The constitutional debate in early Qing China

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In the first few decades of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Chinese political thinkers engaged in a seminal debate over how to redesign the basic "constitution" of imperial authority. The pivotal figure in this rich argument was Gu Yanwu (1613-1682), who proposed a "mixed model" approach that would combine the strengths and counteract the weaknesses in the two rival systems for constituting political authority-the decentralized fengjian system versus the centralized, bureaucratic junxian system. This article reconstructs the main arguments in that debate, looking at how mixed model advocates differed from fengjian revivalists, focusing on the role and ideas of Gu Yanwu, but also drawing attention to their shared goal of using reform to strengthen the imperial state and the authority of the emperor. The concluding section shows how the consolidation of Qing ideological authority by 1680 brought a close to this constitutional debate, leaving it to be rediscovered during the crisis of the 19th century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-168
Number of pages20
JournalSungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Oct

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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