Marginal constituencies: Qing borderland policies and vernacular histories of five tribes on the Sino -Russian frontier
The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) extended the geographic and social boundaries of Chinese imperium by assimilating physical areas and ethnic groups that were previously at the margins or beyond the direct control of the preceding Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Channels of economic and cultural exchange gradually developed to connect these peripheral places and peoples to the nucleus of the empire. At the same time, the central government preserved their frontier status by governing them differently from the territorial core. The imperial court and other bureaucratic offices in Beijing customized the administration of each frontier region according to official perceptions about indigenous and foreign threats to Qing authority and the utility of human and material resources in the area.
This dissertation seeks to fulfill two objectives. The first is to examine the development of policies to govern five tribes indigenous to the northern frontier as case studies of how the Qing government used native populations of the borderlands to demarcate and to claim these physical and political spaces as part of its domain. Beijing simultaneously considered these groups as valuable intermediaries and as vulnerable pawns in disputes with the Russian empire over their shared border. The Qing state thereby formulated various strategies of administering the five tribes from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries to maximize its employment of these groups as military and economic servitors and conversely, to prevent them from facilitating further Russian incursions into Qing territory. As its inhabitants and gatekeepers, the five tribes defined and preserved the borderland.
The second aim of the dissertation is to analyze the long-term impact of these policies as reflected in the historical records produced by the five tribes during the Qing. These oral, textual, and material sources describe individual and collective experiences, and shed light on how these groups responded to the domination of the imperial state. The five tribes' modern-day descendants have used these "vernacular histories" to commemorate and to interpret their ancestors' contributions to the establishment and maintenance of Qing territorial integrity. They have also adopted many aspects of their Qing period heritages as fundamental components of their contemporary ethnic identities.