2017 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


From Kingdom to Empire:
The Evolution of Missionaries’ Views on the Polity of Traditional China in the Seventeenth Century

Liu Geng

Institute of Historical Geography, Fudan University

Can the traditional China from before the Qing dynasty be considered an “empire? This is a fundamental problem in the scholarship of the New Qing History. According to American scholar Mark C. Elliott, the foundation of the Qing dynasty as a multi-national joint regime made European missionaries begin to designate China as an “empire.” This article, however by means of quantitative studies and textual analysis of the Jesuits’ Annual Letters from China in the seventeenth century, concludes that while there was a change in terminology from “kingdom” to “empire,” it did not correspond with the Ming-Qing dynastic transition, and neither did it stem from the establishment of the “Qing Empire.” Rather, the change was as a result of the deepening knowledge of China itself. There is no denying that the new regime of the Qing strengthened the sense of “empire” in the aspect of multinational state.


Keywords: traditional Chinese polity, empire, kingdom, Jesuits’ Annual Letters