Macabe Keliher was recently awarded an American Council of
Learned Soceities (ACLS) fellowship. This prestigious fellowship supports Dr.
Keliher for a year to work on his next book project, Centralizing the Manchu Military and the Transformation of Empire in
Early Modern China, which explores the centralization of military power in
early modern China.
This project stems from archival discoveries while researching his current book, The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China, which explores the formation of the Qing Empire through symbolic practices that legitimized authority. “In the course of archival work, I stumbled upon a cache of funerary honors for mid-level military captains and officers,” he said. These documents charted officers’ backgrounds, honors, and provided instruction on who could inherit their rank, title, and position.
“What I saw happening here was the state guaranteeing honors in return for loyalty,” Dr. Keliher said. He found that the state exchanged symbolic power for real power: The sons and grandsons of the officers would keep their symbolic ranks and titles, but their military position would come under control of the state, and eventually be given to a state agent.
Conventional scholarship has described this process as happening in the 18th century under a strong-willed emperor, but Dr. Keliher sees it occurring much earlier. What happened in the 18th century was simply the emperor “articulating in law what was already fact.” This finding will change how historians understand the composition and control of the early modern Chinese military, explaining not only its ability to conquer and rule half a continent in the 18th century, but also its demise in the 19th.