China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

13

Marking Time: Writing
Imperial History

IN the mid-seventeenth century, Paul Pellisson-Fontanier proposed to write a history of King Louis XIV's reign, and outlined these principles for his project: "The King must be praised everywhere but, so to speak, without praise, by a narrative of all that he has been seen to do, say, and think. It must appear disinterested but be lively, piquant, and sustained, avoiding in its expressions all that veers toward the panegyric. In order to be better believed, it should not give him the magnificent epithets and eulogies he deserves; they must be torn from the mouth of the reader by the things themselves."1 Louis Marin, in discussing Pellisson's proposal, argues that historian and ruler write each other into existence. Just as the ruler commissions an official account to make the writer a royal mouthpiece, so the historian creates the royal persona through his narrative, reproducing the ruler's power and transmitting it beyond the temporal limits of his reign. Official historiography in both France and China reveals the interaction of narrative and authority, as each actor self-consciously turns his special skills to the mutual advantage of both.

In this chapter I examine the Qing project to encompass its historical terrain as it encompassed its territory, by producing an authoritative account of the frontier conquests. This project paralleled the Qing efforts at economic and political-military integration described earlier in this book. As before, I recognize the empire's impressive feat of embracing multiple lands and peoples under a uniform narrative, but also note that integration was incomplete. Beneath the surface, diversity and contradictions strained at the imperial effort to hold things together. Just as local administrations var-

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