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On the Road in Eighteenth-century China
thesisposted on 2021-05-01, 00:00 authored by Huiying Chen
Focused on travelers’ experience, this project examines how increased travel challenged the existing conventions and social structures in Qing China and how the state and society successfully sought and found creative and workable ways to acclimatize itself to the new social realities. Working with an array of sources, including commercial travel guides, travelogues, local gazetteers, maps, and litigation records, this dissertation elucidates the challenges that increased travel posed to eighteenth-century Chinese society, whose laws and conventions had favored sedentary ways of living as demanded by agriculture. A marked increase in traffic throughout the country produced a new set of social norms and values that we might think of as “early modern,” in the sense that active participation by individuals in the broader and broader circulation of bodies, goods, and information is a hallmark of that era. The various stakeholders in this transitional process negotiated compromises that required the system to accommodate change in order to continue to function effectively. In this constant flux of give and take, the state and its local officials worked to find common ground with individual travelers, the producers of travel guides, and travel service providers to maintain society's integrity and coherence and ensure more or less that everyone’s needs were met.