The Qing dynasty endured for over two hundred years because, like other empires, in much of its territory it employed forms of indirect rule, and beyond its borders, it cultivated buffer states and quasi-protectorates (known as “tributaries”).
By the end of the 19th century, these techniques no longer held off other encroaching empires. In response, the Qing, just like the others, introduced policies of centralization, greater state penetration, and intervention in buffer states. After 1905, especially, the administrative structures, fiscal composition, and geopolitical vision of the empire had altered radically.
The main force driving new state building efforts was resource development, especially minerals. As foreigners cast greedy eyes on the underground forests of the interior, Qing officials reclaimed mining rights and remapped the empire. If on the ideal level Chinese territorial nationalism embraced the vision of a unified Han race, on the mundane level it rested on subterrestrial resources. The larger project of state penetration and territorial aggrandizement has continued during the ROC and PRC.
In this talk, with reference to case studies from Inner Asia and Korea, I will discuss how an ecological-resource perspective has informed our understanding of the late Qing.