CASS unveils research findings on Qing history of national unification

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-06-16

New major research findings released by CASS Photo: Zhu Gaolei/CSST

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) held its fourth monthly press conference to unveil new major research findings, on June 5. The conference saw the release of History of National Unification in Qing Dynasty, among the first major projects undertaken by the Chinese Academy of History, funded by the National Social Science Fund of China.

Modern significance

Gao Peiyong, vice president of CASS and a member of the Leading Party Members’ Group at CASS, noted that it is one of CASS’s primary political, theoretical, and academic tasks to thoroughly study and comprehend the spirit of the important speech delivered by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, at a meeting on cultural inheritance and development on June 2. The speech thoroughly summarized the prominent characteristics of the Chinese civilization and pointed out its outstanding unity.

The enduring history of China as a unified multi-ethnic country is due primarily to the diverse array of ethnic groups living and intermingling on this land, including those that have faded into history, Gao continued. The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) marked the formation of China’s territory as a multi-ethnic country. Its national governance policies were a culmination of the great achievements of previous dynasties. Properly interpreting the formation and development history of a unified multi-ethnic country in Qing is of great practical significance in the present day for forging a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation and understanding of the unity of Chinese civilization. It is also crucial for establishing historiography with Chinese systems for fields of study, academia, and discourse. History of National Unification in Qing Dynasty reports on the history of national unification in Qing under the guidance of Marxist historical materialism.

The two-volume work was assembled under the chief editorship of Xing Guangcheng, director of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies at CASS, and Li Dalong, a professor of editorship at the institute. Based on latest research on Qing history and drawing from rich historical data, the book systematically expounds on the course of realizing, consolidating, and maintaining national unification in Qing from temporal, spatial, institutional, and other dimensions. It clarifies the history of borderland governance in Qing from the perspective of consolidating and maintaining unity, and presents the landscape of national unification at the time. It outlines the measures taken by the Qing court regarding border governance and makes an objective evaluation of its gains and losses.

Qing’s inheritance and development of the traditional Chinese notion of “great unity,” its territorial expansion and transformation into a sovereign state, the cultivation of “subjects,” and the integration of Chinese culture are of exceptional significance to the formation and evolution of the Chinese nation and of China as a multi-ethnic country. After the outbreak of the First Opium War in 1840, the Qing court was defeated in confrontation with Western colonial powers. Despite the attempt to revive former glory through the “New Deal,” the establishment of provinces in border areas, etc., it collapsed in less than seven decades. Considering Chinese society today is a continuation of historical China, lessons from the successes and failures of Qing are worth reviewing for the security, stability, and development of a multi-ethnic country.

Connotations of national unity

“Among fruitful domestic research results on Qing history, most of them are interpreted from dynastic stages and general knowledge. Meanwhile, thematic research primarily adopts the perspective of frontier policy and governance. In this context, from the height of national unification to summarize the formation and development history of a multi-ethnic state in Qing is the greatest feature of the book,” said Cheng Chongde, deputy director of the National Committee for the Compilation of Qing History and a professor from the Institute of Qing History at Renmin University of China. Under the guidance of historical materialism and the theme of “national unification,” the book elucidates the course of Qing’s national unification, improved governance systems, and deepening borderland development. It makes thematic and comprehensive evaluations on the measures made by the Qing court on the northeast and southwest frontiers, the Mongolian regions, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, and the coastal areas, pointing out the indisputability of Qing’s status as a Chinese dynasty and giving a strong riposte to relevant erroneous remarks of “New Qing History” [a historiographical school emerging in the United States in recent years that exaggerates the importance and element of Manchu in Qing].

According to Ma Dazheng, deputy director of the National Committee for the Compilation of Qing History and a research fellow from the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies at CASS, the book is structured around an “assertion-evidence-summary” framework that corresponds to the three historical stages of realizing, consolidating, and maintaining national unification, aligning with the national conditions and realities of a unified multi-ethnic China and the Chinese nation featuring unity in diversity. This also offers a macro understanding of national border governance activities, and facilitates research on different governance approaches that were adjusted to border area conditions. The connotations of national unification consist of four levels: territorial, ideological, institutional, and cultural unity, each of which reserving much additional space for deeper research. It is anticipated that historians will continue to dedicate themselves to periodic or thematic research on the history of national unification, propelling the field towards a new growth stage in Chinese historical studies.

“Xi’s visit to the Chinese Academy of History is a great encouragement and spur to historians,” Xing said, adding that strengthening borderland research represents a great deal of responsibility. With the strategic aim of safeguarding national unification, researchers are tasked with enhancing field investigations and archaeological excavations, advancing the cultural inheritance and development of ethnic minority areas in border areas, facilitating exchanges and integration among ethnic groups, and building up the disciplinary, academic, and discourse systems of Chinese borderland studies. These efforts will provide theoretical support for stabilizing and consolidating border development, and forging a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation in the new era, shouldering new cultural missions.

The conference was sponsored by CASS and undertaken by the Bureau of Scientific Research Management at CASS, the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies at CASS, and China Social Sciences Press under CASS.

Editor:Yu Hui

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