negotiated Landscape

In the classic sense, a premodern empire expands its control over frontier territory either by conquest or coercion, and it usually does so by entering into a collaborative relationship with members of the local elite. Generally speaking, the expanding state extends imperial recognition to the local leaders, provides them with valuable political and military support to sustain their hereditary rule, and grants them preferential access to merchants and markets. In return, the local leaders must display political loyalty in the form of tribute, taxes, and military assistance. As John Darwin recently discussed in his examination of the British Empire,

One of the most difficult tasks, but also one of the most vital, was settling the terms on which the indigenous peoples and their leaders would become the allies, the clients or the subjects of empire. It is easily forgotten that across much of the world empire was ‘made’ as much if not more by the local auxiliaries that ‘empire-builders’ recruited as by the imperialists themselves. The result was an empire of hybrid components, conflicting traditions, and unsettled boundaries between races and peoples: a source of constant unease as well as extraordinary energy.8

This collaborative relationship is at once horizontal and vertical in so much as imperial power has extended its network of privilege outward through space and downward into society. The lines of solidarity are vertical, between subject and ruler, not, as in nation-states horizontal between equal citizens or fellow members of the same ethnic group. Moreover, premodern empires are multiethnic and multinational in composition.9 They do not promote a common culture or seek equality, as do nation-states; instead, far from having or seeking a common culture, they stress the heterogeneity of cultures, especially the difference between the elite and the local cultures. In other words, empire is a form of political organization in which the social elements that rule in the expanding state create a network of allied elites in regions usually situated contiguous to territory ruled directly by the state. This collaborative relationship of indirect rule at the empire’s edge can last for centuries, but the transition from indirect to direct rule can happen quickly, and this transition is usually the result of contingent events beyond the control of both the expanding power and the peoples of the periphery.

Throughout China’s long history it was common for the Chinese state to extend formal recognition to powerful frontier leaders. The dependent kingdoms (shuguo) of the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce) and the haltered-and-bridled prefectures (jimi fuzhou) of the Tang (618–906) and Song (960–1279) dynasties were products of a negotiated relationship between the Chinese state and its frontier elite. In the southwest the haltered-and-bridled prefectures were part of a strategic plan designed to create a buffer zone of frontier allies, a protective shield between China and the expansive Cuan, Nanzhao, Muege, and Dali kingdoms; but, contrary to what was mentioned above the Chinese state was never able to consistently demand that recipients of this haltered-and-bridled title present tribute and pay taxes to the Chinese state, not to mention provide military assistance when requested. In other words, on paper the Chinese state claimed to exercise leverage over the local leaders in the southwest through this haltered-and-bridled collaborative relationship, yet in reality its horizontal and vertical reach was virtually nonexistent. Neither the Tang nor the Song showed any inclination toward annexing the southwest frontier outright (Yunnan, Guizhou, Southern Sichuan, and Western Hunan), and even if they did profess such ambitions, they were militarily incapable of asserting their hegemony over this region. In fact, we know from Chinese sources that many of the frontier leaders who accepted the haltered-and-bridled status also held similar political appointments from the Cuan, Nanzhao, Muege, and Dali kingdoms, and the capricious nature of such a collaborative relationships is best seen when many of the haltered-and-bridled leaders abandoned the Chinese state and fought with Nanzhao forces as they marched north into present-day Sichuan, east into present-day Guizhou and Hunan, and south into present-day Guangxi and Northern Vietnam.

Native Chieftains (tusi)

Shortly after Mongol forces defeated the Dali kingdom in 1253, the Yuan empire incorporated the former Dali territory and much of the southwest into the newly established Yunnan Branch Secretariat and appointed trusted officials like Sayyid Ajall Shams al-Din Omar al-Bukhari (1211–1279) to oversee Mongol rule of this territory. Under Sayyid the Yuan state asserted a more centralized relationship with the region’s local elite when it created Native Chieftain (tusi) offices, but it was the Ming state (1368–1644) that inherited this collection of collaborative Yuan tusi titles/offices and transformed them into an extra-bureaucratic institution of titles/offices linked to the state apparatus. When the Ming state bestowed a tusi title upon a frontier leader, the most important item was the patent (gaochi). It listed the name of the individual upon whom the hereditary tusi title/office was bestowed, the title and rank of the tusi post, a description of the geopolitical location of the tusi domain, the number of households within the tusi domain, and the annual tax demanded by the Ming state. More often than not, the patent indicated the Ming state’s commitment to provide the tusi with political and military support, and preferential access to Chinese merchants and lucrative Chinese markets. That Ming support for the tusi was clear, the written script used by the tusi, if one existed, was to be engraved next to the Chinese characters on the imperial patent.10 In addition, the Ming-issued tally (fu) instructed the tusi to carry out a specific task, like patrol a mountain pass or river crossing, and he could use the tally and seal (yinzhang) to requisition men and material to carry out this task. The patent and tally also authorized the tusi to lead a tribute mission to the Ming capital once every three years, though he was usually directed to present tribute to officials in the nearest provincial capital. In short, unlike the leader of the haltered-and-bridled prefectures of the Tang and Song dynasties, when an indigenous leader accepted Ming tusi status, he not only became a subject of the Ming emperor, and by extension an official of the Ming state, but also a critical instrument in the Ming empire-building process.

The Ming state classified the recipient of this title/office as either a civilian-rank tusi or a military-rank tusi. Normally most civilian-rank appointments were made to non-Han leaders whose area of control was situated within a defined bureaucratic unit, like a county (xian) and department (zhou). The size of the area and population under the frontier leader’s control determined whether the tusi title was granted as a native prefecture (tu zhifu), native department (tu zhizhou), or native county (tu zhixian). As the titles suggests, these offices mirrored the Ming administration and were generally reserved for areas where there was a modest Han population and a sufficiently productive local economy to support an enhanced bureaucratic footprint. Military-rank tusi, on the other hand, enjoyed a higher degree of autonomy from the Ming state than did civilian-rank tusi. The frontier leaders granted this title usually controlled lands located either outside China’s provincial boundaries or in remote internal frontiers within a province, like the vast Shuixi region of Northwest Guizhou, the Daliang Mountain region of Southern Sichuan, the western half of Hunan, and nearly all of Yunnan south and west of Kunming. Military-rank tusi pledged allegiance to the Ming throne, swore to defend China’s borders from hostile foreign powers, and agreed to present tribute to the throne, and like civilian-rank tusi they were allowed to rule their domains in accordance with their own laws and customs. In this sense, then, military-rank tusi resemble the old haltered-and-bridled prefectures of the Tang and Song times, since they were theoretically subordinate to the Ming throne but legally independent of the Ming state, a claim the civilian-rank tusi clearly could not make.

During its 276-year history the Ming state conferred 1608 tusi titles; 960 were military-rank titles and 648 were civilian-rank titles. In the three southwest provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan alone, the Ming state bestowed 1021 tusi titles, or 63 percent of all tusi titles issued during the Ming. Of these 1,021 tusi titles, 69 percent were military-rank tusi titles, which indicates that the Ming state considered a vast expanse of the southwest to be not only beyond its direct control, but even the level of indirect control typified by civilian-rank tusi offices was untenable in much of the southwest. In Sichuan, 95 percent of the 343 tusi titles issued by the Ming state were military-rank tusi; and in Yunnan, 41 percent of the 434 tusi titles were military-rank tusi. Conversely, of the 337 tusi titles/offices issued in Guangxi during the Ming, 309, or 92 percent, were civilian-rank tusi. In other words, during the Ming dynasty military-rank tusi were the predominant political unit in Guizhou and Sichuan, and to a lesser extent Yunnan and Guangxi. But this only tells part of the story, because nearly one-half of present-day Yunnan, approximately two-thirds of present-day Guizhou, and almost the entire area of Southern and Western Sichuan was beyond Ming influence. Even during the Ming dynasty much of the present-day southwest was frontier territory inhabited by a multitude of peoples strikingly different from the Han, and even most writings by Ming-era Chinese elites considered the southwest and its inhabitants to be alien territory. The southwest was mapped with provincial boundaries and a scattering of prefectures, departments, counties, and military guard units (weisuo) were recognizable within each province, but for the most part the domains of military-rank tusi dominated the landscape inside these southwest provinces.

Up to the beginning of the 17th century, the majority of frontier leaders in Guizhou who accepted military-rank tusi titles from the Ming state continued to exercise unfettered authority over their localities, just as they had prior to acquiring tusi status, and Ming officialdom understood clearly that its political-legal jurisdiction did not include the tusi estates. This indirect method of rule in the southwest, whereby the Chinese state relied heavily on indigenous non-Han tusi to govern the region began to change during the last decades of the 16th century as the Ming state moved to eliminate, primarily for strategic reasons, several of the largest tusi domains in Guizhou, like the Yang patriclan’s Bozhou pacification commission (xuanwei si) in Northern Guizhou and the An patriclan’s Guizhou pacification commission in Northwest Guizhou. The intent was not to eliminate tusi and replace them with state-appointed civilian officials, which was clearly beyond the capacity of the Ming state at this time; instead, Beijing sought to destroy the vertical patron-client structure these large patriclans had built over centuries and empower lower-level leaders with tusi status with the Ming throne as the ultimate patron. For the most part the Ming state prevailed, but the vast majority of new tusi officials proved to be very difficult to control. By 1621 many of these newly enfeoffed tusi betrayed the Ming state and rallied to support a descendent of the An patriclan, An Bangyan, whose massively destructive She-An Rebellion (1621–1629) crippled the Ming presence in the southwest. The Chinese state returned to the southwest with a vengeance in the 1640s and 1650s as Ming and Qing (1636–1912) forces crisscrossed the southwest, turning this frontier region into trampled earth, but not until the Qing defeat of the Wu Sangui Rebellion (1673–1681) in 1681 did the Manchu-led Chinese state introduce a series of initiatives designed to expand horizontally and consolidate vertically its bureaucratic presence throughout the region, and encourage Han from China’s interior to relocate to the southwest to reclaim land and exploit the region’s natural resources.

Mongolia, Japan, and Southwest China

In 1715 the Qing empire was forced to respond to two separate international events, the Zunghar Mongol threat in Central Eurasia and Japan’s decision to limit copper exports to China. The Zunghar Mongol assault on Hami (Qomul), a major oasis town along the Northern Silk Road, signaled an escalation in the growing conflict over control of Tibet. Since 1705 the Khoshot Mongol leader Lazang Khan (d. 1717) had relied increasingly on Qing support to impose Khoshot rule in Lhasa, much to the dismay of the Zunghars. In 1717 the Zunghars attacked Lhasa and drove the Khoshots out of Central Tibet, with many settling in the Amdo-Kham regions of Eastern Tibet. The Qing Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722, r. 1661–1722) responded immediately by mobilizing Qing forces along China’s entire western frontier and by preparing for an invasion of Tibet to dislodge the Zunghars from Lhasa. In anticipation of its campaign on Lhasa, the Qing state dispatched officials to scout and secure multiple transportation routes between China and Tibet. The quickest route, though not necessarily the safest route, in 1717 was the Darzêdo-Lhasa route that ran west from the Tibetan-Chinese border town of Darzêdo (present-day Kangding) through the Kham region of Eastern Tibet toward Lhasa. Kangxi immediately authorized his officials in Sichuan to bestow tusi titles upon Kham’s indigenous elite in order to extend Qing influence into this region. The economic and military strength of Qing China overshadowed its rivals in the region, and this strength allowed it to convince many of Kham’s indigenous leaders to accept the terms associated with the tusi title. Shortly following the Qing occupation of Tibet in 1720, Beijing announced its annexation of a large part of Kham (Eastern Tibet) and incorporated this territory into Sichuan province. Moreover, Kangxi’s son and successor Yongzheng (1678–1735, r. 1723–1735), launched an aggressive program designed to alter the political, economic, and religious life in Kham. By the end of 1728 Qing forces were in firm control of Lhasa, and they had escorted the Dalai Lama back to his birthplace in Kham (Lithang), where he remained for the next six years under Qing “protective custody.” With Lhasa and Kham under Qing control, in 1729 Yongzheng began financial and military preparations for an ambitious campaign against the Zunghar empire, a campaign that would take several decades and another emperor to complete.

The Qing decision to mobilize forces against the Zunghar Mongol assault on Hami (Qomul) was made at roughly the same time Japan’s Tokugawa regime (1603–1868) announced new regulations (Shōtoku shinrei) regarding trade at Nagasaki. One component of these new regulations was a reduction in the amount of copper Chinese merchants could purchase from Japan. The Qing state’s two main mints in Beijing, the Ministry of Revenue’s Baoquanju and the Ministry of Works’ Baoyuanju, relied heavily on the annual supply of approximately four million jin (1 jin equals 1.1 lbs. or 0.597 kilogram) of Japanese copper to cast coin, the basic currency for daily transactions in much of Qing China. China’s economy depended on an adequate supply of coin to meet the currency needs of the people and to maintain the coin to silver ratio of one thousand coins to 1 tael (37.3 grams) of silver.11 In response to Japan’s decision in 1715, the Qing state sought to reduce the amount of copper content in coin, persuade people to sell old copper wares to the state, prohibit craftsmen from using copper, and even encourage people to pay taxes in coin and copper wares instead of silver. When these measures to ration copper usage proved insufficient, Yongzheng moved to acquire the vast copper deposits located almost entirely on hereditary tusi lands in Yunnan. In 1725 the copper mines in Yunnan were producing about one million jin annually, an amount barely sufficient to meet Yunnan’s demands, let alone the Qing empire’s needs, but in just two years the mines and factories in Dongchuan (Northeast Yunnan) alone were producing over four million jin of copper annually, and by 1732 the copper mines in Yunnan were producing nearly eight million jin of copper a year.12 According to Yan Zhongping’s authoritative study, during the seventy-one years from 1740 to 1811, Yunnan exported approximately 730,330,000 jin of copper, or roughly 10,140,000 jin annually.13 Or, as Hans Ulrich Vogel estimates, from 1726 to the middle of the 19th century, the copper produced in Yunnan’s factories allowed the Qing state to mint over 330 million strings (1 string = 1,000 coins), or 330 billion coins.14

From Imperial Justification to Metanarrative

To seize and exploit such a huge amount of copper, the Qing state launched an unprecedented campaign to eliminate tusi in Yunnan and Guizhou (Guizhou was an important source of lead, zinc, and wood, three resources critical in the production of cash coins), but it did so by presenting its actions as a moral obligation, a weight borne by those who ruled China. Shortly after ascending the Qing throne in 1723, Yongzheng issued an edict in which he officially empowered Qing officials posted in the southwest to become more aggressive toward tusi:

It has come to my attention that tusi in the southwest provinces fail to abide by our laws and regulations. These tusi often make excuses to tax and demand excessive labor service from the people under their control. Compared to the tax demands levied on our subjects, the indigenes (tumin) pay a much higher tax, even to the extent that their horses and cattle have been confiscated and their sons and daughters taken from their homes. They are literally at the mercy of their tusi. The indigenes are being butchered and they are angry, yet they dare not speak out against their tusi.15

China’s elites believed civilized rule guided by moral truths, an impartial legal system, and a desire to protect the less fortunate against the brutalities of arbitrary rule were their gift to the indigenes in the southwest, a gift the indigenes could not refuse—a pristine snowball wiped clean of blood. Such rhetoric assured those officials that their task was just, even when they seized native lands, confiscated native resources, and eliminated native resistance. This rhetoric not only motivated the colonizer to act, it naturally emboldened nationalist historians to disregard the more disconcerting aspects of Qing imperial expansion. As Nicholas Dirks points out at the end of The Scandal of Empire, “When imperial history loses any sense of what empire meant to those who were colonized, it becomes complicit in the history of empire itself.”16

Within China’s nationalistic metanarrative the tusi title/office is most closely associated with Qing state expansion into Southwest China, and thereby initiating the process of “turning” the non-Han peoples toward Han civilization. Interestingly, where Chinese historians portrayed non-Han acceptance of the Tang and Song haltered-and-bridled prefectures and the Yuan and Ming tusi titles as an act of political submission, these same historians tend to see non-Han acceptance of the Qing tusi title as proof of the formidable allure of Han civilization. We already know that the Manchus seldom relied on conspicuously Chinese institutions and cultural practices to expand its empire into Central Eurasia, so why should we assume this to be the case in the southwest? If we view the Qing state-tusi relationship from a non-China-centered perspective, say from Manchu, Yi, Zhongjia, and Tibetan viewpoints, or even from a comparative global perspective, it appears Han culture played an ancillary role in how the Qing state sought to extend its influence into the southwest. Most universal empires are comprised of a multitude of cultural constituencies, and as such the political loyalties involved tend to consist of hierarchies of lordship based on multiple types of authority, and Qing China was no different. According to Mark Elliott, “In the Qing, some of these hierarchies were Chinese, while others were Inner Asian (Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, Turkic). We thus find the early Manchu emperors striking a number of poses, each equally ‘authentic’ yet grounded in distinct sources of authority, addressing different imperial constituencies.”17 This multicultural affectation was designed, first and foremost, to enhance the legitimacy of the Qing throne, but the “authentic poses” Elliott mentions were crafted in such a way that political loyalties were not based solely on the cultural institutions of the imperial center.

Having said this, it would seem reasonable to assume that the Qing throne would strike the pose of an authentic Chinese emperor as it moved to assert its influence in the southwest because that was the hierarchy of lordship best understood in China proper. Yet, prior to the 17th-century China’s elites did not consider the southwest to be an integral part of China proper: the vast majority of the people living in the southwest were not Han; the Chinese state was represented almost exclusively by a haphazard collection of frail military units located along the region’s main arterials; and the institution of lordship that feebly tied this frontier region with China proper consisted almost entirely of tusi offices created not by Han Chinese but by Mongols during the Yuan empire (1270–1368). As one observer wrote in 1690,

Only in the last three hundred years have we come to not consider this area [Guizhou and Yunnan] to be beyond our borders. Nearly every inch of land in Qian [Guizhou] is mountain land, and so-called fertile plains are barren and unproductive. One must walk several li before seeing a small plot of flat land. The Han in Qian are primarily descendants of the military colonies, guards, and battalions established earlier. Though we might now think of these Han as native to Qian, they will tell you that their native villages are in China’s interior, not in Qian. They are most adamant about communicating their non-native status to you. The natives of Dian [Yunnan] and Qian are the Luo, Miao, Zhuang, Qi, and Liao. These people are violent and difficult to tame, and even if they receive some training [in Chinese ways] they easily slip back to their violent ways . . . If we want to control the barbarian areas, we must judge the profitability of the land and investigate the nature of its people.18

It is true that the Han-dominated Ming state did expand the number of tusi offices throughout the southwest and it even attempted to inject specific Han cultural influences into this hierarchy of lordship, such as requiring tusi to receive a Confucian education and insisting the tusi family accept patrilineal succession modeled on Han practices, but by most accounts Han cultural practices among the non-Han were almost nonexistent in the southwest prior to the 17th century.19 In other words, it appears highly likely that the process of integration sited in tusi offices embodied a political relationship based on concepts of loyalty and reciprocity shorn of excess cultural accoutrements.20 Such political relationships were at the heart of the world’s several multicultural empires, and China was no different. As James Scott argues in The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, many people in the southwest found these collaborative relationships and the growing presence of the Chinese state/Han society asphyxiating to the point they consciously migrated to remote areas and adopted lifeways that were the antithesis of the settled agrarian regime the Han represented.21

Decentering Chinese History

Prasenjit Duara speaks to the very issue of a contrived Han metanarrative when he describes the “defensive strategy” of China’s cultural universalism in Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China. “The universalistic claims of Chinese imperial culture,” Duara tells us, “constantly bumped up against, and adapted to, alternative views of the world order which it tended to cover with the rhetoric of universalism.” This covering rhetoric “secures for the contested and contingent nation the false unity of a self-same” (Han Chinese) and defends the national narrative as a type of unadulterated national history.22 In this sense, the decentering of Chinese history is not “an esoteric or merely academic enterprise,” precisely because it lays bare the fabrication of China’s national metanarrative by looking at China from the outside in, and by utilizing non-Chinese sources in order to capture, as best as possible, how the non-Han peoples situated along China’s peripheries viewed China, its institutions, and its peoples.23 It is no wonder, then, that Western scholars identified as adherents of New Qing History have been attacked for promoting an “imperialist” or “splittist” agenda, for they have exposed flaws in a poorly conceived metanarrative and pricked at the yet unhealed wounds from a not-so-distant colonial past.24

Contemporary works by James Scott, C. Patterson Giersch, Donald Sutton, Leo Shin, and Jodi Weinstein, to name just a few, have affirmed something Frederik Barth said a long time ago when he warned against the idea that dominant civilizations could incorporate and assimilate smaller groups of people simply because of “the sheer weight of its presence.”25 It was in these peripheral areas where sustained contact between peoples was extraordinarily intense and violent that Barth believed cultural differences were strengthened and ethnic boundaries formed. For Barth, something like the Han snowball absorbing all in its path simply could not exist. Sure, there were plenty of examples of non-Han tusi who were able to speak and read Chinese, and some even acquired a rudimentary understanding of Chinese cultural practices, but the political context in which a non-Han leader was obliged (and enticed) to accept the tusi title should caution us, as Barth has, against thinking that the tusi title holder willingly accepted Han cultural practices or even admired such practices. In fact, the historical record is littered with examples of non-Han leaders forsaking their allegiance to the Qing throne and discarding the tusi title in order to protect their people, land, and resources from predatory Qing officials and aggressive Han in-migrants.

Furthermore, recent scholarship on Han ethnicity has shown how different in-migrant groups from China’s interior with particularly vibrant native-place loyalties, appropriated the term “Han” after they had settled in the southwest in the 18th century in order to create a “pan-regional alliance” they could use to coordinate in their struggles with non-Han communities for control of economic resources. To many of the non-Han in Southwest China during the Qing, the people we now identify as Han, and by association ascribe certain common cultural features that make up Han civilization, initially presented a surprisingly diversified cultural front to the non-Han, with the one prevailing feature being that they came from China’s interior.26 This clearly complicates the image of Han civilization’s advance into the southwest by suggesting that prior to the 19th century there might have been a Han snowball, but it was not nearly as dense and defined as Chinese historians have made it out to be, nor did this snowball possess the “open-mindedness” and “large-heartedness” Chinese scholars have attributed to it. This snowball was a predatory creature that appropriated people, land, and natural resources for its own benefit.

Interestingly, Kathlene Baldanza’s recent examination of Chinese–Dai Viet (Vietnam) relations from the 13th through 16th centuries shows how Vietnamese elites, although adopting features of China’s political and cultural institutions to enhance their own domestic power, actually decentered the Chinese world by “positing a cultural hub beyond the borders of the Chinese state.” China’s nationalist metanarrative would lead us to believe that Dai Viet’s adoption of classical China’s political-cultural institutions demonstrates the radiant authority of China, and that Ming China’s elites viewed this adoption of their institutions with glowing aplomb. However, Baldanza’s careful analysis of Ming sources shows that Chinese leaders “were made profoundly uncomfortable by the imitation of a center of classical culture outside of China.”27 The existence of a vibrant Dai Viet center of classical Chinese culture challenged the stature and coherence of Ming political-cultural institutions to such an extent that Ming statesmen reacted with such hostility as to cast the Vietnamese as barbarians unfit to be included as part of a greater Ming empire. In other words, despite the Dai Viet adoption Chinese institutions, many Ming officials reacted disapprovingly to how the Vietnamese adapted and modified these institutions for domestic purposes, and as a result influential voices within Ming officialdom emerged demanding that the Ming state reject the Dai Viet embrace of their institutions and erect barriers, both physical and rhetorical, to distance themselves culturally from the Vietnamese.

Baldanza’s findings are in large measure confirmed in Evelyn Rawski’s study of how Jurchen, Mongol, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese interests intersected in the highly politicized environment of Northeast Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries.28 Rawski examines China’s historical relationship with Northeast Asia from multiple non-Han viewpoints, displaying a masterful use of Chinese, Manchu, Korean, and Japanese sources to bring a rich new perspective of early modern Northeast Asia, one where a multitude of competing states and state-like entities vied for political supremacy in a surprisingly fluid transnational setting. Rawski’s study focuses on questions of culture and identity to show how Japan, Korea, and various entities in Northeast Asia adopted and then altered Chinese practices (state rituals, bureaucratic institutions, kinship practices, and succession principles) to fit their specific cultural circumstances. This aspect of Rawski’s study is a logical continuation of her earlier works on the Qing in which she examined how the Manchus safeguarded their cultural identity as they embraced Chinese institutions to rule the Han, and described how Qing policies toward its major subjects (Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Hans) aimed to preserve cultural boundaries, not eliminate them.29 Ambitious individuals in Northeast Asia, she informs us, considered China an influential source of political legitimacy, yet relations with the Chinese state were often used to support one’s political aspirations without having to sacrifice political independence and cultural identity. The Jurchen chieftain Nurhaci (1559–1626) is an excellent example of just such an ambitious individual who used his familiarity with Chinese rituals and bureaucratic practices to build an independent powerbase in Northeast Asia to challenge Chinese influence.

Given the sizable body of scholarly literature that refutes the claims of such a nationalistic metanarrative, why, then, does such a narrative still persist? I believe part of the answer can be found in the fact that empires (Macedonian, Rome, Mongol, Ottoman, British, French, and China) exhibit strong universalistic impulses. They claim to be at the center of the known world, that their civilization is the most advanced, and that they have a moral obligation to impart their civilization upon those they consider less civilized. It is this type of universalism that remains a potent feature of Chinese historiography. In China, the emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, the possessor of the Mandate of Heaven (tianming), and the ultimate authority over all under Heaven (tianxia). According to the Book of Odes (Shijing), “[u]nder the wide heaven, all is the king’s land; within the sea-boundaries of the land, all are the king’s subjects.”30 The belief in an “outer separation” (wuwai) that would define the limits of the emperor’s reach simply didn’t exist. Over time China’s elites superimposed this philosophical outlook upon the collaborative realpolitik agreements at the empire’s edge, and when peoples near and far presented tribute (gong) to the Son of Heaven, as they were sometimes obliged to do, they became, in Chinese eyes, the emperor’s vassals. Those who presented tribute were expected to conform to Chinese ritual practices, which were defined in meticulous detail in statutes and ritual texts. These ritual practices were invariably traced back to ancient precedents, and were designed not only to establish a clear hierarchical relationship between the Son of Heaven and all under Heaven, but also to transform the sullied customs of the “barbarian.” The arrogance behind this civilizing impulse didn’t evaporate with the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912, as Stevan Harrell and many others have shown. The Communist civilizing project purports to liberate (and transform) Tibetans, Uyghurs, and the multitude of non-Han peoples living throughout South and Southwest China from the darkness of their old societies. Nation-states are empires under another name, Krishan Kumar tells us, and what we see in China’s nationalistic metanarrative on the southwest is a legacy of China’s imperial past.31

Primary Sources

There are a large number of primary sources on this topic, and a comprehensive list of such sources would far exceed the limited space offered here. Ming-era primary sources on Southwest China, such as the Veritable Records of the Ming (Ming shilu), the Collected Statutes of the Great Ming (Da Ming huidian), provincial gazetteers, notes (biji), biographical collections, genealogies, travel diaries, etc., are readily available (and accessible) at most major research universities and institutes around the world. The National Library of China in Beijing, the National Central Library in Taipei, and the Fu Ssu-nien Library of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica in Taiwan all possess excellent collections of Ming-era sources. The Center for Chinese Studies located in the National Central Library has one of the best collections of Ming-era provincial gazetteers, and Academia Sinica’s Scripta Sinica is one of the largest full-text databases on premodern China available to date.

Qing-era primary sources are vast, if not overwhelming. If the research project focuses on the state perspective of the southwest, then the sources housed in the First Historical Archives in Beijing should be consulted first. There are approximately 2.5 million routine memorials (tiben) in the Grand Secretariat Archives (Neige dangan), of which most are dated toward the end of the Qing period. Of more importance are the nearly 500,000 palace memorials with vermillion rescripts (zhupi zouzhe) and imperial edicts with vermillion rescripts (zhupi yuzhi) housed in the Palace Archives (Gongzhong dang). These palace memorials/edicts are organized into eighteen subject categories, with such categories as non-Han people’s affairs, military affairs, finance, and agriculture of particular value. In addition to the Palace Archives, there are nearly 800,000 documents located in the Grand Council Archives (Junjichu dangan). The majority of these Grand Council documents are memorial file copies (lufu zouzhe) created to keep track of what was sent to the emperor for comment (vermillion rescripts), and thus in some instances the information here duplicates what is classified in the Palace Archives. The Grand Council Archives are classified according to the same eighteen categories as the Palace Archives. Finally, in Taiwan there are approximately 300,000 documents in the Grand Secretariat Archives located at Academia Sinica (fully digitized and available online), and an equally large collection of Grand Council palace memorials with vermillion rescripts at the National Palace Museum Library. Both the First Historical Archives and the National Palace Museum Library have published portions of their archives in collected works, so it is recommended the researcher first consult the most recent edition of Endymion Wilkinson’s Chinese History: A New Manuel to see what primary sources from these two archives are already available in print.

If the research project is centered less on state policy and more on local history, then the researcher should consult the various provincial archives and provincial libraries in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Guangxi. Although access to primary source materials in these provincial archives can be difficult at times, a number of city museums and local libraries throughout the southwest contain surprisingly rich collections of primary sources, such as land deeds, population and tax records, information on guild halls, and especially information and artifacts related to the local non-Han peoples.

Further Reading

Crossley, Pamela Kyle, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton, eds. Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity and Frontier in Early Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Faure, David. Emperor and Ancestor: State and Lineage in South China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Faure, David, and Ho Ts’ui-p’ing, eds. Chieftains into Ancestors: Imperial Expansion and Indigenous Society in Southwest China. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Fitzgerald, Charles P. The Southward Expansion of the Chinese People. New York: Praeger, 1972.Find this resource:

Giersch, C. Patterson. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Von Glahn, Richard. The Country of Streams and Grottoes: Expansion, Settlement, and the Civilizing of the Sichuan Frontier in Song Times. Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1987.Find this resource:

Harrell, Stevan, ed., Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Herman, John E. Amid the Clouds and Mist: China’s Colonization of Guizhou, 1200–1700. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007.Find this resource:

Hostetler, Laura. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Jenks, Robert D. Insurgency and Social Disorder in Guizhou: The “Miao” Rebellion, 1854–1873. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Lee, James Z. “Food Supply and Population Growth in Southwest China, 1250–1850.” Journal of Asian Studies 41, no. 4 (1982): 711–746.Find this resource:

Lombard-Salmon, Claudine. Un exemple d’acculturation chinoise: La province du Guizhou au XVIII siècle. Paris: L’École Francais d’Extrême Orient, 1972.Find this resource:

Miles, Steven B. Upriver Journeys: Diaspora and Empire in Southern China, 1570–1850. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2017.Find this resource:

Rowe, William T. Saving the World: Chen Hongmou and Elite Consciousness in Eighteenth Century China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Shepherd, John R. Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600–1800. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Shin, Leo K. The Making of the Chinese State: Ethnicity and Expansion on the Ming Borderlands. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Smith, Kent Clarke. “Ch’ing Policy and the Development of Southwest China: Aspects of Ortai’s Governor-Generalship, 1726–1731.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1970.Find this resource:

Struve, Lynn A. The Ming-Qing Conflict, 1619–1683: A Historiography and Source Guide. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 1998.Find this resource:

Sutton, Donald S. “Violence and Ethnicity on a Qing Colonial Frontier: Customary and Statutory Law in the Eighteenth-Century Miao Pale.” Modern Asian Studies 37, no. 1 (February 2003): 41–80.Find this resource:

Weinstein, Jodi L. Empire and Identity in Guizhou: Local Resistance to Qing Expansion. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Wiens, Herold J. China’s March Toward the Tropics. Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1954.Find this resource:

Wilkinson, Endymion. Chinese History: A New Manuel. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2017.Find this resource:

Yingcong, Dai. The Sichuan Frontier and Tibet: Imperial Strategy in the Early Qing. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.Find this resource:


(1.) The best examples of this Chinese narrative are, Ho Ping-ti’s “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s ‘Reenvisioning the Qing,’” The Journal of Asian Studies 57, no. 1 (February 1998): 123–155; Xu Jieshun, Xueqiu: Han minzu de renleixue fenxi (Snowball: An Anthropological Analysis of the Han Nationality) (Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe, 1999); and Fei Xiaotong, Zhonghua minzu duoyuan yiti geju (The Plurality and Organic Unity of the Chinese Nationality) (Beijing: Zhongyang Renmin Xueyuan Chubanshe, 1989). An abbreviated version of Xu’s snowball theory can be found in Xu Jieshun’s “Understanding the Snowball Theory of the Han Nationality,” in Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation, and Identity of China’s Majority, eds. Thomas S. Mullaney, James Leibold, Stephane Gros, and Eric Vanden Bussche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 113–127.

(2.) Beatrice S. Bartlett, Monarchs and Ministers: The Grand Council in Mid-Ch’ing China, 1723–1820 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Mark C. Elliott, The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001); and Evelyn S. Rawski, The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). As Elliott points out in The Manchu Way, this linear narrative was already examined and found wanting back in 1949 by Karl Wittfogel and Feng Chia-sheng, in History of Chinese Society: Liao, 907–1125 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1949).

(3.) James A. Millward, Beyond the Pass: Economy, Ethnicity, and Empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759–1864 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Nicola Di Cosmo, “Qing Colonial Administration in Inner Asia,” The International History Review 20, no. 2 (June 1998): 287–309; and Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005). See also R. Kent Guy, “Who Were the Manchus? A Review Essay,” The Journal of Asian Studies 61, no. 1 (February 2002): 151–164.

(4.) Herold J. Wiens, China’s March Toward the Tropics (Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1954); Charles P. Fitzgerald, The Southward Expansion of the Chinese People (New York: Praeger, 1972); and Wang Gungwu, “The Chinese Urge to Civilize: Reflections on Change,” in The Chineseness of China, ed. Wang Gungwu (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991).

(5.) Xu Jieshun, Xueqiu: Han minzu de renleixue fenxi (Snowball: An Anthropological Analysis of the Han Nationality) (Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe, 1999). The renowned anthropologist Fei Xiaotong was one of the first Chinese scholars to describe the Han as a snowball when he outlined his theory of “plurality and organic unity” (duoyuan yiti) of the Chinese nation/race (Zhonghua minzu). According to Fei, the Han minzu (nationality, ethnic group or race) was the “coagulate core” (ningju hexin) to which various peoples fused together (ronghe) as they spread across the Central Plain and beyond. Fei Xiaotong, Zhonghua minzu duoyuan yiti geju (The Plurality and Organic Unity of the Chinese Nationality) (Beijing: Zhongyang Renmin Xueyuan Chubanshe, 1989).

(6.) Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization,” 134–137.

(7.) For a brief discussion of the Southern Silk Road and the trade in cowrie shells, see Bin Yang, Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan (second century BCE to Twentieth Century CE (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Bin Yang, “The Rise and Fall of Cowrie Shells: The Asian Story,” Journal of World History 22, no. 1 (March 2011): 1–25; and Hans Ulrich Vogel and Sabine Hieronymus, “Cowry Trade and Its Role in the Economy of Yünnan: From the Ninth to the Mid-Seventeenth Century. Part I,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 36, no. 3 (1993): 211–252.

(8.) John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012), xii.

(9.) For a general discussion on empires, see Charles Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985); Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context: Volume 1, Integration on the Mainland, c. 800–1830 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), and Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context: Volume 2, Mainland Mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands, c. 800–1830 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009); and Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

(10.) Representative research on the role of the tusi office in Chinese southern expansion are She Yize, Zhongguo tusi zhidu (China’s tusi institution) (Shanghai: Shangwu shuju reprint, 1947); Wu Yongzhang, Zhongguo tusi zhidu yuanyuan yu fazhan shi (The origins and historical development of China’s tusi institution) (Chengdu: Sichuan minzu chuban she, 1988); Li Shiyu, “Luelun tusi zhidu yu gaitu guiliu” (A brief discussion of the native official [tusi] institution and bureaucratic consolidation), in Zhongguo gudai bianjiang zhengce yanjiu (Research on ancient China’s frontier policies), ed. Ma Dazhang (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1990), 465–494; Gong Yin, Zhongguo tusi zhidu (China’s tusi institution) (Kunming: Yunnan renmin chubanshe, 1992). In English, see Herold J. Wiens, China’s March Toward the Tropics (Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1954); and Huang Pei, Autocracy at Work: A Study of the Yung-cheng Period, 1723–1735 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974).

(11.) Bettina Gramlich-Oka, “Shogunal Administration of Copper in the Mid-Tokugawa Period (1670–1720),” in Metals, Monies, and Markets in Early Modern Societies: East Asian and Global Perspectives, eds. Thomas Hirzel and Nanny Kim (Berlin: LIT Verlag Münster, 2008), 91–97; Iwasaki Yoshinori, “Genbun dōza-ki no Nagasaki kaidō to Nagasaki bōeki” (Nagasaki copper transport and Nagasaki trade of the copper agency during the Genbun period), Sumitomo shiryōkan-po 34 (2003): 1–42; Nakajima Satoshi, “Shinchō no dōsei ni okeru yōdō to tendō” (Qing dynasty copper administration: Japanese copper and Yunnan copper), Tōyōshigaku Ronshū (Bulletin of oriental research), ed. Nakajima Satoshi (Tokyo: Kyūko Shoin, 1988): 161–177; and Hiroyuki Ueda, Shinchō shihai to kahei seisaku: Shindai zenki ni okeru seisan kyōkyū seisaku no tenkai (Qing rule and monetary policy: The development of coin supply policy during the early Qing period) (Tōkyō: Kyūko Shoin, 2009), 110–120.

(12.) Yan Zhongping. Qingdai Yunnan tongzheng kao (Study of copper administration in Yunnan during the Qing period) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1957), 12–13; Ueda, Shinchō shihai to kahei seisaku, 177–184; Mamoru Kawakatsu, “Shin-Kenryūki unnandō no kyōun mondai” (Copper transport from Yunnan to Beijing in the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty), in Min Shin Kōnōsei to kyokudaitoshi rensa—Chōkō to Daiungawa (Connections in the Ming-Qing tribute system—the Yangzi River and Grand Canal), ed. Mamoru Kawakatsu (Tokyo: Kyūko Shoin, 2009), 526–629; Yang Yuda. “Qingdai zhongqi (1726–1855) niandai Dian dongbei de tongye kaifa yu huanjing bianqian” (Development of copper mining and environmental change in northeast Yunnan during the early Qing period, 1726–1855), Zhongguoshi yanjiu (Chinese Hist—wenxiankaozheng yu shidi diaocha (An examination of the transportation system for Yunnan’s minted copper during the Qing period: Based on literary and field research) (MA thesis, Qinghua University, 2008); and Nanny Kim, “Copper Transports out of Yunnan, ca. 1750–1850: Preliminary Findings on Transport Technologies, Natural Difficulties and Dnvironmental Change in a Southwestern Highland Area,” in Metals, Monies, and Markets in Early Modern Societies: East Asian and Global Perspectives, eds. Thomas Hirzel and Nanny Kim (Berlin: LIT, 2008), 191–220.

(13.) Yan, Qingdai Yunnan, 81–84.

(14.) Hans Ulrich Vogel, “Chinese Central Monetary Policy, 1644–1800,” Late Imperial China 8, no. 2 (1987): 10.

(15.) Da Qing lichao Shizong shilu (Veritable records of the Qing dynasty, Yongzheng reign, 1723–1735) (rpt., Taipei: Huawen shuju, 1964), 20:17b–18a.

(16.) Nicholas B. Dirks, The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 335.

(17.) Elliott, The Manchu Way, 4.

(18.) Tian Wen, Qianshu (A Book on Qian) (ca. 1690), Preface:1.

(19.) The exception to this argument are the published works by Chen Ding, a young man who spent considerable time among the tusi in Guizhou and Yunnan during the last decades of the 17th century. Several of the tusi officials Chen was acquainted with did speak Chinese, were familiar with Han cultural practices, and enjoyed one of the more unique products to reach China at this time, tobacco. But even Chen admits that beyond the tusi official and his immediate family, Han cultural practices were virtually nonexistent. See Chen Ding, Dian Qian youji (A record of my journey through Guizhou and Yunnan) (ca. 1690), and Dian Qian tusi hunli ji (An account of marriage ceremonies among the tusi in Yunnan and Guizhou) (ca. 1700).

(20.) To appreciate how the Qing monarchy interacted with powerful regional actors in southwest China, I have benefited from the insights of Victor Lieberman, Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, c. 1580–1760 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 33–38; Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 81–97; and Peter C. Perdue, “Strange Parallels Across Eurasia,” Social Science History 32, no. 2 (2008): 263–279. For school building in 18th-century southwest, see William T. Rowe, “Education and Empire in Southwest China: Ch’en Hung-mou in Yunnan, 1733–1738,” in Education and Society in Late Imperial China, 1600–1900, eds. Benjamin Elman and Alexander Woodside (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

(21.) James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

(22.) Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 4. See also Joseph W. Esherick, Hasan Kayah, and Eric Van Young, eds., Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

(23.) Evelyn S. Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross Border Perspectives (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 17.

(24.) Guo Wu, “New Qing History: Dispute, Dialog, and Influence,” The Chinese Historical Review 23, no. 1 (May 2016): 47–69; Joanna Waley-Cohen, “The New Qing History,” Radical History Review 88 (Winter 2004): 193–206; Ding Yizhuang, “Reflections on the ‘New Qing History’ School in the United States,” Chinese Studies in History 43, no. 2 (2009): 92–96; and Li Zhiting, “New Qing History: An Example of a New Imperialist Historiography,” Chinese Social Sciences Today (April 20, 2015); “Why a Chinese Government Think Tank Attacked American Scholars,” National Public Radio, May 21, 2015 Retrieved from

(25.) Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed; C. Patterson Giersch, Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Donald S. Sutton, “Ethnicity and the Miao Frontier in the Eighteenth Century,” in Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China, eds. Pamela Kyle Crossley, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 190–228; Donald S. Sutton, “Violence and Ethnicity on a Qing Colonial Frontier: Customary and Statutory Law in the 18th Century Miao Pale,” Modern Asian Studies 37, no. 1 (February 2003): 41–80; and Jodi L. Weinstein, Empire and Identity in Guizhou: Local Resistance to Qing Expansion (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013). Frederik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference (Long Grove, IL.: Waveland Press, 1998 [1969]).

(26.) C. Patterson Giersch, “From Subjects to Han: The Rise of Han as Identity in Nineteenth-Century Southwest China,” in Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation, and Identity of China’s Majority, eds. Thomas S. Mullaney, James Leibold, Stephane Gros, and Eric Vanden Bussche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 191–209. A similar type of situation was described by Stevan Harrell, in “From Xiedou to Yijun, the Decline of Ethnicity in Northern Taiwan, 1885–1895,” Late Imperial China 11, no. 1 (June 1990): 99–127.

(27.) Kathlene Baldanza, Ming China and Vietnam: Negotiating Borders in Early Modern Asia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

(28.) Evelyn S. Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross Border Perspectives (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(29.) Evelyn S. Rawski, “Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History,” The Journal of Asian Studies 55, no. 4 (1996): 829–850; Evelyn S. Rawski, “The Qing Formation and the Early Modern Period,” in The Qing Formation in World Historical Time, ed. Lynn A. Struve (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2004), 207–241; Evelyn S. Rawski, The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); and Pamela Kyle Crossley and Evelyn S. Rawski, “A Profile of the Manchu Language in Ch’ing History,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 53, no. 1 (1993): 63–102.

(30.) Joseph W. Esherick, “China and the World: From Tribute, to Treaties to Popular Nationalism,” in China’s Rise in Historical Perspective, ed. Brantly Womack (Plymouth, U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), 20.

(31.) Krishan Kumar, “Nation-States as Empires, Empires as Nation-States: Two Principles, One Practice?,” Theory and Society 39, no. 2 (2010): 119–143.