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Prosperity and Its Discontents: Contextualizing Social Protest in the Late Qianlong Reign

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image of Frontiers of History in China

Studies of the Qing history have tended to overstate the prosperity of the Qianlong period (1736–95), while taking the ensuing Jiaqing period (1796–1820) as the crisis-ridden beginning of dynastic decline. To challenge such a simplistic and somewhat misleading interpretation, this article reappraises the late Qianlong era by examining the dramatic combination of social protest which largely defined this period. It focuses on the structural and conjunctural origins of these upheavals and uses them as a prism to investigate the changing state-society relationship. This study conceptualizes the late Qianlong upheavals as a profound crisis of an overextended empire whose political development had become unsustainable. In addition to facing the formidable challenges of an expanding society, the late Qianlong state was crippled by the emperor himself and his aggressive efforts to concentrate power in his own hands.


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