Authored by Tenzin Taklha

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Evelyn Rawski’s 1996 presidential address to the Association of Asian Studies, Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History, challenged the long-held belief by scholars that, despite the Qing’s Manchu ethnicity, the key element behind the Qing Dynasty’s acceptance by the Chinese people was that the Qing had been Sinicized. Instead, Rawski argues the opposite: “the key to Qing success, at least in terms of empire building, lay in its ability to use its cultural links with the non-Han peoples of Inner Asia and to differentiate the administration of the non-Han regions from the administration of the former Ming provinces.” 1 Rawski’s argument does not deny that Manchu leaders aimed to portray themselves as Chinese (which they did, evidenced by their acquisition of the Chinese language, acceptance of Confucian principles, and their interest in Chinese art and literature),2 but that the brilliance in the Qing’s successful quest to build a vast empire resided in their ability to adopt various customs according to the subjects they conquered, such as the Chinese, Tibetans, and Mongols.

Rawski’s main concern regarding the Sinicization theory of Qing success in this regard is that the theory is heavily reliant on official Chinese-language records. Risking obscuration of important historical fact and detail, the Qing court conducted its official business not only in Chinese, but also in Manchu. Until recently, historians have largely ignored documents written in Manchu, arguing that these documents would not reflect significant differences from Chinese-language sources.3 In the 1980s, however, access to Manchu-language sources improved and more historians began to study the Manchu language. Rawski determined that “Manchu-language documents were a vital part of an early Qing communications network that frequently bypassed Han Chinese officials.”4 Rawski’s conclusion was a major breakthrough: a new wealth of Manchu-language sources was now available to allow historians a better perspective of the Manchu ruling class. Consequently, this reality gave birth to the school of New Qing History, stimulating new academic research and historical debate. This paper extends upon Rawski’s argument that Chinese-language sources have their limitations in studying the Qing Dynasty, and that a holistic analysis of linguistically diverse sources is necessary to draw more academically rigorous conclusions. In this paper, I will explore the visit by the Fifth Dalai Lama to the Shunzhi court of the Qing Dynasty, analyzing the historical records of this event through both Chinese and Tibetan sources according to Rawski’s holistic methodological framework.

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  1. Evelyn Rawski, “Presidential Address: Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55, no. 4 (1996): 831.
  2. Rawski, “Presidential Address,” 834.
  3. Ibid., 829.
  4. Ibid., 829.