2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 249

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Clash of Empires at the Margins: Late Qing State-Building and Imperialist Competition in the Southwest and Inner Asian Border Regions

Organizer: Eric Vanden Bussche, Stanford University, USA

Chair: C. Patterson Giersch, Wellesley College, USA

Discussant: C. Patterson Giersch, Wellesley College, USA

Recent scholarship on the late Qing has emphasized an ideological shift in the imperial policies governing the ethnically diverse border regions during the late 19th and early 20th century. Amid growing domestic and foreign pressures, the hybrid practices prevalent during the mid-Qing in which non-Han elites acted as power brokers between the local peoples and the state were gradually replaced by an integrationist approach that included the provincialization of Inner Asia, border demarcation and Han migration. This panel examines how this shift reflects the uniqueness of the clash of empires at the margins of the Qing state. Given the predominance of non-Han populations and long-standing traditions of indirect rule, the Southwest and Inner Asian border regions witnessed an encounter between the Qing and European empires unlike the one in the treaty ports. In this regard, the papers discuss the underlying forces behind the formulation, implementation and unpredictable outcomes of these policies: the place of border regions in the new conceptualizations of state among Qing policy-makers, the participation of local actors and the Qing’s desire to actively compete with European powers. By assessing state-building and imperialist competition in Yunnan, Tibet and Xinjiang, this panel argues that, despite certain commonalities, these policies shouldn’t be viewed as uniform and cohesive strategies dictated by the capital. Qing officials in the border regions adapted imperial policies according to their own understanding of modern nation-building while also responding to local pressures. This approach persisted during the Republican period, providing fresh insights into China’s transition from empire to modern nation-state.

Border Demarcation and Territorial Sovereignty in Yunnan during the Late Qing
Eric Vanden Bussche, Stanford University, USA

This paper examines the attempts between the Qing and Great Britain to demarcate Yunnan’s border with British Burma in the 1890s. Led by Qing diplomats stationed in Europe, this effort marked a transformation in the imperial court’s approach to state-building in this ethnically diverse province. Through an analysis of memorials, travel diaries and maps, this paper shows how the border negotiations with the British triggered changes in the way the Qing viewed, mapped, and enforced its sovereignty in Yunnan. I argue that the Qing engaged in this endeavor to curb European encroachment in the region, reinforce the state’s political and military reach over the non-Han peoples and extend the empire’s territorial boundaries. I build upon recent scholarship that has redefined maps and geographical surveys as “weapons” in state-building and imperial expansion. In this sense, I interpret the cartographic discourses that each side employed to substantiate its territorial claims and transform existing power relations at the local level. While the British relied on maps and gazetteers produced by their own surveyors, the Qing based their claims on landmarks: the ruins of seventeenth-century gates built to control trade and mark routes for tribute missions headed for Beijing. This paper analyzes how this clash of spatial representations reflected different understandings of sovereignty. Although both sides signed a boundary agreement in 1894, some sections remained undemarcated until 1960. Ultimately, this dispute redefined the territorial perceptions of the modern Chinese state throughout the late Qing, Republican period and the first decade of Communist rule.

Late Qing “New Policy” Reforms in Central Tibet
Yudru Tsomu, Lawrence University, USA

This paper will explore how the Late Qing responded to growing encroachment by Western powers in the Himalayas and Tibet. Although the Qing’s Tibet policy was part of the nation-wide “New Policy” reforms (Xinzheng, 1901–1911), nevertheless, Tibet fell within the particular purview of the Qing. The British invasion of Tibet in 1904 prompted the Qing to develop an aggressive and integrative strategy towards Central Tibet. Between 1906 and 1911 the “New Policy” Reforms sought to establish a new and direct governance structure, which aimed to bring Central Tibet into the fold of the Qing authority. The paper analyzes the historical background to the emergence of the “New Policy” reforms in Central Tibet in the late Qing, which includes the Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia—particularly the British invasion of Tibet in 1904. The Lhasa government’s centrifugal tendency to pull further away from the Qing caused the Qing government to develop a strong sense of borderland insecurity and crisis in its national defense. The paper will examine memorials that outlined strategies and measures to consolidate the Qing control over Tibet that were submitted to the Qing court by the successive Qing Imperial Residents, Zhang Yingtan and Lian Yu. Finally it discusses Tibet’s reaction to these reforms and the reasons for their failure to integrate Central Tibet. The study of “New Policy” reforms in the Central Tibet provides insight into understanding of the national “New Policy” reforms as well as highlighting particular problems faced in frontier regions.

Qing state-building and imperialism in Xinjiang: technology as culture
Rian Thum, Loyola University, New Orleans, USA

The printing press holds a special attraction for the state, not least as a tool of state-building, but what happens when state-building efforts attempt to exploit this technology in an area dominated by the manuscript tradition? The lure of the press is clear in the example of the first printing operation in Southern Xinjiang, a rare point of overlap between the projects of Uyghur litterateurs, the Qing state, and the Imperial Russian Consulate. However, evidence suggests that these actors’ confidence was misplaced, and that their printing projects were largely failures. This paper examines such Qing and European imperialist endeavors from the perspective of Xinjiang’s indigenous Turki inhabitants in an effort to understand the dynamics of their failures. Among the ideas that emerge from this analysis is the hypothesis that print is inherently conducive to state-building projects, but only when deployed in a society that has thoroughly internalized the medium. Indeed, in the face of print-delivered reform efforts, the manuscript tradition was an important resource for Turki resistance to the increasing Qing bureaucratization of late-19th-century Xinjiang.