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Metropolitan Clerks and Venality in Qing China: The Great 1830 Forgery Case

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This study of a forgery case in the Board of Revenue shows how the huge increase in the legal sale of offices and titles in early nineteenth-century China overstretched the bureaucratic structures that managed it and exposed the weakness of official control over subaltern clerical personnel. The case allows a glimpse into the mostly hidden world of metropolitan clerks and the operation of a little known department in the Board of Revenue, the Contribution Office. It also demonstrates how the illegal sale of fake official ranks allowed the clerks to participate in the legal purchase of offices and thus to free themselves from the predicament of their clerical position. While legal venality contributed to general corruption in the Qing bureaucracy, it also leveled to a certain extent the differences between a professional yet suppressed class of bureaucrats and their amateurish yet socially esteemed scholar-literati superiors.

Affiliations: 1: (Carnegie Mellon University)


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