A righteous view of history

We wrote recently about a rising tide of animosity in China’s state press against the “infiltration” of Western ideas in Chinese education and scholarship — and provided a full translation of a hard-line essay decrying the “westernization” of economics education.

The latest target, it seems, is historical scholarship.

In a high-minded article posted on Monday to the official website of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences — and published in its official journal, Chinese Social Sciences Today — Li Zhiting (李治亭) of the National Qing Dynasty History Compilation Committee (国家清史编纂委员会) attacked a handful of American sinologists, ridiculing their work in the field of “New Qing History” as “pseudo-academic.”

new qing history[ABOVE: American historians Pamela Crossley, Mark Elliot and James Millward are singled out for abuse in a recent essay from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.]

The following is the concluding paragraph of the essay:

“New Qing History” is academically absurd, and politically does damage to the unity of China. It is necessary to stir all scholars with a sense of righteousness to fiercely oppose it. We entirely reject “New Qing History.” Moreover, we expose its mask of pseudo-academic scholarship, eliminating the deleterious effect it has had on scholarship in China!

The final exclamation point in the above paragraph is in fact exclamation point number 88, making for an average of just under ten exclamation points per online page. Most readers of the piece could not fail to note the clear political bias at work — not to mention the unwarranted (in academic discourse) aggression. The essay, in fact, is not about historical scholarship at all, but about China’s current ideological climate.

A translation of the first online page follows:

Scholars Assess ‘New Qing History,’ an Instance of ‘New Imperial History’
April 20, 2015

Editor’s Note: Scholarship is the refined expression of the spirit of an age. Scholarship can only radiate vitality and have far-reaching influence if it is rooted in the era in which it is situated and responds to the major issues of the day. The problem comes when academic researchers hold the wrong positions, and serve the wrong ends . . . then no matter what results they have, or how loud they are, they can only be noise and static (噪音杂音) — and they can only stand in the way of history rather than push it forward. As to which category “New Qing History” belongs to, this essay from the “Contention” column of Chinese Social Sciences Today can help us decide.

In recent years, a certain saying about Qing history has emerged among academic historians called “new Qing history.” This was not invented by Chinese historians but in fact comes from overseas — created together by several American historians!

The American scholars who support “new Qing history” view the history of China from an imperialist standpoint, with imperialist points of view and imperialist eyes, regarding “traditional” China as an “empire,” regarding the Qing dynasty as “Qing dynasty imperialism.” Their theory and discourse are shot through with imperialist arrogance. Differentiating their work from 20th century studies of imperialism, they call it “new imperial history” (新帝国主义史学). “New Qing history” is one example.

CASS piece
[ABOVE: Screenshot of the April 20, 2015, CASS essay attacking the notion of “New Qing History.”]

In order to show the true face of “the historical study of new imperialism,” we must break down the fabrications of “new Qing history.”

1. The Name “Qing History” Does Not Reflect Reality

The so-called “academic breakthrough” of “new Qing history” does not reflect the reality. At its base it is a false and counterfeit good! Absent any academic breakthrough, it has lost the basis for survival. The whole range of views they express are cliches and stereotypes, little more than dusted off versions in a scholarly tone of the Western imperialism and Japanese imperialism of the 19th century!

First, we must address the origins of “New Qing History.” In 1996, American scholar Evelyn Rawski (罗友枝) gave an address called Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History, in which she challenged Ping-to Ho [of Columbia University]. She accused Ho of the “sinicization” of Manchurian [studies], arguing instead that the Qing dynasty could not be confused with “China.” She said that a “Manchu-centered view” was needed through which to reassess Qing history. This was the beginning, after which we saw scholars like Pamela Crossley (柯娇燕), Mark Elliot (欧立德) and James Millward (米华健) coming out with their own works along Rawski’s line. The most representative is a collection edited by Millward and Elliot called New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire at Chengde.

So-called “New Qing History” . . . has become the trademark of these scholars. They publish articles in America and China, produce academic reports, take part in academic forums, accept interviews from journalists, all the time beating the drum of this so-called “New Qing History.”

As these American scholars spare no effort in selling this “New Qing History,” there are various scholars in China who assist them in pushing it, but the world of Qing research [in China] has paid it little attention, and even less can we say it’s caught on. The “cold shoulder” some scholars have given [the idea] is the true feeling [most share]. . . . When they promote this “New Qing History” to subvert China’s Qing history or even Chinese history, we must take this seriously, looking at the true face of “New Qing History”!

As one scholar has already questioned: Where exactly is “New Qing History” new? The innovation of scholarship is a necessary condition of its development, and it is also the life of scholarship. But what innovations has “New Qing History” made?

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