State Financial News in Late Qing China

Weiwei Luo, Grinnell College

The late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) is known to have witnessed a series of “failed” efforts at “modernization,” including the famous Hundred Days’ Reform (1898). However, one decade before, a little known reform triggered a nation-wide discussion over the production, printing, and circulation of state revenue information. This episode combined the practices of everyday politics and the new and traditional information technologies. It concerned not only the urban reading public, but also the general rural population. Leaders of this reform sought to transfer a communicative technology, booklets called “trust-seeking records”, into the realm of state financial action. Developed and perfected at the social level, these publications promoted public financial calculations as a part of the popular reading materials alongside news and fictions. For the central government, especially the ministry of finance, publishing taxation information with “trust-seeking records” became a useful tool for addressing the power imbalance between the central state and the provinces, and for attempting to directly communicate with “the people”. For local gentry, commoners, and their community, such state publications were seen as an invitation to scrutinize and verify official information. In contrast, provincial leadership was firmly against the idea of printing accounts publicly. They leveraged both the central treasury and the general population through blocking the channels of vertical information flow. Although ultimately abandoned after a decade of experiment, this episode of public reading transformed the knowledge relations between a managerial state and an emerging civil society.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 262. Public Finance and Data in Chinese History