Qing China – between walls and the maritime world
Professor Yang-wen Zheng (University of Manchester)
Wind of the West Ocean [西洋风]: How the Maritime World Shaped Modern China
ITSH and Modern History Seminar Series
Time and Venue:
Monday, 30 January 2017, room 1.10, School of History, St Andrews (St Katherine’s Lodge, The Scores)
Generations of Chinese scholars have made China’s frontiers synonymous with the Great Wall and presented its civilization as fundamentally land-bound. I have challenged this perspective, demonstrating that China was not a “Walled Kingdom”, certainly not since the Yongjia Disturbance in 311. China reached out to the maritime world far more actively than historians have acknowledged, while the seas and what came from the seas-from Islam, fragrances and Jesuits to maize, opium and clocks—significantly changed the course of history, and have been of inestimable importance to China since the Ming.
It is time we integrate the maritime history of China, a subject which has hitherto languished on the periphery of Chinese studies, into the mainstream of current historical narrative. This talk focuses on the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) when China’s maritime trade pattern changed as its imports shifted from luxuries catering to the court and elite, as they had done since the Han-Tang era, to mundane consumer items. This change began in the latter half of the Ming and became obvious during the Qing. What led to this change and what can we learn from it? From what the Chinese wear to what they eat, chew, drink and smoke, from how they live to the ways in which they move themselves, and even to the manner in which they think and re-invent the country, foreign goods, inventions and ideas that came from the maritime world have fundamentally changed Chinese economy, culture, society and even politics.