Ming And Qing Dynasty Essay Scholarships

In the 1950s and 1960s the majority of scholarship on local elites was based on the theories of Max Weber and Karl A. Wittfogel. From a sociological perspective, Weber 1951 describes a Chinese society tightly controlled by bureaucrats appointed by the imperial authority. The book supports the argument that local elites in late imperial China were an extension of the imperial state. In particular, the Weberian concept of bureaucracy offers justification for viewing late imperial China as despotic, with decisions made by the central authority. Separately, based on Karl Marx’s notion of “the Asiatic mode of production,” Wittfogel 1957 offers a similar perspective on late imperial China. The book describes the totalitarian rule of Chinese imperial leaders in developing a hydraulic economy. Focusing on economy rather than the political structure, Wittfogel also sees Chinese rulers as despots who controlled all aspects of Chinese life through an army of bureaucrats (see Brook 1989). Chinese despotism remained a dominant view in the academy until the 1970s, when a new generation of scholars viewed Chinese society as an autonomous realm. There were two factors that led to this change. The first was the introduction of Japanese scholarship, which in many ways challenged the notion of Chinese despotism (see Grove and Daniels 1984). The second was the adoption of social science methodologies that highlighted the complexity and fluidity of local society. Two social science methodologies were particularly important in changing the direction of research. One was the Skinner 1964 study of market towns, which put emphasis on local networks of exchange and circulation. The other was the Freedman 1958 study of lineage, which linked local power to systems of identity. Shaped by these two approaches, the study of local elites turned to the multifaceted and contentious relations between the imperial authority and local societies. While not rejecting local elites’ link to the imperial authority, Denis Twitchett was the first scholar who pointed out the importance of viewing local elites as power holders of local society (see Twitchett 1965).

  • Brook, Timothy. “Introduction.” In The Asiatic Mode of Production in China. Edited by Timothy Brook, 3–34. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1989.

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    In the introduction Brook discusses the meaning of “the Asiatic mode of production” and traces its influence on East Asian scholars.

  • Freedman, Maurice. Lineage Organization in Southeastern Kwangtung. London: Athlone, 1958.

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    As an anthropologist, Freedman made a large impact on the study of local elites by focusing on kinship, lineage, and the construction of identities. He and G. William Skinner were instrumental in developing a broader scope to study the structure of local power in rural China.

  • Grove, Linda, and Christian Daniels. “Introduction.” In State and Society in China: Japanese Perspectives on Ming-Qing Social and Economic History. Edited by Linda Grove and Christian Daniels, 3–16. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1984.

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    The introduction by Grove and Daniels summarizes the development of Japanese studies of late imperial China since the 1940s. The summary not only highlights the complexity and fluidity of Chinese local society but also challenges the notion of Asian stagnation. More important, the summary questions whether the Weberian notion of “gentry” is adequate to encapsulate the multiple roles of local elites in late imperial China.

  • Skinner, G. William. “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China.” Journal of Asian Studies 24.1 (1964): 3–43.

    DOI: 10.2307/2050412E-mail Citation »

    Continued in Journal of Asian Studies 24.2 (1965): 195–228 and Journal of Asian Studies 24.3 (1965): 363–399. Skinner’s market town analysis brings a spatial perspective to the study of local elites. Rather than seeing local elites as “gentry” who were the same throughout China, the market town analysis highlights regional differences resulting from economic, social, and cultural uniqueness. Skinner’s argument provided the theoretical foundation for regional studies in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Twitchett, Denis. “A Critique of Some Recent Studies of Modern Chinese Social-Economic History.” Transactions of the Conference of Orientalists in Japan 10 (1965): 28–41.

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    In this article Twitchett questions the meaning of “gentry” as an all-encompassing category for local elites. To make his point, he distinguishes two types of gentry: gentry as a subdivision of the bureaucracy and gentry as social class based on inherited wealth and power. While Twitchett does not reject local elites’ link to the imperial authority, he opens the possibility of viewing local elites as power holders in local society.

  • Weber, Max. The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism. New York: New Press, 1951.

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    This book examines the sociological roots of Chinese despotism. Since the book highlights the link between power and culture (especially the examination system and Confucian orthodoxy), it provides the theoretical foundation for the argument that local elites were an extension of the imperial authority. The discussion of the literati in the book is often cited in discussions of the roles of gentry in local society.

  • Wittfogel, Karl A. Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.

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    This book examines the economic roots of Chinese despotism. Building on Karl Marx’s notion of “the Asiastic mode of production,” Wittfogel develops the concept of “Oriental despotism” to describe the totalistic power of Chinese imperial rulers in building a hydraulic economy.

  • Materials have also been included from bibliography courses at the University of Pennsylvania 1975-1977. Thanks are especially due Professors Susan Naquin, W. Allyn Rickett, and more recently Nathan Sivin. This new version of the website is now located at Princeton University and is hosted in the Library's LibGuides East Asian Studies Portal. It has been updated and now includes three major new features:

    1) All entries are alphabetized within each section;

    2) The romanization has been switched to Pinyin. Although this website uses Pinyin, it splits up words into phonemes, making Chinese appear to be a monosyllabic language. The Library of Congress has preferred a character-by-character romanization, and thus we follow LOC guidelines. But users of this website should note that the division into words (ci 辭 or 詞) as opposed to characters (zi 字) is still the usual basis for the Pinyin romanization of Chinese in China and most libraries there.

    3) The entire site is now searchable.

    4) Cases where there are no topical subdivisions will be referred to as "All Content".

    All materials are under copyright: 1996 by Benjamin A. Elman.

    Last Revision: January 2018

    This list may be cited and reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only, provided credits and copyright are acknowledged. Links to this site should mention the Princeton University East Asian Library as the URL site and the compiler of the materials as the "author".

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