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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Wednesday, 16 October, 2019 - 17:00 to 18:30

China Research Seminar Series talk given by Donald Sutton, Carnegie Mellon University

History offers us contrasting evaluations of the Qianlong emperor (1710-1799; reigned 1736-96): frontier conqueror who carved out the territory of contemporary China, and ageing ruler whose extravagance began the Qing slide into near-collapse some 50 years after his death. A biographical focus on the last fifteen years of Qianlong’s rule, especially on his struggle to rationalise past and current military campaigns, brings together these themes. This paper draws a connection between Qianlong as military historian and as ‘Grand Emperor’ (1796-99), linking his inflated sense of his place in history with his determination, despite formal abdication to his son in 1796, not to relinquish the reins of power. It outlines his idiosyncratic views of China’s frontiers, of ethnic assimilation, and of the military campaign, all in contemporary context. And it looks at the role of favouritism at court in the costly suppression of the Miao uprising (1795-97), the subject of previous research by the speaker. The sources are Qianlong’s prose and poetry. The talk is informal and illustrated.

Donald Sutton works on modern and late imperial China, wherever feasible in archives and through fieldwork. Provincial Militarism and the Chinese Republic (Michigan, 1980) explored the origins of warlordism through the micropolitics of the early Republican officer corps. Steps of Perfection (Harvard, 2003) looked at Taiwanese local religion in the performance and marketing of martial festival troupes. Contesting the Yellow Dragon (Brill, 2016, 2018), co-authored with Xiaofei Kang, combined the military and religious focus of these works through the history of a Sino-Tibetan garrison town and pilgrim center from Ming to the People’s Republic. Sutton has also co-edited three works on the margins of the Qing empire, religion and tourism, and ritual, and published a dozen articles on ritualisation in various local Chinese societies. He is emeritus professor in the Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University.