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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Dynastic Decline, Heshen, and the Ideology of the Xianyu Reforms

Vol. 38 No. 2   6/2008    


Dynastic Decline, Heshen, and the Ideology of the Xianyu Reforms


Daniel McMahon 









Key words

Qing Dynasty, Emperor Jiaqing (嘉慶) Heshen (和珅) Heshen Regency, Xianyu (Jiaqing) Reforms (咸與維新) dynastic decIine,

imperial ideology


  This article examines the 1799-1805 Xianyu Reforms, a period of governmental reform in the wake of Emperor Jiaqing's purge of the powerful minister Heshen. Previous accounts of this event stress its Confucian form and inability to avert nineteenth-century challenges of dynastic decline. This paper, however, focuses on ideology and how new change offered not an obstacle, but an opportunity. In securing power and advancing reform, the Jiaqing court manipulated a caricatured image of Minister Heshen-and, more broadly, moral/administrative breakdown-in order to define decline and galvanize public sentiment. Creation of a polemic, classics based vision of Heshen (decline) vs. Jiaqing (revival), reflective of a clash of cosmic forces, legitimated the attack on the minister while offering an alternative to a larger bureaucratic purge. Posing new reforms as the mirror opposite of the “ Heshen Regency," in turn, molded the shape and the focus of new reform, orienting it pragmatically toward select values and broader political incorporation of polity. The Xianyu Reforms, that is, were not shackled by tradition; they used tradition creatively



Author: Daniel Mcmahon
Genre: Article
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