Teaching Qing History

In comments for the previous post Jonathan Dresner asked if Zelin’s new Merchants of Zigong would be a good book for an undergraduate class on the Qing. I would think not, as it is only in hardback at present and it is fairly technical. The only actual monograph I could think of to recomend was Kuhn’s Soulstealers. I would like to hear if anyone has any other suggestions. Here is what I think make a book something good to assign to a class

-Price. Pretty much has to be in paperback.
-Fitting into the course properly.  Can’t be too early or late in the semester or go to far outside the period.
Here Jonathan is messing things up, since his is a Qing class rather than a Late Imperial class or a Modern China class, and thus things like Brook’s Confusions of Pleasure are too early and the many books that go into the 20th century are too late and something like Cochran’s Chinese Medicine Men is both too late and not China-centered enough.

-Length and Complexity
Peter Perdue’s China Marches West might work in some respects, but it’s over 500 pages. Zelin’s book is good, but it is also rather complex and deals with a number of debates that I would have to  introduce.

-It has to balance with the other things I am doing in the class. Johnathan wanted something that was a bit more economic/commercial history. So no Manchu books and no Perdue

-It has to be a good book that the students can relate to on their own
Part of the reason I don’t really want to use something like Zelin, or Dunstan’s State or Merchant is that I’m lazy and don’t want to do all the work to set it up. More importantly, I am convinced that most of my students will forget my lectures in month, my exams in a year, and my name in a decade. A good book that you read for class will stick with you for life, or at least that’s what I’ve found. I used Harrison’s Man Awakened From Dreams in my Modern China class even though it is about a very odd man who does not fit into most of the narratives I want to talk about in the class, but it’s too good a read to pass up.

The only real reccomendations I can come up with are all in hardback, reach out of the period or are too complex to work well on their own.

Bello Opium and the Limits of Empire
Lin Man-Houng’s China Upside Down
Brokaw’s Commerce of Culture
I think Rowe’s Hankow is out of print, as is Yen P’ing Hao’s Commerical Revolution in Nineteenth Century China

Any suggestions? I’m afraid I’m being pretty worthless here.


  1. I know you mentioned _Soulstealers_ in an earlier post. I’d like to second that idea. Two books I’ve considered are Spence’s _Treason by the Book_ and for a cultural/gender component that is often missing from the standard textbooks, Susan Mann’s _Precious Records_. Both are highly readable and (I think) available in paperback. Has anyone used either? I’d be interested to know how they worked out.

  2. Just for reference, here is the syllabus as it currently exists. I’m currently using Struve’s Ming-Qing Cataclysm and Cohen’s History in Three Keys along with Soulstealers and the Spence textbook with documents. I could be convinced to replace either Struve or Cohen, probably, so either end of the period is fair game (A really good book could supplement Kuhn, too, though I can’t imagine dropping it).

  3. I’m afraid the only recommendations I can offer are
    on the spelling front.

    – ‘recomend’ …recommend

    – ‘reccomendations’…recommendations

    (By the way, I’m not Brad DeLong trying to get back at you!)

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