China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia Review

China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia
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China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia ReviewThis well written and thoughtful book covers a number of interesting aspects of early Modern Chinese history. The most important is the Qing conquest of central Eurasia and the end of the influence of central Eurasian nomads on surrounding sedentary societies. Perdue also addresses the impact of the conquest of Central Eurasia on Qing state formation, the historiography of the conquest, and includes some discussion of the comparative history of state formation in early modern Eurasia.
Perdue presents a fascinating narrative and analysis of the the fall of the Ming, the accession to power of the Qing, and the Qing incorporation of central Asian nomadic cultures into the Qing state in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the concluding chapter of sveral centuries of often violent interaction between the central Eurasian steppe peoples and the surrounding sedentary societies. The Mongol conquest of China and much of Eurasia is the best known of these conflicts but conflict and interactions with the steppe peoples is a recurrent theme of Chinese history back to the early Imperial period, the Hunnish incursion played a crucial role in the demise of the later Roman Empire, and Turkic and Mongol steppe peoples were major actors in the Near East, Iran, and India. Why did the Qing succeed when prior Chinese Imperial states failed? Perdue presents this as a confluence of several factors. The Qing emerged from Manchuria and were part of and familiar with the steppe peoples in a way that was foreign to the Ming. Using a combination of trade, force, and diplomacy, the Qing were able to take advantage of the chronic lack of political unity among the various Mongol groups to establish supremacy and incorporate Mongols into the Qing state. Perdue sees the Qing as aided by parallel developments at the other end of the Eurasian steppe as the expanding Muscovite state was similarly able to subordinate Mongol states. As with the Qing, the long experience with the Mongol states and incorporation of some Mongol political institutions equipped the Muscovite rulers with the knowledge to pursue appropriate policies. Perdue points out 2 other features that probably contributed significantly to Qing success. Like the native peoples of North America, the Mongols were epidemiologically isolated and suffered from devastating smallpox epidemics. The economic expansion of the Qing state provided the Qing with the economic resources to mount sustained campaigns out on the steppe. This would allow the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors to pursue the difficult and costly campaigns needed to expirpate (and in the case of Qianlong, this appears to be actual efforts at genocide) the Zunghar Mongols, the last vigorous central Eurasian state. Perdue points out that the late Ming period saw the increasing monetarization of the Chinese economy, something made possible by massive imports of silver from Japan and later the western hemisphere, suggesting that true globalization of the world economy that emerged with European expansion was necessary for the conquest of central Eurasia. Perdue takes pains to point out that there was nothing inevitable about the Qing conquest. Despite their advantages, it is plausible that the Zunghars could have resisted the Qing into the 19th century.
Perdue also suggests that the efforts to establish control over central Eurasia had an important effect on the formation and nature of the Qing state. The relatively sophisticated and polyglot diplomacy required led to a dynamic and administratively vigorous state, particularly under the decades of leadership by the highly competent Kangxi and Qianlong emperors. This is an application of the idea that inter-state conflict in Europe was a source of the dynamism and development of European states. In an ironic way, success in central Eurasia way have had adverse long term consequences. With the conquest of central Eurasia, Perdue suggests that some of impetus for vigorous administration left the Qing state. Perdue suggests also that when confronted with British-European expansion in South China, the Qing attempted to apply methods successful in central Eurasia, which proved to be a mistake. Implicit in Perdue's narrative is the suggestion that Ming efforts to deal with the Mongols pulled them away from an expansionist policy in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, creating an opportunity for Portugese, Dutch, and British imperialism.
Perdue has some interesting sections dealing with the historiography of the Chinese conflict with the steppe peoples. These include both how the Qing state used the conflict with the nomads to bolster its legitimacy but also how the conflict has been used by modern nationalist (including Communist) historians.
Perdue concludes with some thoughts on the nature of state formation. He suggests that the emergence and later troubles of the Qing state are part of a larger pattern of the emergence and fragmentation of large states across Eurasia in the early modern period. These seems quite creditable. Like several other writers, he suggests that Qing China, Europe, Mughal India,and the Ottoman Empire were broadly similar and that the industrial revolution and global hegemony could have emerged from any one of them. This is unlikely. As pointed out by Robert Allen, there were distinctive demographic and economic features in Europe, particularly in Britain, only Europe developed science, and only Europe had the windfall of occupation of the Western hemisphere.China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia Overview

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