The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China / Edition 1

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In 1644, the Manchus, a relatively unknown people inhabiting China’s rude northeastern frontier, overthrew the Ming, Asia’s mightiest rulers, and established the Qing dynasty, which endured to 1912. From this event arises one of Chinese history’s great conundrums: How did a barely literate alien people manage to remain in power for nearly 300 years over a highly cultured population that was vastly superior in number? This problem has fascinated scholars for almost a century, but until now no one has approached the question from the Manchu point of view.

This book, the first in any language to be based mainly on Manchu documents, supplies a radically new perspective on the formative period of the modern Chinese nation. Drawing on recent critical notions of ethnicity, the author explores the evolution of the “Eight Banners,” a unique Manchu system of social and military organization that was instrumental in the conquest of the Ming.

The author argues that as rulers of China the Manchu conquerors had to behave like Confucian monarchs, but that as a non-Han minority they faced other, more complex considerations as well. Their power derived not only from the acceptance of orthodox Chinese notions of legitimacy, but also, the author suggests, from Manchu “ethnic sovereignty,” which depended on the sustained coherence of the conquerors.

When, in the early 1700s, this coherence was threatened by rapid acculturation and the prospective loss of Manchu distinctiveness, the Qing court, always insecure, desperately urged its minions to uphold the traditions of an idealized “Manchu Way.” However, the author shows that it was not this appeal but rather the articulation of a broader identity grounded in the realities of Eight Banner life that succeeded in preserving Manchu ethnicity, and the Qing dynasty along with it, into the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is the most interesting history ever written of the Manchus in Chinese life, and one of the most important contributions to Qing studies in the last decade. . . . It is engagingly, even elegantly written, with enviable clarity and nice touches of ironic humor."—Timothy Brook, University of Toronto

"[The Manchu Way] will be important reading not only for all historians of China but for all students of the history of the early modern world. Formidable in its learning, it is very lucidly written, makes its arguments clearly, and is full of vivid descriptions and quotations."—American Historical Review

"By examining the details of garrison life, using extensive archival materials written only in Manchu, Elliot draws an insiders' picture of their world. . . . Elliot offers a rich fund of material and a new and powerful argument that is vital reading for anyone interested in the transition from empire to nation around the world."—The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This is a wide-ranging and innovative book. Furthermore, it is written in a lively, accessible style . . . .It will also be stimulating for readers interested in ethnicity, identity, and the creation of empires. Overall, it is undoubtedly a scholarly achievement of the highest order."—History Today

Based mainly on Manchu documents, and drawing from recent critical notions of ethnicity, this book considers the evolution of the Manchu system of social and military organization and its value in their conquest of the Ming. Elliott (history, University of California, Santa Barbara) argues that Manchu power derived not only from the acceptance of orthodox Chinese notions of legitimacy, but also from an "ethnic sovereignty" reliant on the sustained coherence of the conquerors. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804746847
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2001
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 977,604
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Figures
List of Tables
Note on Transcription and Other Conventions
Qing Reign Periods
Introduction. The Problem with the Manchus 1
Pt. 1 Structures of Eight Banner Society
1 The Eight Banners and the Origins of the Manchus 39
2 Manchu Cities: Tigers on the Mountain 89
3 The Emperor's Men 133
Pt. 2 Patterns of Banner Life
4 The Iron Rice Bowl of Banner Privilege 175
5 Among the Nikan 210
6 Resident Aliens 234
Pt. 3 The Crises of the Eighteenth Century
7 Whither the Manchu Way? 275
8 Saving the Banner System 305
Conclusion. Manchu Identity and Manchu Rule in China 345
App. A Note on the Size of the Eight Banner Population 363
App. B Ranks in the Eight Banners 365
App. C Foundation and Expansion of Provincial Garrisons 369
Notes 373
Chinese Character Glossary 505
References 511
Index 551
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