Writing the Frontier: The State’s Creation and Deployment of Qing Frontier Knowledge

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Writing the Frontier: The State’s Creation and Deployment of Qing Frontier Knowledge
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Jiayuan Sun, University of Washington, United States (organizer, presenter)
Yichi Chang, Renmin University of China, China (presenter)
Manchu Wu, Johns Hopkins University, United States (presenter)
Tingchieh Ouyang, University of Washington, United States (presenter)
Kevin Kind, Johns Hopkins University, United States (presenter)
Akira Yanagisawa, Waseda University, Japan (discussant)
Helena Jaskov, University of Zurich, Switzerland (discussant)


Today, China stands at a crossroads regarding its relationship to its Inner Asian peripheries. Faced with the unprecedented challenges of instability, foreign scrutiny, and a newly energized Chinese foreign policy aimed at Central Asia, Beijing seeks to strengthen its position on China’s modern frontiers. To this end, the five papers in this panel examine how early-modern states, faced with pressing issues of political power, diversity, identity, and cross-border politics on the periphery, sought to reinforce their control over center and periphery through the generation, distortion, and dissemination of knowledge about the Qing frontier and its peoples. At the level of the court, Qing emperors commissioned fabricated or distorted histories, gazetteers, and works of poetry about the Manchu homeland in order to strengthen the Eight Banners and integrate the northeast into the empire’s ideological domain. Officials also participated in these enterprises. In the nineteenth century, Han "statecraft" experts of the frontier collected geographic knowledge to advance their reformist scheme to provincialize Xinjiang, and by the early twentieth century local officials worked tirelessly to produce gazetteers aimed at consolidating the place of the borderlands in the new Qing Nation State. The Russian Empire also sent agents into the region to collect geographic knowledge that might strengthen its position within Sino-Russian relations, and indigenous peoples, too, found opportunities to participate in the production of frontier knowledge. Knowledge is power, and this panel will demonstrate that, then as now, states asserted control over frontier knowledge to confront issues of governance and political control.