Final Public Oral Exam: Bingyu Zheng

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 21, 2018 - 10:00am
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Way of the Idle Men: Leisure and Daily Life of Bannermen in Qing Beijing, 1750-1900


Benjamin Elman, adviser
He Bian
Paize Keulemans (EAS)
Mark Elliott, Harvard University


The Eight Banners of the Manchus was once a formidable military force that conquered China and created one of the greatest empires in Asian history. By the nineteenth century, however, many bannermen were no longer recognized for their prowess on the battlefield, and instead became notorious for their obsession with poetry and theater. This dissertation investigates this transformation from these people’s own perspective, seeking to understand why these people made the choices that led them to be labeled as “idle” and “lazy” in late Qing political discourse and modern scholarship. Through this study, I reexamine the role of the bannermen in the latter half of the Qing Dynasty, arguing that they should not just be considered as political symbols of the failures of the Manchu regime, but as individuals who were driven by sociopolitical circumstances to forge new paths in their lives.

Focusing on the capital of the Qing Empire, Beijing, this dissertation utilizes a diverse set of sources produced in both Manchu and Chinese languages, including state documents, diaries, pedagogical texts, novels, poems, and ballads. I will begin by explicating the Qing state’s conception of the term “idle,” and its futile efforts to control a growing population of “idle” bannermen. Then I will explore how the bannermen sought to solve their financial problems through establishing social networks that offered mutual support. After that, I will study the literary production of the bannermen and show how they sought to find self-fulfillment outside of the state framework through their creative pursuits. Lastly, I will investigate the bannermen’s immersion into the world of popular entertainment in the capital, showing how they were able to achieve fame and fortune through the invention and public performance of their own musical genres.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.