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Full Access Prosperity with the Help of “Villains,” 1776-1799

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Prosperity with the Help of “Villains,” 1776-1799

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A Review of the Heshen Clique and Its Era

image of T'oung Pao

The late Qianlong period (ca. 1776-1795) has mostly been seen as the time when the Qing empire went from its pinnacle into its decline as the bureaucracy became bogged down in corruption. Heshen has come to epitomize late Qing venality and mismanagement. This article argues that, in reality, the Qianlong emperor employed Heshen and his associates in order to overcome the political crisis that marred the middle years of his reign. A balance of power was established whereby the cliques respectively represented by Akedun and Liu Tongxun and by Heshen held each other in check. It is also shown that the wealth that Heshen is alleged to have accumulated through his corrupt activities was far less than commonly believed, and that Heshen could not significantly abuse his political authority until about the time of Qianlong’s abdication, four years before his own demise.

Les dernières années du règne de l’empereur Qianlong (de 1776 environ à 1795) sont la plupart du temps considérées comme celles où l’empire des Qing a entamé son déclin après avoir connu son apogée et où la bureaucratie a été engloutie par la corruption. Heshen en est venu à symboliser la vénalité et la mauvaise gestion de la fin des Qing. Cet article montre au contraire que Qianlong a recouru à Heshen et à son groupe dans l’espoir de surmonter la crise politique qui ébranlait le milieu de son règne. En se neutralisant mutuellement, les cliques représentées par Akedun et Liu Tongxun, d’une part, et Heshen, de l’autre, ont préservé l’équilibre au sein du pouvoir. Il est également démontré que la richesse accumulée par les pratiques corrompues de Heshen était bien moindre qu’on ne le croit usuellement, et que Heshen n’a pu abuser de son autorité politique de façon significative avant l’abdication de Qianlong, précédant de quatre années sa propre chute.

Affiliations: 1: Korea University

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/content/journals/10.1163/15685322-984500a6
2012-01-01
2016-12-07

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