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Rewriting the Qing Constitution: Bao Shichen's “On Wealth” (Shuochu)

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image of T'oung Pao

In 1801, with Heshen recently deposed and the Jiaqing emperor having assumed his personal rule, a young household tutor named Bao Shichen wrote an ambitious essay—Shuochu (On Wealth)—laying out the reforms he believed would set the Qing empire back on the path to political strength and economic prosperity. Although Bao would go on to achieve celebrity as a reformist advisor to high-ranking policy-makers, this particular work, in which he presents his most comprehensive statement on political economy, remained unpublished for more than a century. In the final decade of the Qing it was rediscovered and published by Liu Shipei and his associates in the National Essence (guocui) movement, hailed as a prescient document anticipating current political trends and presenting strong similarities to Western political practice. The present article explores the content of this work in detail, arguing that, despite its relatively cautious tone, it does indeed offer a bold and somewhat populist revision of the unwritten constitution that governed the Qing empire.

Affiliations: 1: (Johns Hopkins University)


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