Theses Doctoral

The Great Convergence: Information Circulation, International Trade, and Knowledge Transmission Between Early Modern China, Inner Asia, and Eurasia

Kung, Ling-Wei

This dissertation investigates China’s relationship with Inner Asia—encompassing Tibet, Mongolia, and Xinjiang—by focusing on information exchange, economic integration, and worldview formation from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries in an international context. Supplementing modern and classical Chinese sources with multilingual materials in Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu, Japanese, and a range of European languages, my research diversifies scholarly understanding of China’s development as a nation by emphasizing the significant roles of Inner Asian peoples in building the Qing empire. I argue that, instead of a marginal hinterland, Inner Asia was the contact zone that brought Eurasian cultures and knowledge systems together. Moreover, this work challenges the binary discourse of metropole/periphery in the history of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization by demonstrating that the integration of knowledge systems in modern Eurasia started from Inner Asia. Engaging with the scholarship of comparative world history, I argue for the Great Convergence, a novel term that signifies the information exchange, economic integration, and knowledge formation that mobile communities and intelligence networks in Inner Asia facilitated between China, South Asia, and Europe.

My research features interdisciplinary methods that bridge the gap between international history and world philology, among other disciplines. This dissertation analyzes information and economic networks between China and Inner Asia. More broadly, the present study contributes to the literature on imperialism, transnationalism, mobility, ethnicity, and science/knowledge in global and comparative contexts. To be specific, this dissertation investigates how Inner Asian mobile communities, such as Tibetan monks, Mongolian pilgrims, and Ladakhi caravans facilitated Qing understandings of other Eurasian empires, including Tsarist Russia, Ottoman Turkey, Mughal India, Afsharid Iran, and Durrani Afghanistan. Moreover, I argue that Qing information gathering significantly promoted the international integration of information networks and knowledge systems in early modern Eurasia. Finally, this dissertation generalizes historical trends of knowledge exchange to explore the phenomenon of the Qing empire’s knowledge involution caused by political censorship and information non-transparency. Accordingly, this research sheds light on knowledge divergence between China and Europe to answer why the Qing empire did not achieve a modern scientific revolution compared with its European counterparts.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-06-04.

More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Tuttle, Gray
Zelin, Madeleine H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021