China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

16
Frontier Expansion in the
Rise and Fall of the Qing

SO far I have stressed the role of expansive warfare in the construction of the Qing state. From the beginning, the Manchu rulers organized their society to make war. The Manchu people were created in 1616 as part of the state formation in Manchuria dedicated to unifying through force the tribes of the Northeast. During the conquest of China proper, continual preparation for military campaigns generated institutional change along with territorial expansion and commercial integration. Until the mid-eighteenth century, the Qing state kept up the momentum of expansion along with institutional transformation. After the borders were fixed and expansion ceased, some energy seems to have seeped out of the imperial structure. The results were not immediately apparent, but by the early nineteenth century, the Qing empire faced new internal challenges, and the glory days were over.

By insisting that militaries mattered to the formation of the Qing state, I aim to balance other works that focus almost exclusively on commercial or cultural integration. Both of these objectives contributed to the cohesion of the empire, but neither could work without effective displays of coercive power. When preaching harmony failed or harvests collapsed in a drought, officials had to summon up whatever police forces they had to prevent banditry or revolt. Balancing coercive, monetary, and cultural appeals was the key to preserving the state and maintaining social order.

The same principles applied to both internal and external relations. Local officials and frontier commanders both had to subdue unruly populations with appropriate mixtures of exhortation, trading incentives, and re

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