AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 376

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Session 376: “Fitting the Foreign into China, 1861-1901: Late-Qing Responses to Global Uniformities in Diplomacy and State-Making”

Organizer: Roger R. Thompson, Western Washington University, USA

Chair: Robert Kent Guy, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Discussant: Robert Kent Guy, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

In the late-nineteenth century the increasing developmental pace and scale of economic production and technological innovation contributed to numerous “global uniformities” in an age in which people, ideas, goods, and styles crossed national boundaries rapidly and repeatedly. In a multi-faceted challenge to conventional wisdom about post-Taiping China, this panel explores the establishment of diplomatic relations, personified by representatives dispatched from countries around the world, and the increasing presence of foreigners throughout China. Richard Horowitz analyzes the reasons why some Qing officials, during the treaty negotiations of 1858-60, opposed the presence of diplomats in Beijing. Jennifer Rudolph explores the institutional history of the Zongli Yamen (Chinese Foreign Office), which was established in 1861. She demonstrates the flexibility of Qing administration, with a special focus on spatial restructuring of the territorial hierarchy and the building of horizontal links among parallel hierarchies. Roger Thompson illustrates how these institutional trends continued in the critical years 1899-1900. Developments conventionally seen as the inexorable devolution of power in late-Qing China, are presented in these papers as creative but often imperfect solutions to continuing problems of fitting the foreign into China. In the midst of the communication crisis of 1900 echoes of the voices of 1858-60 could be heard among those who still wanted no part of these emerging global uniformities. Chair and Discussant Kent Guy’s expertise on the eighteenth century will allow him to bring a perspective that will help locate these three papers on late-nineteenth-century China in the broader context of Qing history.

They Will Look Upon the Most Secret and Important Places”: Political Globalization and its Enemies in Nineteenth Century China”
Richard S. Horowitz, California State University, Northridge, USA

In 1858, negotiations in Tianjin between Britain and the Qing Empire hit an impasse over the most innocuous of issues: whether Britain could have a diplomatic representative to reside in Beijing. Where the Qing side quickly agreed to many invasive concessions, this apparently peaceable request generated intense resistance. The Qing negotiators eventually gave in at gunpoint, but it took two more years of conflict before the ‘resident minister’ clause came into effect. In the decades after the Tianjin Treaty, Qing officials increasing found themselves playing on an unaccustomed stage to a global public. As the events of the Boxer War in 1900 showed, foreign representatives in the capital continued to be viewed askance by some parts of the Qing polity. This paper will explore the insistence of Western imperial powers on the institution of resident ministers, and Qing opposition to it, and discuss the institutional consequences the resident minister clause had for the Qing state over the ensuing forty years. Situating Qing political developments in the process of the emergence of a global political system, it rejects the interpretation that this was simply a conflict between Chinese conservatism and the cosmopolitan modernity of international law and diplomatic practice. British demands that China join the “family of nations” were deeply enmeshed in the political economy of free trade and practices of empire. ‘Conservative’ Qing opponents were not ignorant: they accurately predicted many of the impacts that integration into the global political order would have on the Qing state.

“Restructuring late 19th-century Power: Balancing Central and Local Concerns”
Jennifer M. Rudolph, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA

Pundits and scholars rightly view the rapid transformations of governmental systems and processes in contemporary China as unprecedented. The recent overhaul appears all the starker when contrasted with the accepted, negative 20th-century interpretations of 19th-century Chinese reform efforts. This paper questions the extent of that contrast by revisiting efforts to reshape the late 19th-century Qing government in order to demonstrate the ability and efficacy of the Qing central government in balancing central-level concerns with local-level necessities. It argues that the Qing Court, through the efforts of the Zongli Yamen and its ministers, transformed governmental functioning in a wide area of issues related to foreign affairs. More specifically, through a simultaneous reassertion of overall central control over the provinces and the creation of links to the provinces that allowed for both central-level penetration and more effective local resolution of issues not critical to central imperatives, Zongli Yamen ministers laid the groundwork for a potentially dramatic restructuring of Qing governmental operations. Thus the paper presents Zongli Yamen instigated reforms in a light that challenges the accepted wisdom of the value of reforms during the Self-Strengthening era.

“Provincializing Foreign Affairs: Late-Qing ‘Regionalism,’ State-Making, and the Communication Crisis of 1900”
Roger R. Thompson, Western Washington University, USA

With the Zongli Yamen’s establishment in 1861 the Qing government sought to place Sino-Western relations in an ad-hoc framework that reached to the emperor himself. Detailed information began flowing to Beijing from provincial officials, but central-government ministers did not presume to manage local conflicts, in part because of communication difficulties. At the same time Western diplomats in Beijing expected a more centralized management regime. Once China’s telegraph network was established in the 1880s these expectations increased. Moreover, the internationalizing of local disputes between Chinese and foreigners because of China’s treaty obligations overwhelmed traditional reporting and decision-making protocols that linked Beijing and the provinces. In response to these challenges, and in an attempt to strengthen its own power over foreign affairs, the office of “minister of the Zongli Yamen” was granted concurrently to all provincial governors on 3 January 1899. For some reform-minded officials this association with the part of the Beijing bureaucracy most closely associated with introducing the foreign was welcome. This cohort was shocked when a purge within the Zongli Yamen during the summer of 1900 privileged more conservative voices. Reform-minded provincial officials, now concurrently Zongli Yamen ministers, refused to follow the lead of their more bellicose colleagues in Beijing. These policy differences were refracted and magnified through a telegraph network that was compromised in Beijing but used extensively in lateral communications between provinces. This was not, as some have argued, a provincial challenge to Beijing’s fundamental power and authority.