|History of China|
Key organizing concepts
Like the three ages of the Greek poet Hesiod, the oldest Chinese historiography viewed mankind in a fallen age of depravity, cut off from the virtues of the past. The example of the sage kings Yao and Shun was particularly revered by Confucius and his disciples in their political theory.
Unlike Hesiod's system, however, the Duke of Zhou's development of the "Mandate of Heaven" as a rationale for dethroning the supposedly divine Zi clan led subsequent historians to see man's fall as a cyclical pattern. On this view, a new dynasty is founded by a morally upright founder. On a long enough time scale, his successors cannot keep themselves from becoming morally corrupt and dissolute. This immorality removes the dynasty's divine favor and is reflected in natural disasters (particularly floods), rebellions, and foreign invasions. Eventually, the dynasty becomes so weak as to allow its replacement by a new one, whose founder is able to rectify many of society's problems and begin the cycle anew. Over time, many felt a full correction was not possible and thus the golden age of Yao and Shun could not be reattained.
This teleological theory implies that there can be only one rightful sovereign under heaven at a time; thus, despite the fact that Chinese history has had many contentious and long periods of disunity, great effort was made in official histories to find and establish "legitimate" precursors whose fall allowed the new dynasty to carry on its mandate. Similarly, regardless of the particular merits of individual emperors, founders would be portrayed in more laudatory terms and the last ruler of a dynasty would always be castigated as depraved and unworthy even when that was not the case. Such a narrative was employed even after the fall of the empire by those compiling the history of the Qing and by those who justified the attempted restorations of the imperial system by Yuan Shikai and Zhang Xun.
The schools of thought on the 1911 Revolution have evolved and developed from the early years of the Republic. The Marxist view saw the events of 1911 as a "Bourgeois Revolution"  In the 1920s, the Nationalist Party issued a theory of three political stages based on Sun Yatsen's writings:
- Military unification - 1923 to 1928 (Northern Expedition)
- Political tutelage - 1928 to 1947
- Constitutional democracy - 1947 onward
The most obvious criticism is the near-identical nature of "political tutelage" and of a "constitutional democracy" consisting only of one-party rule until the 1990s. Against this, Chen Shui-bian proposed his own four-stage theory.
Nationalist and Communist China have both upheld the view that Chinese history should include all the ethnic groups of the lands held by the Qing Empire (Zhonghua Minzu), not just the history of the Han Chinese (China Proper). On this view (which rejected the earlier Han chauvinism of the Tongmenghui), China is permitted to include its internal and external tributaries as parts of its state and is viewed as a coherent multi-ethnic nation from time immemorial, existing as a legal entity even in periods of political disunity.
The benefit of this theory is to show the contributions of non-Han to Chinese history. It allows once "foreign" dynasties like the Mongol Yuan and the Manchu Qing as well as the Khitan Liao and Jurchen Jin dynasties to be considered fully Chinese, somewhat reducing the alienation of ethnic minorities living in China. This school also avoids "Han-centered" analyses. For example, it denies Yue Fei, a "Han Chinese" who fought for "China" against the Jurchens, a place as a "hero of China".
Support for the inclusion of ethnic minorities' history in China's own history varies in accordance with separatist and nationalist politics. For example, the 14th Dalai Lama, long insistent on Tibet's history being separate from that of China's, conceded in 2005 that Tibet "is a part" of China's "5000-year history" as part of a new proposal for Tibetan autonomy. Korean nationalists, however, have virulently reacted against China's application to UNESCO of Goguryeo tombs in Chinese territory: the absolute independence of Goguryeo is a central aspect of Korean identity, because according to Korean legend, it was comparatively independent from China and Japan, in contrast to subordinate states like the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire. The legacy of Genghis Khan has been contested between China, Mongolia, and Russia, all three states having significant numbers of ethnic Mongols within their borders, and holding territory that was conquered by Khan.
The Chinese tradition since the 3rd-century Jin Dynasty that emperors of an incoming dynasty sponsor the writing of an official history for the immediately-preceding one has been cited in favor of an ethnically-inclusive interpretation of history. The compilation of official histories usually involved monumental intellectual labor. The Yuan and Qing Dynasties, which might be thought "foreign", faithfully carried out this practice, writing the official Chinese-language histories of the Han-ruled Song and Ming Dynasties, respectively. Had the two "non-Han" imperial families not thought themselves as continuing the "Mandate of Heaven" of the Middle Kingdom, it would be hard to explain why they retained the costly tradition. Thus, every non-Han dynasty saw itself as the legitimate holder of the "Mandate of Heaven", which legitimized the dynastic cycle regardless of social or ethnic background.
Recent Western scholars have reacted against the ethnic-inclusiveness narrative in PRC-sponsored history by writing revisionist histories of China that feature, according to James A. Millward, "a degree of 'partisanship' for the indigenous underdogs of frontier history". Scholarly interest in writing about Chinese minorities from non-Chinese perspectives is growing.
Most Chinese history that is published in the People's Republic of China is based on a Marxist interpretation of history. These theories were first applied in the 1920s by Chinese scholars such as Guo Moruo, and became orthodoxy in academic study after 1949. The Marxist view of history is that history is governed by universal laws and that according to these laws, a society moves through a series of stages with the transition between stages being driven by class struggle. These stages are:
- Slave society
- Feudal society
- Capitalist society
- Socialist society
- World communist society
The official historical view within the People's Republic of China associates each of these stages with a particular era in Chinese history as well as making some subdivisions.
- Slave society - Xia to Shang
- Feudal society (decentralized) - Zhou to Sui
- Feudal society (bureaucratic) - Tang to the First Opium War
- Feudal society (semicolonial) - First Opium War to end of Qing dynasty
- Capitalist society - Republican era
- Socialist society - PRC 1949 to present
- World communist society -
Because of the strength of the Communist Party of China and the importance of the Marxist interpretation of history in legitimizing its rule, it was for many years difficult for historians within the PRC to actively argue in favor of non-Marxist and anti-Marxist interpretations of history. However, this political restriction is less confining than it may first appear in that the Marxist historical framework is surprisingly flexible and it is a rather simple matter to modify an alternative historical theory to use language that at least does not challenge the Marxist interpretation of history.
Partly because of the interest of Mao Zedong, historians in the 1950s took a special interest in the role of peasant rebellions in Chinese history and compiled documentary histories to examine them.
There are several problems associated with imposing Marx's European-based framework over Chinese history. First, slavery existed throughout China's history but was never the primary mode of production. While the Zhou and earlier dynasties may be labelled as feudal, later dynasties were much more centralized than Marx's analysis of their European counterparts. To account for the discrepancy, Chinese Marxists invented the term "bureaucratic feudalism". The placement of the Tang as the beginning of the bureaucratic phase rests largely on replacement of patronage networks with the imperial examination. Some world-systems analysts such as Janet Abu-Lughod claim analysis of Kondratiev waves show that capitalism first arose in Song dynasty China; however, its widespread trade was subsequently disrupted and then curtailed.
There has been a gradual relaxation of Marxist interpretation after the death of Mao in 1976, which was accelerated after the Tian'anmen Square protest and other revolutions in 1989, which damaged Marxism's ideological legitimacy in the eyes of Chinese academics.
This view of Chinese history sees Chinese society as a "traditional" society needing to become "modern", usually with the implicit assumption that Western society is the definition of modern society. Such a view was common among British and French scholars during the 19th and early 20th centuries but is now typically dismissed as eurocentrism or even racism, since such a view permits an implicit justification for breaking the society from its static past and bringing them into the modern world under European direction.
There are a number of other criticisms of this view. One centers on the slippery definition of "traditional society", which can become simply a catch-all for any non-Western society and treats any such society similarly. To use an analogy, animals might be classified into "fish" and "non-fish", but the latter category is not a particularly helpful one.
By the mid-20th century, it was increasingly clear to historians that the notion of "changeless China" was untenable. A new concept, popularized by John Fairbank, was the notion of "change within tradition" which argued that although China did change in the pre-modern period but that this change existed within certain cultural traditions. This notion has also been subject to criticism, that "China has not changed fundamentally" is tautological since it requires that one look for things that have not changed and then defines those as fundamental. This is far too broad, leading to conclusions like "England has not changed in the past thousand years because it has maintained its fundamental traditions of fishing, sheep-rearing, and monarchy".
Nonetheless, studies seeing China's interaction with Europe as the driving force behind its recent history are still common. Such studies, e.g., may consider the First Opium War as the starting point for China's modern period. Examples include the works of H.B. Morse, who wrote chronicles of China's international relations such as Trade and Relations of the Chinese Empire.
Several of Fairbank's students argued in the 1950s that Confucianism was incompatible with modernity. Joseph Levenson and Mary C. Wright, and Albert Feuerwerker argued in effect that traditional Chinese values were a barrier to modernity and would have to be dismantled before China could make progress. Wright concluded “The failure of the T’ung-chih [Tongzhi] Restoration demonstrated with a rare clarity that even in the most favorable circumstances there is no way in which an effective modern state can be grafted onto a Confucian society. Yet in the decades that followed, the political ideas that had been tested and, for all their grandeur, found wanting, were never given a decent burial.” 
In a different view of modernization, the Japanese historian Naito Torajiro argued that China reached "modernity" during its mid-Imperial period, centuries before Europe. He believed that the reform of the civil service into a meritocratic system and the disappearance of the ancient Chinese nobility from the bureaucracy constituted a modern society. The problems associated with this approach is the subjective use of "modernity". Chinese nobility had been in decline since the Qin dynasty and, while the exams were largely meritocratic, performance required time and resources that meant examinees were typically from the gentry regardless. Moreover, expertise in the Confucian classics did not guarantee competent meritocrats when it came to managing public works or preparing a budget. Confucian hostility to commerce maintained merchants at the bottom of the four occupations, itself an archaism maintained by devotion to classic texts. The social goal remained to invest in land and enter the gentry, ideas more similar to the physiocrats than that of Adam Smith.
Derived from Marx and Max Weber, Karl August Wittfogel argued that bureaucracy arose to manage irrigation systems. Despotism was needed to force the people into building canals, dikes, and waterways to increase agriculture. Yu the Great, one of China's legendary founders, is mostly known for his control of the floods of the Yellow River. The hydraulic empire produces wealth from its stability; while dynasties may change, the structure remains intact until destroyed by modern powers.
Critics of Wittfogel's theory point out that water management was given the high status China accorded to officials concerned with taxes, rituals, or fighting off bandits. The theory also has a strong orientalist bent, regards all Asian states as generally the same while finding reasons for European polities to escape the pattern.
Convergence theory, including Hu Shih and Ray Huang's involution theory, hold that the past 150 years have been a period in which Chinese and Western civilization have been in the process of converging into a world civilization. Such a view is heavily influenced by modernization theory but, in China's case, it is also strongly influenced by indigenous sources such as the notion of Shijie Datong or "Great Unity". It has tended to be less popular among more recent historians, as postmodern Western historians discount overarching narratives and nationalist Chinese historians feel similarly about narratives failing to account for some special or unique characteristics of Chinese culture.
Closely related are colonial and anti-imperialist narratives. These often merge or are part of Marxist critiques from within China or the former Soviet Union or postmodern critiques such as Edward Said's Orientalism, which fault traditional scholarship for trying to fit West, South, and East Asia's histories into European categories unsuited to them. With regard to China particularly, T.F. Tsiang and John Fairbank used newly-opened archives in the 1930s to write modern history from a Chinese point of view. Fairbank and Teng Ssu-yu then edited the influential China's Response to the West (1953), although this was attacked for ascribing change in China to outside forces. In the 1980s, Paul Cohen continued to call for a more "China-Centered history of China".
Postmodern interpretations of Chinese history tend to reject the narrative history and instead focus on a small subset of Chinese history, particularly the daily lives of ordinary people in particular locations or settings.
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The late 20th century and early 21st century has seen a large number of studies of Chinese history that seek to challenge traditional paradigms. The field is rapidly evolving, with much new scholarship. Much of this new scholarship comes from the realization that there is much about Chinese history that is unknown or controversial. To give one such controversy, it is an active topic of discussion whether the typical Chinese peasant in 1900 was seeing his life improve or decline. In addition to the realization that there are major gaps in our knowledge of Chinese history is the equal realization that there are tremendous quantities of primary source material that have not yet been analyzed.
Recent Western scholarship of China has been heavily influenced by postmodernism, seeking to question modernist narratives regarding China's backwardness and lack of development. The desire to challenge the preconception that 19th-century China was weak, for instance, has led to scholarly interest in Qing expansion into Central Asia, where they were much more successful for a time than elsewhere. In fact, postmodern scholarship largely rejects grand narratives altogether, preferring to publish empirical studies on the socioeconomics and political or cultural dynamics of smaller communities within China.
Current scholars also attempt to assess source material more critically. For example, for a long period it was assumed that Imperial China had no system of civil law because the law codes did not have explicit provisions for civil lawsuits. However, more recent studies which use the records of civil magistrates suggest that China did in fact have a well-developed system of civil law, in which provisions of the criminal code were interpreted to allow civil causes of action. Another example has been statements made by intellectuals of the mid-Qing dynasty which were hostile toward commerce. Recent studies using sources such as magistrate diaries and genealogical records show that these statements should not be taken at face value, without also counting the powerful unwritten influence merchants exerted on government policies. The division between the world of the merchant and that of the official was far more porous than traditionally believed. In fact, the growing consensus is that the anti-merchant statements of the mid-Qing record a growth of power and influence rather than the opposite.
Finally, current scholars are assessing new and previously overlooked documentary and historical evidence. Examples include masses of governmental and family archives, economic records such as the census tax-rolls, price records, and land surveys. In addition, there are large numbers of cultural artifacts such as vernacular novels, how-to books, and children's books which are in the process of being analyzed for clues about day-to-day life.
In contrast, Chinese historical scholarship remains largely nationalist and modernist or even traditionalist. The legacies of the modernist school (such as Lo Hsiang-lin) and the traditionalist school (such as Chien Mu) remain strong in Chinese circles. The more modernist works focus on imperial systems in China and employ scientific method to analyze epochs of Chinese dynasties from geographical, genealogical, and cultural artifacts: for example, from Carbon-14 dating and geographical records to correlate climates with cycles of calm and calamity in Chinese history. The traditionalist school of scholarship resorts to official imperial records and colloquial history works and analyzes the different dynasties' rises and falls using a Confucian philosophy, albeit modified by an institutional administration perspective.[clarification needed]
From the beginning of Communist rule in 1949 until the 1980s, the focus of Chinese historical scholarship was largely on peasant life interpreted via the officially-sanctioned Marxist theory of class struggle. From the time of Deng Xiaoping on, there has been a drift towards a Marxist-inspired nationalist perspective and consideration of China's contemporary international status has became of paramount importance in historical studies. The current focus tends to be on specifics of civilization in ancient China, and the general paradigm of how China has responded to the dual challenges of interactions with the outside world and modernization in the post-1700 era. Long-abandoned as a research focus among most Western scholars due to postmodernism's influence, it remains the primary interest for most historians inside China.
- Winston Hsieh, Chinese Historiography on the Revolution of 1911 : A Critical Survey and a Selected Bibliography (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1975)
- McDonald, Hamish (2005-03-15). "Tibet part of China, Dalai Lama agrees". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
- Gries, Peter Hays (Winter 2005). "The Koguryo Controversy, National Identity, and Sino-Korean Relations Today". East Asia 22 (4): 3–17.
- Kucera, Joshua (2009-08-10). "The Search for Genghis Khan: Genghis Khan's Lecay Being Reappraised in China, Russia". EurasiaNet. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
- Millward, James A. (1996). "New Perspectives on the Qing Frontier". In Hershatter, Gail. Remapping China: Fissures in Historical Terrain. Stanford University Press. pp. 121–122.
- Arif Dirlik, “The Universalization of a Concept: From “Feudalism” to Feudalism in Chinese Marxist Historiography,” Journal of Peasant Studies 12.2-3 (January/April 1985): 197-227.
- Albert Feuerwerker, "China's History in Marxian Dress," The American Historical Review 66.2 (1961): 323-353. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1844030
- James P. Harrison. The Communists and Chinese Peasant Rebellions; a Study in the Rewriting of Chinese History. New York: Atheneum, 1969.
- Kwang-Ching Liu, "World View and Peasant Rebellion: Reflections on Post-Mao Historiography," The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (Feb., 1981), pp. 295-326 
- A prominent example is Gilbert Rozman, ed., The Modernization of China (New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1981), in which a series of essays analyzes "The Legacy of the Past" and "The Transformation."
- Ch Two "Moving Beyond 'Tradition' and 'Modernity,'" Paul Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past (New York, London: Columbia University Press, 1984; 2010)
- Cohen, Discovering History in Chinap. 102
- Cohen, Discovering History in China, pp. 79-80.
- Mary Clabaugh Wright. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874. (Stanford,: Stanford University Press, 1957), 300-12.
- See, for instance, Joshua A. Fogel, Politics and Sinology: The Case of Naitō Kōnan (1866-1934 (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Council on East Asian Studies, distributed by Harvard University Press, 1984).
- Frederick W. Mote, "The Growth of Chinese Despotism: A Critique of Wittfogel's Theory of Oriental Despotism as Applied to China," Oriens Extremus 8.1 (1961): 1-41.
- Paul Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past (New York, London:: Columbia University Press, 1984), Ch 1 "The Problem with 'China's Response to the West,'pp. 1-56, and Ch 4, "Toward a China-Centered History of China," pp. 149-198.
References and Further Reading
- W. G. Beasley and Edwin G. Pulleyblank. Historians of China and Japan. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962. Essays on the historiographical traditions in pre-modern times.
- Paul A. Cohen. Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past. New York, London: Columbia University Press, 1984.
- Paul Cohen, "Reflections on a Watershed Date: The 1949 Divide in Chinese History," in Jeffrey Wasserstrom, ed., Twentieth Century China: New Approaches (London; New York: Routledge, 2003), 29-36.
- Paul A. Cohen, Rethinking China's History: Alternative Perspectives on the Chinese Past (New York London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003). Reprints of Cohen's influential reviews and essays.
- Johanna Waley-Cohen, "The New Qing History," Radical History Review 88.1 (2004): 193-206.
- Pamela Kyle Crossley, "The Historiography of Modern China," in Michael Bentley, ed., Companion to Historiography (Taylor & Francis, 1997), 641-658.
- Arif Dirlik. Revolution and History: The Origins of Marxist Historiography in China, 1919-1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. ISBN 0-520-03541-0.
- Prasenjit Duara. Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
- Albert Feuerwerker. History in Communist China. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1968. Essays on post-1949 treatment of particular aspects of Chinese history.
- Judith Farquhar James Hevia, "Culture and Postwar American Historiography of China," positions 1.2 (1993): 486-525. Critique of orthodox historiography.
- Joshua A. Fogel. Politics and Sinology: The Case of Naito Konan (1866-1934). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Harvard East Asian Monographs, 1984. ISBN 0-674-68790-6. Naito Konan developed the influential thesis that China developed an early modern society from the 8th to the 12th century.
- David S.G. Goodman, "Mao and the Da Vinci Code: Conspiracy, Narrative, and History," The Pacific Review 19.3 (September 2006): 359-384. Critiques the assumptions and methodology Chang Jung and John Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story.
- Norman Kutcher, "'The Benign Bachelor': Kenneth Scott Latourette between China and the United States," Journal of American-East Asian Relations 2.4 (Winter 1993): 399-424. The life and historiographical place of Kenneth Scott Latourette.
- William Rowe, “Approaches to Modern Chinese Social History,” in Olivier Zunz, ed., Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History (University of North Carolina Press 1985), pp. 236–296.
- Gilbert Rozman. Soviet Studies of Premodern China: Assessments of Recent Scholarship. Ann Arbor: Center For Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1984. ISBN 0-89264-052-9.
- David L. Shambaugh, American Studies of Contemporary China (Washington, Armonk, NY: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; M.E. Sharpe, 1993)
- Laurence A. Schneider, Ku Chieh-Kang and China's New History: Nationalism and the Quest for Alternative Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. ISBN 0-520-01804-4. The first generation of Chinese historians to use Western concepts to write the history of China.
- Stefan Tanaka. Japan's Orient: Rendering Pasts into History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. ISBN 0-520-07731-8.
- Endymion Wilkinson. Chinese History : A New Manual. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series New Edition, 2012). ISBN 9780674067158 ISBN 0674067150.
- Harriet Zurndorfer, "A Guide to the 'New' Chinese History: Recent Publications Concerning Chinese Social and Economic Development before 1800," International Review of Social History 33 (148-201.