China's Last Empire William Rowe Summary

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China’s Last Empire. The Great Qing. William T. Rowe. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. 360 pages including Emperors and Dynasties, Pronunciation Guide, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements, Index, Maps and Figures.

In Rowe’s monograph, he explores and challenges the existing approaches to the Qing empire, from the orthodox interpretation fuelled by John K. Fairbanks to the three revisionist turns that emerged, and, in doing so, successfully achieves a balance between historiography and history. Rowe’s work is markedly revisionist, exploring the continuity and challenges behind the changes; socially, economically and politically, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as opposed to the orthodox view of seeing China as a …show more content…

Economic, political, both domestic and international, social and cultural factors all had various levels of impact and repercussions on the Qing regime, with chapters also dedicated to the formation and organisation of the Qing government, giving the reader context to the period. He traces the changes and continuity in these themes and argues against the orthodox interpretation of Qing history that the watershed in the Qing dynasty was the 1839-1842 First opium war and the resulting Treaty of Nanking. Instead, he argues that when the Western powers first came to assert their influence and dominance over the Qing, the Qing was already poorly equipped with the means of dealing with them and the Western powers, and later, Japan, simply proved too much for the Qing to handle. One specific reason behind this argument is the relationship between the Qing government and the people. Rowe explains the Qing approach to governing its huge empire as an attempt to conduct “government on the cheap”, referring to their principles of benevolent rule inclusive of light taxes and minimal direct involvement in local society, a pseudo laissez faire model through under governed China. Although this approach allowed the Qing to consolidate control over China with relatively few resources, it resulted in a fragile relationship between the government and local society with the …show more content…

By tracing trends across the Qing’s illustrious history, it allows the reader to better grasp the revisionist interpretation that he posits, instead of simplistically allocating the award of most influential factor of leading to China’s modernisation as well as the Qing’s fall to the Western powers. It is notable, however, to observe that, despite his revisionist view, Rowe still titles his book China’s Last Empire. The Great Qing. By using the term ‘last’, Rowe seems to still be close to the implicit narrative of China’s ‘failure’ as seen in other orthodox interpretations such as Frederic Wakeman’s ‘The Fall of Imperial China. Despite this seeming setback however, Rowe’s book is extremely useful in exploring the binary of historiography and history, while elaborating immensely on the Qing’s

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