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Local Visions of the Ming in the Late Qing – Sponsored by the Society for Ming Studies
Organizer and Chair: Chuck Wooldridge, Princeton University
Discussant: Pamela Crossley, Dartmouth College
By the late 19th century, allusions to the Ming could evoke contradictory
associations: loyalty or sedition; literati activism or imperial autocracy;
nationalist yearnings or
regionalist pride. The four papers in this panel each examine a geographically-limited Ming revival movement in the waning years of the Qing to explore ways in which scholars and officials employed potent images of the Ming to satisfy contemporary concerns. Stephen Platt and Steven Miles study the Qing reception of individual Ming figures; Platt explores the complex motives behind the scholarly cult of Wang Fuzhi in 19th-century Hunan, while Miles investigates the ambivalence of Guangzhou scholars toward the work of Kuang Lu. Chuck Wooldridge tackles the changing perceptions of Nanjing’s legacy as Ming capital. Tze-ki Hon considers Lower Yangzi scholarship on the Qing conquest, tracing its explosive ramifications for the 1911 revolution.
What did the Ming mean to scholars in Shanghai, Canton, Hunan, and Nanjing in the late Qing? What were the political threats, promises, and consequences of latter-day Ming nostalgia? Just as scholars of Chinese poetry and prose have grappled with the dense layers of allusion and historical reference that lend power to texts, the historians on this panel highlight the layered and complex late-Qing depictions of Ming people, places, and events. Each offers a local vision of the Ming past and considers its implications for the politics of the very late empire.
The Revival of Wang Fuzhi
Stephen R. Platt, University of Massachusetts
Zeng Guofan’s publication of the complete works of Wang Fuzhi (Chuanshan Yishu) in 1867 has been an enduring mystery. Why – the question goes – would the Hunan Army general who saved the Qing dynasty from the worst rebellion in its history suddenly turn around and publish the the most anti-Manchu of the major Ming loyalists? Decades later, Zhang Taiyan would speculate that either Zeng was a secret revolutionary or he wanted to expiate his sins for supporting the Qing. But the publication is puzzling only when one accepts Zhang’s premise that Wang Fuzhi was always defined by his anti-Manchu writings. This paper will go beyond the subversive elements of Wang Fuzhi’s thought to explore his wider significance to the Hunanese who first rescued him from oblivion.
The 1867 publication was driven not by resentment of the Qing but by the desire to rehabilitate Hunan’s reputation as intellectual backwater. Beginning in the 1830’s, literati in the Hunanese capital of Changsha touted the newly-rediscovered Wang Fuzhi as a local model, the greatest Hunanese scholar in five centuries. They built academies and study societies in his honor, shared his works, and gave public lectures on his birthdays, and in doing so they easily sidestepped his anti-Manchu writings in favor of his models of loyalty, adherence to the rites, and his flexible views on tradition and progress. Their purpose was not to build a base for revolutionary thought, though the intellectual structures they established would – by the early 20th century – serve those ends quite well.
The Ming Capital, 1819-1911
Chuck Wooldridge, Princeton
In the early nineteenth-century, elite residents of Nanjing described themselves as inheritors and custodians of the city’s Ming past. Architecture and ritual encouraged this view. Many of the city’s prominent edifices were Ming buildings: the ruins of the Ming imperial palace still stood, and the city’s Confucian temple had been the Ming imperial academy. Shrines throughout the city honored Ming figures, especially those who had died out of loyalty to the Jianwen emperor in 1402. Although the Ming had fallen in 1644, the Ming’s southern capital remained accessible.
The devastation caused by the Taiping rebellion disrupted this sense of continuity. Face with a city in ruins, residents collected books, compiled biographies of Ming figures, and sought to excavate remnants of the Ming capital from the rubble. Like Hunanese efforts to revive Wang Fuhzi, the initial concern was to restore the city’s reputation as a center of learning, but by the early twentieth century new visions of the state inflected the project of Ming revival with revolutionary overtones.
Pioneer, Martyr, Eccentric: Nineteenth-Century Cantonese Readings of Kuang Lu
Steven B. Miles, Washington University
In the mid-nineteenth century, tours of Guangxi became a fad among the Cantonese elite. Cantonese literati who left records of their Guangxi tours invariably mentioned Kuang Lu (1604-1650) as a predecessor. A pioneering Cantonese travel writer, Kuang produced an often fantastical account, entitled Chiya, of the creatures that he claimed to have encountered during a trip through Guangxi in the 1630s. For nineteenth-century Cantonese travel writers, Chiya served as a guide for imagining what was, in light of the vast Cantonese commercial interests in Guangxi, a Cantonese western frontier.
This paper examines nineteenth-century Cantonese readings of Kuang Lu’s Chiya. Primarily, I conceive of travel writing produced by Kuang and his nineteenth-century readers as part of a larger Cantonese cartographic and ethnographic project in Guangxi. Many of the later writers were influenced by evidential research recently popularized in Guangzhou at the Xuehaitang academy. They were quick to note when Kuang’s fanciful assertions did not mesh with their on-site investigations. Particularly in prose writing, then, Kuang appears as a bold but occasionally misguided Cantonese pioneer. In poetry, he often evoked other images for nineteenth-century Cantonese literati. Kuang was a Ming martyr, though a problematic one because of his association with the maligned "eunuch clique." Kuang also exhibited the most extreme example in Guangzhou of the eccentricity fashionable among late-Ming literati. In poems about Kuang, nineteenth-century Cantonese literati envisioned his eccentricity as a manifestation of his loyalty while in prose commentaries they typically saw it as symptomatic of the maladies of late-Ming literati culture.
The Present of the Past: Different Uses of the Late-Ming in the 1911
Tze-ki Hon, State University of New York, Geneseo
Over the centuries, each dynastic change in China had unleashed torrents of historical memories. But the force of historical memory was even greater during the 1900s when the revolutionaries were contemplating a drastic overhaul of the political system rather than a mere change of the dynasty. To promote their cause, the revolutionaries reinterpreted the history of the late Ming period for at least three purposes. First, the Ming despotism clearly demonstrated the problems of absolute monarchy and thereby justified a revamping of the political system. Second, the retelling of the history of the late Ming loyalists would rekindle and reinvigorate the longstanding anti-Manchu sentiments in the lower Yangzi area. Third, the atrocities committed by the Manchus during the Ming-Qing transition proved that the Manchus were indeed a different race, and therefore they should not be the rulers of Han Chinese.
Because the late Ming period evoked so many different meanings, the revolutionaries never had a unified view of the period. Instead, they produced a series of conflicting images for various political purposes. In this paper, I will compare the different uses of the late Ming in two revolutionary journals, Min Bao (The People’s Tribute) and Guocui xuebao (Journal of National Essence). The goal of this comparison is twofold. First, it will show how writers of the two journals presented the late Ming in different light for different audiences. Second, it will demonstrate that among the revolutionaries there were diverse opinions on the future of China.