Being an Official: The Sale of Public Offices and its Effects in Comparative Perspective

See also: Workshop


Saturday, April 25, 2009, 9:00am

Postdoctoral Workshop

Saturday, April 25, 2009 8:50 am – 5:00 pm
Postdoctoral Workshop
Being an Official: The Sale of Public Offices and its Effects in Comparative Perspective
Organized by Elisabeth Kaske, An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow
Location: CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S050, Cambridge

In European historiography, the sale of public offices by the state – known as “venality” in French history – is a well-studied feature of the early modern era. It is often seen as a key component in the transition from the feudal to the modern worlds. Yet less scholarly attention has been paid to the sale of offices in late imperial China. Scholars often assume that China was governed by a thin layer of centrally appointed provincial officials chosen through a system of meritocratic civil service examinations that eventually became a model for Europe during the Enlightenment period. In fact, bureaucratic realities were much more complicated, and purchase had been a legal and common way of obtaining offices for centuries in China as well.

This workshop seeks to expand our knowledge about this important dimension of the Qing administrative system. The workshop will compare the sale of offices in nineteenth-century China with venality in France and Germany. It will shed light on relatively understudied groups such as assistant officials (zuoza), expectant officials (houbuguan), and military officers. It will also address different understandings of what “being an official” actually meant to the people involved. By putting Chinese venality into a comparative perspective, we hope to gain a better conceptual understanding of the peculiarities and commonalities of the bureaucracy in China and Europe and to stimulate new discussion about the meanings and realities of the Chinese administrative system.

The workshop comprises three sessions. Session one (9:00 – 10:30 am), attempting a comparative examination of venality in Europe and China, will discuss how venality eventually became associated with corruption. Session two (11:00 am – 12:30 pm) will highlight the status and function of assistant and expectant officials, many of whom had purchased their offices, and will show how much leeway provincial leaders had in deploying these officials. Session three (1:30 – 3:30 pm) will investigate the role of war in the sale of offices and will also take a comparative look at the military bureaucracy in China and Europe.

The workshop is sponsored by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and co-sponsored by the China Humanities Seminar and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Participants include Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France), William Doyle (Bristol University), Robert Kent Guy (University of Washington), Jane Kate Leonard (University of Akron, Ohio), Dai Yingcong (William Paterson University), Susan Richter, with Nicolas Schillinger and Peter Trummer (Heidelberg University), Lawrence Zhang (Harvard University).

Discussants include Peter Bol (Harvard University), Jennifer Rudolph (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Joanna Waley-Cohen (New York University).

8:50-9:00 am
Welcome and Introduction

9:00-10:30 am
Session 1: The Sale of Offices in Comparative Perspective
William Doyle (University of Bristol): “Venality and Corruption”
Lawrence Zhang (Harvard University): "The Legacy of Service: Office Purchase and Local Elites in Changshu during the Qing"
Susan Richter (Heidelberg University): “Discourses on Bureaucrats in Early Modern German state theory and the Chinese Model”
Discussant: Peter Bol (Harvard University)

10:30-11:00 am
Coffee Break

11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Session 2: Being an Official
Robert Kent Guy (University of Washington, Seattle): “Specialized Local Appointments in the Qing Dynasty”
Jane Kate Leonard (University of Akron, Ohio): “Stretching the Qing Bureaucracy in the 1826 Sea Transport Experiment”
Pierre-Étienne Will (Collège de France): “Expectant Officials in Provincial Capitals in the Nineteenth Century”
Discussant: Jennifer Rudolph (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

12:30 - 1:30 pm
Lunch Break

1:30-3:30 pm
Session 3: War and Venality
Dai Yingcong (William Peterson University, New Jersey): “Military Corruption in the Suppression of the White Lotus Uprising”
Elisabeth Kaske (Harvard University): “War Finance, the Sale of Offices and Inter-provincial Relations in the 1860s”
Nicolas Schillinger (Heidelberg University): “Professional New Armies for China: Discovering Corruptive Practices as a Problem of State Security”
Peter Trummer (Heidelberg University): “Clausewitz and Military Professionalization in Prussia”
Discussant: Joanna Waley-Cohen (New York University)

3:30-4:00 pm
Coffee Break

4:00-5:00 pm
Final Discussion: Rethinking the Study of Chinese Bureaucracy in Comparative Perspective