Discovering Empire in China

Eurasian Empires Seminar Series Lecture by Mark Elliott, Harvard University

Monday, March 03, 2014
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

The custom in the West is to speak of the “Chinese empire,” but the absence of any such word as “empire” in the Chinese language ought to give us pause:  Why, exactly, do we in the West speak of China historically as an “empire,” and when did this habit begin?  Since when have Chinese writers referred to China as an empire (diguo), and what do they mean by it?  Through an examination of early modern Sinological discourse, this paper makes the argument that the European discovery of “empire” in China coincided with the Manchu conquest of China in the mid-17th century.  It goes on to examine the adoption of this vocabulary by the Chinese themselves in the 19th c., before building a case for why, apart from old habit, we might be able to think of the Qing state – if not all of “China” historically – as an empire.

Mark Elliott is Mark Schwartz Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History and Director of the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. His books include, Emperor Qianlong:  Son of Heaven, Man of the World (Longman/Pearson, 2009); New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde, with James Millward, Ruth Dunnell, and Philippe Foret (Routledge Curzon, 2004); and The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford, 2001).

The 2013-2014 seminar series, Eurasian Empires & Central Asian Peoples: The Backlands in World History, is co-sponsored by the UCLA Program on Central Asia and the Center for Near Eastern Studies. Click here for more information about the series.

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Asia Pacific Center, Program on Central Asia