Political Circumstances and Historical Writing in the Qing Dynasty: A Case Study of Datong Gazetteers

Vol. 50 No. 2  6/2020



Political Circumstances and Historical Writing in the Qing Dynasty: A Case Study of Datong Gazetteers


Chang Chi-ying











Key words

Ming-Qing transition, historical memory, political surveillance, Datong大同


In this article, I discuss historical writing on the Ming-Qing transition from a local perspective, taking the gazetteers of Datong大同 edited during the Qing period as an example. In 1644, the people of Datong surrendered to the new regime established by the Manchus. However, not long after their surrender, at the end of 1648, they rebelled.  Unfortunately, their uprising was swiftly put down and they did not succeed in overturning the Qing government. After the uprising, the Qing conducted close political surveillance and intervened extensively in local affairs, even to the point where officials collected historical data and edited local history. Local elites, who were under surveillance and embarrassed by their past, could not write directly about what they had experienced. However, in 1652 they managed to leave behind some clues about what actually happened in an effort to circumvent the Qing’s destruction of the historical record. As time went on, the Qing regime rigorously suppressed any signs of intransigence, and officials in Datong destroyed all data that reflected negatively on Qing rule, including some messages left behind in 1652. Rather than writing from a local perspective, officials instead created standardized accounts of the Ming-Qing transition. After this whitewashing of the historical record, local elites had no means of learning about the anti-war sentiment in Datong during the early Qing. When re-editing the 1830 Datong gazetteer, the compilers discovered that trustworthy historical data from the Ming Qing transition was scarce. They therefore decided to search through gazetteers from other districts in Shanxi in order to find concealed messages that expressed local points of view. The gazetteers of Datong, composed over different periods in the Qing, thus reveal not only how the people of the time engaged in historical writing; they also show how they responded to political circumstances.


Author: Chang Chi-ying
Genre: Article