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The Mactaggart Art Collection Lecture Series

Visualizing China’s Imperial Order (1500-1800)

Session 1: “Making China’s Imperial Order”  

October 29 - 31, 2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015

4:00 – 6:00 pm


An Empire and an Emperor in Construction: Reflections around Kangxi’s Early Trips to the South  

Guest Speaker: Prof. Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France, Paris, France)

Location: Henry Marshall Tory Building (Room B-95)


After they had toppled the ailing Ming regime in 1644, the Manchu Qing was confronted with a completely chaotic situation. The country was barely out of an unprecedented series of natural and man-made disasters, large parts of the empire, especially in the South, were still resisting conquest, the economy was in shambles, new institutions needed to be built, and the alien regime now installed in Beijing had to convince the conquered elites and populace of its legitimacy. The process of reconstruction took decades. The Kangxi emperor (r. 1661-1722), the second post-conquest Qing ruler, played a crucial role in it. While all of this has already been well studied, the quantity and variety of available sources is infinite and much remains to be said. This presentation will introduce lesser-known aspects of Kangxi’s personality and action, concentrating in particular on the major political gestures that were his first visits to the still insecure metropolises of the lower Yangzi valley. Views from the celebrated Wang Hui scroll in the Mactaggart Collection and other related documents will be confronted with the historical narrative.


Pierre-Étienne Will has recently retired from the chair of History of Modern China at the Collège de France, which he held since 1992 concurrently with a position of Directeur d’études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He is specializing in the socio-economic and political history of late-imperial and early republican China. He has published Bureaucracy and Famine in Eighteenth-Century China (Stanford, 1990; original French edition Paris, 1980; Korean and Chinese translations), Nourish the People: The State Civilian Granary System in China, 1650-1850 (Ann Arbor, 1991, with R. Bin Wong), several edited volumes, including China, Democracy, and Law: A Historical and Contemporary Approach (Leiden, 2012, with Mireille Delmas-Marty; original French edition Paris, 2007), and numerous articles on Chinese economy, society, politics, bureaucracy, law, water management, and more. He is currently completing Official Handbooks and Anthologies of Imperial China: A Descriptive and Critical Bibliography (Leiden, forthcoming). He is co-editor of the journal T’oung Pao.

Friday, October 30, 2015

3:00 – 5:00pm

The Curse of Epigonism: Qianlong’s Conquests in Central Asia

Guest Speaker: Prof. R. Kent Guy (University of Washington, Seattle, U.S.A.)

Location: Henry Marshall Tory Building (Room B-95)


This talk will examine the origins and significance of the magnificent album of etchings of the Qianlong Emperor's conquest of the Eleuths and Dzungars that is in the Mactaggart Art Collection. Specifically, Guy will argue that the Emperor commissioned the album and undertook the conquest to refresh the memories of his Chinese subjects and fellow Manchus of the glories and military might of the Qing Dynasty. This refreshing was necessary since, in the hundred years since the first Manchu conquest of China, many Manchus had settled into sedentary and administrative roles little reminiscent of thrift days as conquerors. Guy will illustrate this point by contrasting the life and careers of the Emperor's first and second chief ministers, Ortai and Fuheng. Ortai was one of the authors of civilian order in the eighteenth century, while Fuheng prosecuted the campaigns against the Mongols, and wrote the campaign history. This issue is relevant today as it speaks to the reasons why the PRC occupies so much of Central Asia.


R. Kent Guy taught East Asian History for thirty-three years at the University of Washington in Seattle. He served as Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts, Howard and Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History, Chair of the China Program and Chair of the Department of History. He is the author of two books and a dozen articles about Qing and Early Modern Chinese history.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

10:30 am – 12:00 pm

Flows: Routes of Wealth and Power in Imperial China

Guest Speaker: Prof. Timothy Brook (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)

Location: TELUS International Centre (Room 150) (light lunch provided after) 


This paper will examine the importance of flow or movement to the construction of political and economic order in late-imperial China. For as much as we may think of China as ruled through the rigid hierarchies of family and bureaucracy and stationary impediments such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, it was understood that goods, people, and money should circulate within the realm—to flow流 or to get somewhere 通—and that the state was responsible to ensure this flow. Flow’s opposites—obstruction 滯, narrowing 隘, or blockage 塞—had to be avoided as much as possible. Drawing on the theoretical arguments of the great fifteenth-century statecraft activist Qiu Jun, I will outline the arguments for flow as an essential condition for achieving the national goals of wealth and power. To animate this abstract concept, I will use the handscrolls in the Mactaggart handscrolls to illustrate the importance of flow in the form of rivers and roads (水陸, “by water and by land”), with a particular focus on the structure and content of the great Wang Hui scroll of the Kangxi emperor’s tour of Suzhou in 1689.


Timothy Brook is professor of Chinese history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he holds the Republic of China Chair. He has published eleven books (nine of which have been translated into multiple languages) and edited seven, in addition to serving as editor-in-chief of the six-volume History of Imperial China published by Harvard University Press. He has also written on Japan’s wartime occupation of China (1937-45), human rights, and world history. His more popular books include Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global Age and Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer. He was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada in 2013.

12:00 – 12:45pm

Light Refreshments

12:50 – 2:00 pm

Panel Discussion

How is Order Possible in a State the Size of China?

Panel Participants:

• Prof. Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France, Paris, France)
• Prof. R. Kent Guy (University of Washington, Seattle, U.S.A.)
• Prof. Timothy Brook (University of British Columbia, Vancouver)

Moderator: Professor Gordon Houlden (University of Alberta)

Location: TELUS International Centre (Room 150)

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