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The Culture of War in China

Empire and the Military Under the Qing Dynasty

What particularly distinguished the Qing from other ruling houses in China’s imperial period? In this pathbreaking book, Joanna Waley-Cohen overturns conventional wisdom to identify military power and an accompanying martial ethos as defining characteristics of the high Qing empire. From 1636 to 1800, Emperors reinforced massive military expansion with a wide-ranging cultural campaign intended to bring military success, and the martial values associated with it, into the mainstream of cultural life. Military prowess and imperial power were linked in the popular imagination though endless repetition in literature, art and architecture a startlingly modern use of words and images that demonstrates the imperial grasp of culture’s potency as a political tool. Overturning the presumption that reads back China’s late-nineteenth-century military weakness into the past, Waley-Cohen shows that the Qing strongly emphasized military affairs, which they understood as complementary rather than subordinate to civil matters. Arguing that the militarization of culture that took place under the high-Qing emperors provided fertile ground from which the modern militarized nation-state could develop, Waley-Cohen contends that the past two centuries of Chinese weakness on the international scene may turn out to have been a protracted aberration, rather than the normal state of affairs. The Culture of War in China is a striking revisionist history that brings new insight into the nature of the Qing dynasty and the roots of the militarized modern state.  —I. B. Tauris

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Joanna Waley-Cohen
I. B. Tauris
June 2006
Author

Joanna Waley-Cohen is Professor of History and Chair of the NYU History Department. She has taught the history of China at NYU since 1992. Her research interests include early modern Chinese history, China and the West, and Chinese imperial culture. She received her B.A. and M.A. degrees in Chinese Studies from Cambridge University and her PhD degree in History from Yale University. She is also the author of The Sextants of Beijing: Global Currents in Chinese History and two forthcoming works: a study of culinary culture in early modern China and an account of daily life in China round 1800.