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Protest with Chinese CharacteristicsDemonstrations, Riots, and Petitions in the Mid-Qing Dynasty$
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Ho-fung Hung

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231152037

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231152037.001.0001

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Mid-Qing Protests in Comparative Perspective

Mid-Qing Protests in Comparative Perspective

(p.168) 6 Mid-Qing Protests in Comparative Perspective
Protest with Chinese Characteristics

Ho-Fung Hung

Columbia University Press

This chapter first compares the three waves of protests in mid-Qing China. It shows that while the general political-economic contexts determined whether the protesters were more likely to engage or resist the state, the perceived moral legitimacy of the state delimited how exactly the protesters would engage or resist the state. A comparison of the overall trajectory of mid-Qing protests with the contemporaneous Western European trajectory shows that the trajectory of protest development is generally shaped by the rhythm of macropolitical-economic change. While a long-term expansion of centralized state power in Europe fostered a unidirectional transition from reactive to proactive protest, the cyclical rise and fall of centralized state power in mid-Qing China entailed first the rise of proactive protests and then a transition back to reactive protests. The second part of the chapter traces the continuities and ruptures between mid-Qing protests and modern protests in the early twentieth century. It suggests that China's late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reactive violence, which had been regarded by Eurocentric views as the starting point of departure from a stagnant antiquity, was in fact the end point of a century-long transformation from proactive to reactive protests in China since the mid-eighteenth century. Despite this transformation, mid-Qing protest repertoires, together with the underlying Confucianist conception of authority, continued to be part of the “symbolic reservoir” among protesters and dissenters throughout the early twentieth century, occasionally reviving in popular protests and sometimes repressed by Westernized revolutionaries.

Keywords:   Chinese protest, Qing dynasty, mid-Qing period, state-resisting protest, Western Europe, popular protests, moral legitimacy, Confucianism

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