23 June: Discovering Empire in China

15.00-17.00 hrs

Leiden University
Pieterskerkhof 6

Heleen van der Minne h.m.van.der.minne@iias.nl

The custom in the West is to speak of the “Chinese empire,” but the absence of any such word as “empire” in the Chinese language ought to give us pause: Why, exactly, do we in the West speak of China historically as an “empire,” and when did this habit begin? Since when have Chinese writers referred to China as an empire (diguo), and what do they mean by it? Through an examination of early modern Sinological discourse, this paper makes the argument that the European discovery of “empire” in China coincided with the Manchu conquest of China in the mid-17th century. It goes on to examine the adoption of this vocabulary by the Chinese themselves in the 19th c., before building a case for why, apart from old habit, we might be able to think of the Qing state – if not all of “China” historically – as an empire.