Theses Doctoral

The Rise of Technocratic Culture in High-Qing China: A Case Study of Bondservant (Booi) Tang Ying (1682-1756)

Chen, Kaijun

This dissertation examines a technologically specialized officialdom of Manchu called bondservants (or booi) that thrived in the eighteenth century. Through a case study of Tang Ying (1682--1756), a supervisor of the Imperial Porcelain Manufacture and a prolific playwright, I demonstrate the formation of what I call a "technocratic epistemology" across disparate fields of technical, artistic, and literary production. One of my key arguments is that bondservants differed from traditional Han scholar-officials in their practical approach to technological knowledge and their expanded literary representation of intercultural experiences in the multiethnic empire. Both contributed to the practice of statecraft that is modern in nature.

In research questions and method, this project lies at the intersection of the history of technology, literature, and material culture. Tang Ying's case not only provides a vintage point for observing a technocrat's lineage, training, and career path, it also allows us to view the Qing empire from such previously little-studied vantage points as manufacture, technical knowledge, and fiscal management. This case study adopts a mobile perspective, following Tang's multiple journeys across the empire, often traversing social and ethnic boundaries.

By closely analyzing Tang Ying's technical treatises, literary compositions and extant porcelains, I show a two-fold principle governing three aspects of technocratic cultural production. First, Tang Ying's illustrated treatise shows how bondservants appropriated non-textual knowledge of craftsmen and merchants into statecraft by means of writing and images. Second, Tang Ying's development of porcelain technology showcases how technocrats experimented with knowledge encoded in texts, images and tools. Third, documentary and experimental imperatives governed the literary and artistic compositions of bondservants. For Tang Ying, to document meant not only to record information but also to compartmentalize, to count, and to order information systematically.

This dissertation sheds light on the central institutionalization of practical expertise in the expanding multiethnic empire of China. Trained for the projects of empire building, bondservants integrated the skills and practices of scholar-officials, artisans and merchants to give birth to a technocratic culture.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shang, Wei
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 1, 2014