This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book's main themes. Most historical studies of protest have been premised on the general view that modernity started with the state centralization and transition to capitalism in sixteenth-century Europe, and that modern historical developments outside Europe, such as those in China, were only belated replications of Europe's development. This book argues that China's modernity did not begin with its nineteenth-century clash with Western powers, but started around the sixteenth century and peaked during the eighteenth-century prosperity and stability of the Qing empire. The core of this book describes the pattern, forms, and appeals of popular protests directed at the state in the heyday of China's early modernity: the mid-Qing period, from 1740 (during the great thrust of state centralization) to 1839 (on the eve of China's clash with Western imperialism, in the Opium War of 1839–1842). By connecting the dynamics of mid-Qing protests as unearthed in this study with those of the seventeenth century and the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries as documented extensively in the literature, the book sketches the indigenous trajectory of the long-term historical transformation of protest from early modern to modern China.
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