Rivers of Empire, Trees of Nation: Environment and State in China’s Inner Asian Frontiers
2: Water Matters: The Forming of a Fiscal Vision of Southern Xinjiang from the 1820s to the 1840s
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Tel Aviv University, Israel
In 1820, Jahāngīr secretly entered the Qing territory from the Kokand khanate, inaugurating nearly a decade of turmoil in southern Xinjiang. Although Jahāngīr was captured and executed, the expenses of restoring order and reconstruction once again made the Qing government doubt whether the annexation of Xinjiang was fiscally sustainable. This essay chronicles the changes in the Qing empire’s vision of Xinjiang’s revenue potential from the 1820s to the 1840s. It first probes the debate at court over Xinjiang’s fiscal sustainability in the 1820s, and then analyzes Han-Chinese literati’s discourses on freshwater resources in southern Xinjiang in the following two decades. Relying on archives, I provide a nuanced picture of the discussions of the Daoguang emperor and his ministers about the strained fiscal situation of Xinjiang after Jahāngīr’s revolt. The emperor initially planned to withdraw from southern Xinjiang just as previous China-based regimes had done, but the proposal was, surprisingly, not welcomed by the Han-Chinese literati. Historically, the Han-Chinese literati had been suspicious about any territorial expansion into Inner Asia. Besides the inner-outer division, they were worried that military expeditions and the ensuing occupation would exhaust and distress people. This paper argues that the shift in their attitude derived from a better knowledge of freshwater rivers in southern Xinjiang. By the 1840s, southern Xinjiang’s suitability for agriculture and fiscal potential was widely recognized within the Qing government.