Online-Lecture: Prof. Elizabeth Kaske (Leipzig): „Late Qing Perceptions of Risk and Fortune: Plotting Careers in an Age of Anxiety“
November 9, 2021, 18:15 - 20:15
One aspect that strikes observers of nineteenth-century China is the apparent lack of panic in the face of foreign aggression among Qing officials. Max Weber, an avid reader of Peking Gazette translations and the English-language press of coastal China, identified the precarity of status and income—rather than Confucian conservatism—as the main impediment to reform. Weber’s analysis has been criticized as “Eurocentric,” but it matched the self-perception of many in China towards the end of the dynasty. Perhaps the most famous account of the official “precariat” is Li Boyuan’s Officialdom Unmasked (1903-1905) which was both a wildly popular novel and a bold political statement. This paper combines fictional careers and real-life biographies to show how status anxieties determined political choices, and elite politics was increasingly seen as the source of China’s decline. The desacralization of the scholar-official as the ruling social order paved the way for abolishing the civil service examinations and, finally, the revolution of 1911.
Bio: Elisabeth Kaske has joined Leipzig University as professor of modern Chinese society and culture in April 2017, after studying and teaching in Berlin, Beijing, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Boston, Vienna, Pittsburgh, Taipei, and Princeton. As a historian of late Qing and early Republican China she is interested in China’s rugged path towards modernization. Her studies include the history of German-Chinese military exchange and technology transfer, the emergence of new concepts of language and education, the sale of rank and public office by the late imperial state, and the fiscal regime of the Qing dynasty. After having long focused on bureaucratic elites, she has recently become fascinated with how new professional elites, particularly engineers, imagined the nation and their own role in it.