Communication, Empire, and Authority in the Qing Gazette
Mokros, Emily Carr
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This dissertation studies the political and cultural roles of official information and political news in late imperial China. Using a wide-ranging selection of archival, library, and digitized sources from libraries and archives in East Asia, Europe, and the United States, this project investigates the production, regulation, and reading of the Peking Gazette (dibao, jingbao), a distinctive communications channel and news publication of the Qing Empire (1644-1912). Although court gazettes were composed of official documents and communications, the Qing state frequently contracted with commercial copyists and printers in publishing and distributing them. As this dissertation shows, even as the Qing state viewed information control and dissemination as a strategic concern, it also permitted the free circulation of a huge variety of timely political news. Readers including both officials and non-officials used the gazette in order to compare judicial rulings, assess military campaigns, and follow court politics and scandals. As the first full-length study of the Qing gazette, this project shows concretely that the gazette was a powerful factor in late imperial Chinese politics and culture, and analyzes the close relationship between information and imperial practice in the Qing Empire. By arguing that the ubiquitous gazette was the most important link between the Qing state and the densely connected information society of late imperial China, this project overturns assumptions that underestimate the importance of court gazettes and the extent of popular interest in political news in Chinese history. Through engagement with previously unstudied gazettes, manuscripts, and diaries, the project demonstrates that political news and information derived from court gazettes influenced both individual encounters with the state and, more broadly, the evolution of administrative practice in the Qing Empire. In so doing, this project connects scholarship in the emerging field of information history with work on Qing political institutions, print culture, and the history of newspapers. The project highlights the encounters of readers, publishers, and administrators with gazettes in order to illustrate the complexity and richness of information practices in a non-Western early modern context. In addition to demonstrating that court gazettes are important and underutilized sources for the study of Qing history, this project’s findings should encourage scholars of information and the state in other global contexts to investigate popular encounters with the state through the lens of news and information. In five thematic chapters, the project undertakes a multidimensional study of the role of the gazette in the Qing court, territorial bureaucracy, and empire. The first chapter explores the evolution of Qing information policy from the Qing conquest through the empire’s decline in the nineteenth century. The second chapter establishes a detailed history of the evolution of the gazette industry and its relationship to the growth of commercial publishing in late imperial Beijing. The third chapter provides evidence for how readers engaged with the gazette in their daily lives and careers. The fourth chapter examines how the gazette found a place in newspapers published in China and around the world, and posits that gazette information shaped the stories that could be read about China, especially in the nineteenth century. Finally, the fifth chapter looks at efforts to reconceive the gazette at the end of the Qing as representative of ongoing elite-led efforts to remake relationships between print and politics in a modernizing state.