Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China

Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China

Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China

Cities in Motion: Interior, Coast, and Diaspora in Transnational China

Excerpt

The title of this volume owes at least two debts: one to Jonathan Spence’s book on the Kangxi emperor and his chapter on the emperor’s travels—“In Motion”—and one to Craig Clunas’s Superfluous Things and his chapter “Goods in Motion.” Spence’s evocation of the state’s response to the challenge of China’s vast geographic expanse and Clunas’s analysis of the fluid distribution of material culture across region and empire suggest the vast political and commercial dimensions of the Chinese experience. In his ruminations on the pleasures and perils of hunting and making war beyond the Great Wall, Kangxi observed that “the conditions in these northern areas can be understood only if you travel them in person.” Despite the risks, for Kangxi being there was better than simply reading or hearing reports. Less adventuresome emperors could also walk and ride through the simulacra of empire contained in the gardens of the Forbidden City or the imperial summer retreat at Chengde. For his part, Clunas stresses the ways in which material goods in the late imperial period (c. 1500–1900) circulated cultural meaning along trade routes and into the lives of elite consumers. A consumer’s imagination pinned to rare or useful goods’produced at a distance and available in the local marketplace could be as fertile and expansive as that of a statesman bent on conquest and tax receipts.

A political ruler and a merchant prince may see the world in different ways. However, as the late imperial state became more dependent on commercial taxes for its revenue and on the merchant-gentry as community leaders, the difference between a

Jonathan D. Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi (New York: Vintage, 1975); Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991).

Spence, Emperor of China, 13.

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