Ronald Po
Research seminar

The Blue Dragon: In Search of a New Qing Maritime History

Annual Lecture of the Colonial Connections and Comparisons Research Cluster.

Ronald C. Po, Associate Professor of History, London School of Economics and Political Science.

In traditional or orthodox accounts of imperialism in Asia, the Qing Empire (1644-1912) was customarily considered a victim or prey in relation to the various kinds of Euro-American encroachments on China. These aggressive incursions usually occurred via the sea in the nineteenth century, for example, during the First Opium War, the Sino-French War, and the Boxer Uprising. Notwithstanding these images of the Qing navy being so prevalent, it is problematic that historians have a strong tendency to characterise the Manchu empire as an abortive maritime power by overemphasizing its failures in nineteenth-century sea battles. Can it be justified to say that nineteenth-century Qing monarchs inherited an on-going negligence toward the maritime frontier due to their semi-nomadic origins and their preoccupation with the empire’s inland frontier in the north and northwest? This presentation intends to tell a story that is less constrained by these later outcomes and, instead, proposes a paradigm to study the Qing empire during the early modern era from a refreshed maritime angle, in an approach I call the “new Qing maritime history (haishang xin Qingshi).” The idea of this new Qing maritime history is derived from the “new Qing history prototype,” which was pioneered by a group of Qing historians in the mid-1990s. In my analysis of this new Qing maritime history, I suggest that the Qing administration, as a shining power in the eighteenth century, was attentive to and deliberate in integrating its maritime frontier into its grand empire. Over such a long period of time, the Qing court gradually developed a maritime awareness and applied a series of frontier management models, not only to its land frontier in Inner Asia, but also to its sea borders to the East.

You are welcome to join the seminar on zoom by emailing Åse Magnusson.

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