UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political theories of Ku Yen-wu and the Manchu Conquest Ku, Wei-Ying


Of the many themes in the history of China, an important one is the persistence and effectiveness with which the Chinese managed to rule their huge country and keep it unified. Many explanations for this have been given, such as the diffusion of Confucian ideology, and the integrative powers of the civil service examination system. However, there was one phenomenon which influenced the longevity of the Chinese empire which has not received as much attention as it deserves, that is, Chinese theories of different types of local government. To be sure, there have been some studies on this topic. But the studies which have appeared have basically dealt with the institutional aspects of local government. Few, if any, have explored this topic through a case study of the thought of one crucial historical individual. This thesis does not offer a synoptic examination of seventeenth-century local governments, but tries to achieve a better understanding of it through the study of the thought of Ku Yen-wu (1613-1682), a key figure during the transitional period of early modern China. Ku was chosen not only because of the historical significance of his time and his crucial importance during his lifetime, but also because his thought about the problems of local power was the centerpiece of his political theorizing. The thesis begins with an introduction which presents the general setting of seventeenth century China and the historiographical issues which it raises. This is followed by a chapter discussing Ku's family background and the great events in which he was involved during his formative years, and their effects upon him. The next three chapters are concerned with Ku's theoretical assessments of the development of different kinds of local power structures, and the.relevance of such local power structures as he saw it to the dilemmas of China at the time of the Manchu conquest, which Ku Yen-wu hated. In these chapters, I shall examine Ku Yen-wu's views of the ideal and the real roles in the social order of such pivotal figures as the yamen clerks (hsli-li), and the local licentiates (sheng-yuan). More important, I shall attempt to elaborate Ku's basic anxieties about, and his solution to, the problems of the defense of China, which he related to the strengthening of the localities. In other words, the focus of this study is on the interaction between Ku Yen-wu himself and the rapidly changing China of the Manchu conquest. I will argue that many of the proto-bourgeois ideas which have been attributed to Ku were actually Confucian reactions to the corrupted social customs, an increasingly despotic central government, and the foreign conquest of China, rather than the pioneering declarations of the arrival of an era of "sprouting" capitalism which some scholars, both foreign and Chinese, have seen them to have been. The significance of Ku in the history of China is discussed in the last chapter. This thesis attempts to specify some of the specific social features which a great scholar like Ku Yen-wu thought should be associated with a system of strong local power in seventeenth-century China. I hope this study will provide a better insight into the thought of Ku Yen-wu and the society in which he lived. I hope also to suggest briefly how Chinese actions and reactions towards the Western challenge since the middle of the nineteenth century may have owed something to the thought of Ku Yen-wu.

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