Constructing Political Order and Universal Empire in Early Modern China

Macabe Keliher, Southern Methodist University

The large, land-based agrarian empires of the early modern Eurasian world boasted robust administrative systems employing diverse political and ethnic actors. While scholars have described the composition and universal nature of these imperial formations, and explained their growth and development through war and institution building, a gap still remains in our understanding of how their multiethnic bureaucracies and militaries were formed: What was the mechanism of inclusion that made outsiders insiders, while simultaneously acclimating insiders to the newcomers? This article explores the process in the context of Qing China (1636-1912). Examining the formation of the Qing empire in the 1630s, it shows that state-makers mobilized highly structured rituals of surrender to incorporate political and ethnic outsiders. The rituals at once informed outsiders of their place in the new political order, while at the same time instructing insiders on the social position of the insiders. In short, the ritual showed actors how to relate to each other as the social order was reconstructed to accommodate new actors. This movement prepared imperial political and social organizations for the conquest and rule of a multiethnic empire.

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 Presented in Session 184. Social Actors inside, outside, and in between Early Modern States