Warfare, imperialism, and the making of modern Chinese history: A review essay

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This historiographic essay contends that warfare made and unmade the Qing dynasty between 1644 and 1911, and its study has helped to create the field of modern Chinese history during the past seventy years. It advances three principal claims. First, the literature on war, especially interstate conflict, can serve as a synecdoche for the development of the modern China field as a whole since the 1950s. The research interests of late Qing specialists have oscillated along an "external-internal-external" axis that corresponds with three distinct periods of intellectual inquiry, scholarly production, and generational dominance. Second, historians have reached inaccurate conclusions about the state capacity of the Qing Empire after 1840 through a crude analysis of the First Sino-Japanese War, a mistake they can rectify by adopting a longer-Term perspective on the state-making process. Third, scholars have deftly traced the changing role of military power in modern Chinese politics but have also adopted the interpretive categories of wen and wu from literati discourse without sufficient critical reflection. In the future, researchers may seek to explore the intersection of warfare and the environment, technology, and ethnic identity, approaches that will continue to move the field in comparative, global, and Inner Asian directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-72
Number of pages26
JournalFrontiers of History in China
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Future research directions
  • Historiography
  • Methodology
  • New Qing history
  • Qing dynasty
  • Warfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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