A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western Relations (1644-1820)
This is a two volume series that, as the title suggests, provides a documentary chronicle of Sino-Western relations from 1644-1820. It must be seen as an attempt to gather the significant documents from the period and is a good resource for scholars interested in the subject. The book organizes the sources in the order of official publications, unpublished documents that were suppressed in the Ch’ing period, semi-official accounts by high-officials, private accounts by civilians at the time, provincial gazetteers of maritime provinces, primary sources written in Chinese by non-Chinese and finally, unpublished Chinese diplomatic documents.The items are selected based upon the accuracy of sources, the degree of their importance and the size of original documents.
Providing a clear format to the organization of the sources at the outset, the work is at once well- structured and insightful. The sources are both given dates and are allocated specific times- explained by the author in the “writer’s rules” that precede the main body of text. The extent of research for the work is exemplified by the fact that the second volume contains the notes to the chapters in the first, also providing a comprehensive glossary for the terms used in the documents. By providing a translated version of the sources in English, the volume offers the reader an accessible way to study the Chinese sources in relation to interaction with the West from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)
The sources cover the period from 1644-1820. Involving the reigns of Shun-chih (1644-1661), K’ang Hsi (1662-1722), Yung-cheng (1723-1735), Ch’ien-lung (1736-1795), and Chia-ch’ing (1796-1820), the volume translates texts relevant to the interaction with the West in these periods.
Dealing with topics such as trade, taxation on foreign shipping, religious beliefs, and the role of officials and armies, the volume is able to compile in great detail the sources that are contemporary to their time. The work must be considered as a compilation, rather than promoting any singular argument about the period itself, it is a contribution to the availability of the sources of the period in the English language.
Argument (Methodology, Significance)
The book is the compilation of records that the historian has chosen from the period of study. This is significant as it is able to produce a large collection of sources that are translated and are employed in relation to understand the connections between the West and China to a greater degree. It gives the opportunity for those who have limitations in terms of language and accessibility to the original documents to both read and examine these sources for their own purposes.
While the volumes only deal with the Chinese perspective and this may be considered a limitation to being a more holistic study, the comprehensive nature of the work does warrant some merit.
Annotated by Sandeep Singh