Final Public Oral Exam: Daniel Barish

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 23, 2017 - 10:00am
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

The Emperor's Classroom: Pedagogy and the Promise of Power in the Qing Empire, 1861-1912


Benjamin Elman, adviser
Janet Chen
Anthony Grafton
Elisabeth Kaske, Ostasiatisches Institut der Universität Leipzig


The nineteenth century was a tumultuous time for the Qing Empire (1644-1912). After the endemic corruption and devastating wars at the start of the century, most scholarship on the late Qing highlights the role of local elites and regional interests leading to the fall of the dynasty. In contrast, this dissertation argues for the importance of the Emperor in the cultural and political history of the era. I demonstrate that beginning in 1861, the Qing Court worked to redefine the Emperorship, re-negotiating the bounds of political participation and re-conceptualizing the relationship between the imperial family and people around the country. These efforts helped to preserve the empire for fifty years after collapse seemed imminent.

The Emperor's education was the focal point of this project. From 1861-1912, a series of three young boys were enthroned as Emperor. Led by a coalition of Empress Dowagers and Princes, the Court established a discourse and set of practices linking pedagogy and the potentiality of power within the Emperor's classroom. Scholars with divergent ideals of reform were promised the opportunity to mold the Emperor into an advocate of their vision of the country's future, and the Emperor was promised the power to assert his will on behalf of whichever faction he favored. This competitive cooperation at the center counterbalanced centrifugal forces around the country. The power promised to both scholars and the Emperor were ultimately illusory, but the pursuit of that power sustained the Emperorship throughout the late nineteenth century.

When the Qing began transforming into a constitutional monarchy in the early twentieth century, the Court presented the reeducation of the imperial family as central to the task. New schools and ceremonies surrounding imperial education sought to teach the Court's subjects to be members of an emergent national community while assuring international powers that the Qing was adopting global norms of governance. The constitutional project thus invented an ideal of the Emperor as symbol of the nation. Multiple post-imperial governments attempted to capitalize on this idea, working to reeducate the ex-emperor in new political ideologies to present him as an icon of their regimes.

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

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
Cultural History
Imperial History
Social History
19th Century
20th Century