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Soldiers and the City: Urban Experience of Guard Households in Late Ming Nanjing

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image of Frontiers of History in China

In late Ming China, a large concentration of Guards and Battalions were stationed in the city of Nanjing. The registered guard population constituted a significant percent of the urban population. This paper discusses the living status of Nanjing guards within the framework of urban studies, and reveals the special model of urbanization of this political center. The guard population was driven by “policy migration,” and showed a high tendency of localization. Soldiers worked in various lines of business, and their living places were no longer confined to military camps. The Nanjing Constabulary broke the administrative boundaries of military and civilian households, and further pushed the localization and urbanization of the guard population. Soldiers were frequently involved in acts of violence and put pressure on local security. However, guard storehouses also provided extra supplies for the local grain market, and stabilized local society at times of crises. This study of the Nanjing guard population not only illustrates the unique urban environment of this political center, but also reminds us about the complexity of urbanization in the Ming-Qing period.


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