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Frontiers of History in China
Volume 13, Issue 1, 2018
Special Issue: “Disrupting Histories of War and Peace in China, 1839-1951”
Guest Editor: Kenneth Pomeranz
Changing Conceptions of the Opium War as History and Experience
Academic and popular accounts of the Opium War have gone through nearly two centuries of change in focus, view, and scope. My study probes this extensive historiography by tracing the evolvement of our understanding of the war through various phases among which we saw the rise of the “China-centered approach” and the beginning of a new trend towards combining government archives with personal records such as memoirs, personal correspondence, and private journals in research. Based on the observation, I will indicate, despite their undeniable achievements, most of the existing scholarships have paid little attention to the ordinary people in China whose lives were deeply affected by the war. It is high time that we pay more attention to human experience of the Chinese people in order to understand not only the war itself but also the history it helped shape.
Warfare, Imperialism, and the Making of Modern Chinese History: A Review Essay
Stephen R. Halsey
This historiographic essay contends that warfare made and unmade the Qing dynasty between 1644 and 1911, and its study has helped to create the field of modern Chinese history during the past seventy years. It advances three principal claims. First, the literature on war, especially interstate conflict, can serve as a synecdoche for the development of the modern China field as a whole since the 1950s. The research interests of late Qing specialists have oscillated along an “external-internal-external” axis that corresponds with three distinct periods of intellectual inquiry, scholarly production, and generational dominance. Second, historians have reached inaccurate conclusions about the state capacity of the Qing Empire after 1840 through a crude analysis of the First Sino-Japanese War, a mistake they can rectify by adopting a longer-term perspective on the state-making process. Third, scholars have deftly traced the changing role of military power in modern Chinese politics but have also adopted the interpretive categories of wen and wu from literati discourse without sufficient critical reflection. In the future, researchers may seek to explore the intersection of warfare and the environment, technology, and ethnic identity, approaches that will continue to move the field in comparative, global, and Inner Asian directions.
Wars as Dividing Lines? Rethinking the Significance of the Sino-Japanese War in Twentieth Century China
J. Megan Greene
Historical periodization frequently takes wars as turning points—as ruptures that signify the end or beginning of an era. At the same time, front lines have often been taken as boundaries that contain the activities of one side or the other. Thus, discontinuity and disjuncture rather than continuity and fluidity have often been the points of emphasis among historians who have taken war events as turning points, or who have seen lines of combat as impermeable. A new focus on the Sino-Japanese War period has begun to reveal ways in which that moment served not as an interruption but as a part of longer term processes of change and development that characterized China’s mid-twentieth century. It also permits us to gain a deeper understanding of the fluidity of human movement and socio-economic interaction that frequently crossed both political and military boundaries and to think about similarities, linkages, and differences between various Chinese spaces. The aim of this paper is to consider ways in which the new generation of scholarship on the Sino-Japanese War period offers new ways of thinking about continuity, change, similarity and difference across both temporal and physical boundaries that have served as the parameters for much of the earlier scholarship on the period. To this end, the paper examines recent literature on the Sino-Japanese War period, as well as literature that crosses that period, to examine ways in which this historiography has challenged conventional periodizations and political and geographical delineations.
New Chinese Military History, 1839–1951: What’s the Story?
Charles W. Hayford
Since 1990, New Chinese Military History in the West has remedied scholarly neglect of Chinese warfare and changed the usual stories of modern China. These studies disproved Orientalist assumptions of a unique “Chinese way of war” or a strategic culture that avoided aggressive confrontation. Scholars also challenge the assumption that Confucian immobility led to a clash of civilizations and decisive defeat in the Opium Wars, First Sino-Japanese War, and Boxer War of 1900. In fact, Qing officials were quick and successful in creating a new military regime. New military histories of the warlords, the Sino-Japanese Wars, and the Chinese Civil War show that developing new types of warfare was central in creating the new nation. All these wars split the country into factions that were supported by outside powers: they were internationalized civil wars. The article also asks how the choice of terms, labels, and categories shapes interpretations and political messages.