The Beijing News
October 7, 2008
Yan Chongnian (阎崇年), a scholar specializing in Qing history and Manchu culture, was attacked on October 5 when he was in Wuxi to promote his new book, The Kangxi Emperor. The prolific author was smacked twice in the face, allegedly because the attacker disagreed with his historical views.
While it was unclear from the report which views got Professor Yan slapped by another dude (what kind of a guy slaps someone, anyway?), Danwei did some digging and came up with these little nuggets of Qing wisdom by searching the internet for “Yan Chongnian” and “traitor”:
Wu Sangui, the general who has usually taken the blame for the collapse of Ming Dynasty (the last Han Chinese Dynasty) by virtue of his surrender to the Manchu invaders, should be reevaluated for avoiding mass bloodshed that may have resulted had he not surrendered; Censorship and crackdown on dissenting views by the Qing ensured social stability despite certain limitation; The Manchu invasion promoted the integration of different ethnic groups, and the human loss it caused was inevitable.
The Qing can be a touchy subject. I’ve occasionally riled people by (tongue ever so slightly in cheek) correcting their assumption that I study Chinese history, telling them instead that “I study the Qing Empire, of which China was one, albeit very large, part.”
The fact that the Qing Era was so prosperous and successful (for the first two hundred years or so) can be tempered in the zeitgeist by the knowledge that the Qing emperors were not Han, did not consider themselves Han, and would likely have chopped off anybody’s head who claimed that His Majesty’s Empire had succeeded due to Manchu assimilation, as early 20th-century Han nationalist historians argued in an attempt to reconicle past events with contemporary sentiment.
Prior to the 1911 revolution, revolutionaries such as Sun Yat-sen, Zhang Binglin, and Zou Rong wrote passionate tracts lamenting the depravity, cruelty, and, yes, the “Otherness” of the Manchu rulers. Post-1911, as the KMT and later the CCP took up the baton of statebuilding, the desire to hold on to the territorial conquests of the Manchus trumped ethnic nationalism, and the Manchus were brought into the fold of a newly-defined “Chinese nation,” which transcended Han ethnic or cultural definitions to include those groups, like the Tibetans, Uighurs, and Taiwanese, who had also been ruled by the Manchus. This is the narrative which dominates in the PRC today.
In fact, the very idea of the Qing as an empire, and, as such, an imperialist power, is a highly volatile subject in light of European and Japanese imperialist aggression of the 19th and 20th centuries. But one look at the challenges the PRC (the modern-day heirs to the Qing territorial legacy) has managing restless areas of the country suggests China shares with other post-colonial powers the lingering problems of an imperial past exacerbated by the always difficult transition from empire to nation-state.
I’ve never been slapped for my views, but I’ve gotten into some pretty heavy seminar discussions…really steel-octagon-bring-your-best-citation-and-obscure-reference bare knuckle matches.
Does that count?