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VIRTUAL: Information Management in Early Modern China: The Grand Secretariat and Its Clerks, ca. 1700-1800

Xue Zhang, East Asian Studies

April 22, 2020 · 12:00 pm1:20 pm · via Zoom

Department of History

Early Modern History Workshop

How does the history of archives inform other subfields of history, for instance, institutional history, and vice versa? My session first will analyze the reasons for the distinctive status of the archives of the Grand Secretariat (Neige) in the historiography of China and a series of myths about the archives. Thanks to its tumultuous past, including the famous incidence of “the 8,000 burlap bags,” the archives of the Grand Secretariat is one of the most renowned archives in the historiography of China. Yet, behind dramatic anecdotes are numerous myths about the archives in Chinese and English literature. I then demonstrate how the studies of routine memorials (tiben) in the Grand Secretariat could shed new light on the policy-making process in early modern China. Based on the number and content of routine memorials, I argue that the Grand Secretariat, which has long been neglected by historians, remained a pivotal institution in the Chinese bureaucracy in the eighteenth centuries. In the final section, I will uncover the crucial role of low-ranking clerks in the making and circulation of government documents and discuss how institutional history would contribute to a new understanding of the archives of the Grand Secretariat.

The presentation will be followed by an open-floor discussion on archives, which are not only sources of history, but also its subjects.

For Zoom meeting information, email Megan baumhammer at baumhammer@princeton.edu


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