China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

10

Harvests and Relief

MANAGING the frontier economy required a vastly expanded information-gathering apparatus. The Qianlong emperor implemented a system of empire-wide reporting on prices, harvests, and rainfall which provided voluminous data on agrarian conditions. The purpose of these reports was to allow officials to intervene as needed with relief measures. Officials who ran the "evernormal" granaries established in every county relied on market reports for the timing of their interventions to stabilize prices. They could sell when supplies were short and restock when they were abundant.

The collection of standardized statistical data from localities is considered to be the hallmark of a modern state. The creation of the concept of "society" as an entity has been ascribed to the normalization disciplines enacted by nineteenth-century European states, among which statistics was foremost.1 In this sense, Qing practices of the eighteenth century look precociously "modern."

The most detailed harvest reports in the entire empire came from Xinjiang. No other lands in the empire were watched so closely. Only where all the cleared land was under military control could officials measure precisely the yields in relation to the seed. Regular reports on agricultural yields indicated that garrison supplies were being carefully monitored so that troops could be allocated accordingly.

How successful was the imperial program to settle peasants, clear land, and raise agrarian productivity in the most arid region of the empire? Were the rural producers able to provide sufficient grain for both themselves and the troops? How variable were yields and prices in relation to climate flue-

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