The Qing Version of History: Methodological and Thematic Innovation in Historiography, 1636–1800

AHA Session 131
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Riverside Suite (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Christopher Atwood, University of Pennsylvania
Christopher Atwood, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

In the Qing period (1636-1912), the study of history rose to new prominence in Chinese intellectual life. Past studies of Qing-era historiography have often concentrated on the contentious politics of historical writing in this period, above all the question of how the Qing state sought to justify the Manchu conquest of China, and the ways Chinese scholars came to agree with or dissent from these claims. Neglected in this focus are the enormous technical and methodological advances made by Qing-era historians. This panel attempts to place these methodological advances in the context of Qing intellectual life, and uncover the constellation of factors and influences that allowed them to take place. A distinguishing feature of Qing historical writing was its self-conscious ambition to grapple with questions and types of evidence that earlier scholars had overlooked. Whereas historiography in the preceding Ming period had tended to stress moral lessons at the expense of original research, Qing-era historical writing often set aside moral questions entirely to pursue complex and highly technical investigations requiring specialized training. Scholars emphasized the vast range of sources combed for evidence, from official archives, to libraries, to private manuscript collections and personal encounters. In many subfields, philological, mathematical, and scientific knowledge became an essential ancillary tool. Scholars were proud of what they regarded as the innovative rigor and precision of their methods, which in their view allowed them to bring the past into unprecedented clarity. This panel brings together scholars working on Qing-era historiography from various perspectives to illustrate the dynamic developments of this period, concentrating on two themes. The papers of Bian and Wu consider how technical knowledge of cosmology, stimulated by the arrival of Jesuit missionaries and later advanced by indigenous research, percolated into fields as diverse as the representation of wonders and the production of local histories. The papers of Sela and Mosca consider how the Yuan shi, the official Chinese-language history of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, came to be examined in unprecedented detail. Both Manchu and Mongolian translators and Han Chinese kaozheng (‘evidentiary research’) scholars used their polyglot training to attempt to solve what they regarded as errors in the text, in the process identifying new puzzles. These papers use Manchu, Mongolian, Chinese, and European sources to investigate how Qing historians pioneered new methodologies and reshaped the culture of historical study in early modern China.
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