Library Header Image
LSE Theses Online London School of Economics web site

Power and identity in the Qing empire: a study of the political and economic life of the elites through confiscation inventories 1700-1912

Qiu, Yitong (2022) Power and identity in the Qing empire: a study of the political and economic life of the elites through confiscation inventories 1700-1912. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

[img] Text - Submitted Version
Download (20MB)
Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004455


China has often been portrayed as a society that changed little for centuries before 1912. It was ruled by the same “Chinese” elite. Some equate “Chinese” culture with Han culture and the Han minzu, who form most of the inhabitants of today’s China. Yet in the Qing empire, which lasted from 1644 to 1912, the state declared that their ruling elite, the Manchus, as a distinct cultural entity. Their banner army system included separate Manchu and Mongol branches as well as a Han branch. After their consolidation of the central plain, the Qing rulers allowed Han people to join the bureaucracy, but Manchu officials worked in parallel. The Qing categorized the people under their rule based on vague cultural categories, but what did it mean to be Manchu, Mongol or Han? Did the Manchu and Mongol bannermen become assimilated to the majority Han culture because they only constituted 3% of the population? Or did they retain an independent identity of their own? This thesis examines the cultural identity of the Qing empire’s elite through the evidence of their possessions in order to understand whether the Qing regime was a Han empire or a multi-cultural empire. Existing research on Qing elite group identity focusses predominantly on textual evidence. Yet material culture is one of the hallmarks of identity. People, whether literate or illiterate, use material culture as a powerful medium through which to express themselves, whether through their clothing, the furnishing and decoration of their domestic environment or their activities. This study exploits the confiscation inventories of 17 Mongolian and 96 Manchu bannermen, and 192 Han families (127 officials), reported in memorials housed in various East Asia archives. It combines a quantitative analysis of possessions recorded in the confiscation inventories with the study of the cultural resonances of these goods. It argues that the ruling elite, in general, maintained their proto-ethnic cultural distinctiveness throughout the Qing period. In private, the non-banner Han elite decorated their houses in ways rooted in the Chinese book culture and literati taste that had persisted since the Song period. They owned silk, porcelain, ritual objects, and carvings. They possessed hundreds of volumes of Chinese books and practiced calligraphies and paintings. In contrast, Manchu and Mongol bannermen kept to a northern taste and way of life. They acquired gold utensils, metalware, rare court-controlled luxuries, and rare fur clothes. They 4 practiced martial arts and owned more horses and weapons than Han elite. When we look at their dress, at least in public, elite presented themselves as Qing subjects, following the Qing sumptuary requirement on style, but Han scholar officials also mimicked the garments and hunting accessories preferred by the Manchu and Mongol bannermen. The material cultural analysis provided in this thesis suggests that the Qing empire was a multi-cultural empire at the elite level, ruled by a culturally distinct group of Manchu and Mongol bannermen who sat at the top of the society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Yitong Qiu
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Wallis, Patrick

Actions (login required)

Record administration - authorised staff only Record administration - authorised staff only


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics