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The Drifting of the “South” to Beijing:The Southern Factor in Beijing Culture of the Early Qing

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How did southern China figure in Beijing, the Qing capital? Here “the South” (Jiangnan) must be understood as a cultural rather than geographical term. It does not, however, merely refer to the cultural space in which intellectuals gathered but, rather, to their lifestyle and spiritual existence typical of the elites who resided in regions south of the Yangzi River. This sense of the South involved the body, sense, memory, and everyday experience of Han culture in this period. Using Foucault’s notion of the “body politic,” I consider the South in opposition to macro politics, the Qing regime, which carried out society’s disciplinary and punishment functions. The body politic is a kind of “micro power,” which can sometimes override or undermine macro politics. In the process of accepting discipline and punishment from the Qing court, the South, drifting northward as its most talented men arrived to serve the Qing, was able to penetrate and reshape national politics in Beijing. In this sense, it maintained a measure of influence even in the face of hostile macro politics. To unpack the interaction between macro politics and micro politics, this article explores how the southern literati migrated to Beijing and established cultural circles there; how southern literati rewrote the idea of the “South” in the North and turned its remembrance into textual, physical, and spiritual rituals; and finally, how the South and the inscribing of the South, either in text or in action, served as a mode of existence for Chinese elites. I consider how intellectuals maintained or created links to the old culture by extending the South into the real spaces of the North and, more importantly, into their psychology.


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