Thinking about Qing Dynasty Local Gazetteers through Jesuit-Related Records

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 3:30 PM
Riverside Suite (Sheraton New York)
Huiyi Wu, Needham Research Institute and Centre d’études sur la Chine Moderne et Contemporaine
The eighteenth century saw a flourishing in Qing Dynasty China of local gazetteers, a historiographical genre compiled by officials and local gentry describing the landscape, flora and fauna, temples and schools, officials and celebrities, culture and customs of each locality of the empire under topical headings. This paper discusses the nature of this genre by looking at the records they contain about Jesuit missionaries. As a numerically and socially marginal group with a considerable intellectual contribution, Jesuits left a significant amount of records in local gazetteers, which can now be tracked down systematically thanks to digital means. This paper first analyses the distribution of these records among the thematic categories of the gazetteers. A comparison between these records with Western sources then reveals the gap between the image of missionaries in the gazetteers and the missionaries’ self-representation. It also reveals a radical geographical discrepancy between the localities where missionaries actually were and where the gazetteer recorded their names. I argue that, instead of missionaries’ physical presence, these records reflect the circulation of books and the mobility of the missionaries’ Chinese interlocutors; they reflect the gazetteer editors’ approach to Jesuit-mediated Western learning, providing rare insights into the historiographical thinking of Qing China’s local elite and the functioning of local gazetteers as a genre. Finally, I observe that the significant number of Qing dynasty gazetteers have integrated elements of European astronomy in the fenye 分野 (field allocation) chapters concerning the cosmological position of a locality in the imperial realm. The genre of local gazetteer appears to be flexible rather than rigid in the face of new knowledge.
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