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Religious Policies in the Late 18th to Early 19th Century Qing Empire: A Study on the Interaction between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

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2016-2017 School of Chinese Research Student Seminar


Religious Policies in the Late 18th to Early 19th Century Qing Empire: A Study on the Interaction between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

孔德維先生  Mr Hung Tak Wai

Date and Time: September 9, 2016 (Friday); 5:30-6:45pm
Venue: Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU
Language: Cantonese

Adam Smith 1776年出版的《國富論》對大英帝國有以下的評價:


這一評論對歷史上(以至今天)不同的帝國亦甚為切合,清帝國(1616-1912)就是當時東亞最為顯著的例子。作為一個政治實體,清帝國與John Darwin 對當時大英帝國的評價頗為類近:「未完成、混亂、充滿矛盾、野心與詭異」。清帝國在歐亞大陸東端近三個世紀的活動,在意識形態、政治體制、統治政策等方面,均沒有一貫或完整的藍圖。帝國在不同時段有不同特質,而不同的「代理人」亦確有相異且往往不協調的心機。


In 1776, at the end of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith commented on the British Empire:

The rulers of Great Britain have, for more than a century past, amused the people with the imagination that they possessed a great empire on the west side of the Atlantic. This empire, however, has hitherto existed in imagination only. It has hitherto been, not an empire but the project of an empire; not a gold mine but the project of a gold mine.[1]

This comment applies to many other empires in history and even the present day. The Qing Empire (1616-1912), was one of the most obvious examples in East Asia. As a political entity, the Qing Empire was similar to the British Empire throughout its history – “unfinished, untidy, a mass contradictions, aspirations and anomalies,” as described by John Darwin.[2] In terms of state ideologies, political institutions, and governing policies, the Qing Empire did not have a static, persistent master plan or blueprint throughout its nearly three centuries of existence in the eastern side of Eurasia. Properties of the empire shifted from time to time, and the ambition and agendas of its different agencies were also diverse and inconstant.

Confucian Scholar-Bureaucrats, the majority of the titanic Qing bureaucracy, for instance, had diverse understandings of the Empire, its subjects and even their own identities. In the 18th century, these Chinese intellectuals constructed their image of the “Sino World-System,” with the recognition of the multi-religions phenomenon both inside and outside the Empire. The existences of Muslims and Christians were obviously a part of the Empire in their time. Scholar-bureaucrats could not neglect these heretic religions, especially Muslims, who lived in almost all regions of the Empire. Confucians, as intellectuals, had to provide justifiable explanations to new “heresies” entering their world. It was similar to how Christians in the West had to respond to the emergence of other religions by constructing their “Theologies (rather than the singular ‘Theology’) of Religions.”[3] The Confucian understandings of religions were even more important for those who were part of the bureaucracy. While encountering Muslims and Christians in regions under their governance, they had no choice but to come up with a set of polices for these “heretic” faith communities. One should note that policies on the two religions adopted by Qing Confucian Scholar-Bureaucrats were different from policies designed for “orthodox” religions in their time. Students on late Imperial Chinese history should also remember that the Qing policies on Muslims and Christians were essentially different from those in Ming Empire.


[1] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Bantam Dell, 2003), pp.1207-1208.

[2] John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp.xi-xiii.

[3] A typical discourse and a decent introduction on the discipline of “Theology of Religions” could be found in John Hick’s publication on 1995. See John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: The Rainbow of Faiths (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).

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