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Talons and Teeth: County Clerks and Runners in the Qing Dynasty (Law, Society, and Culture in China) 1st Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0804737586
ISBN-10: 0804737584
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Editorial Reviews


“...the book is a valuable contribution to the study of a sophisticated bureaucracy in a non-Western, nonmodern setting.”—Robin D.S. Yates, McGill University

From the Inside Flap

For commoners in the Qing dynasty, the most salient agents of the imperial state were not the emperor’s appointed officials but rather the clerks and runners of the county yamen, the lowest level of functionaries in the Qing state’s administrative hierarchy. Yet until now we have known very little about these critically important persons beyond the caricatured portrayals of corruption and venality left by Qing high officials and elites.
Drawing from the rich archival records of Ba county, Sichuan, the author challenges the simplicity of these portrayals by taking us inside the county yamen to provide the first detailed look at local administrative practice from the perspective of those who actually carried it out. Who were the county clerks and runners? How were they recruited, organized, disciplined, and rewarded? What was the economic basis for a career in the yamen? How did clerks and runners view themselves as well as legitimize their role in Qing government? And what impact did their interests and practices have on symbolically laden elements of imperial government such as the magistrate’s court?
In addressing these questions, the author traverses the disjuncture between statutory regulations and the realities of daily administrative practice, uncovering a realm of informal, semiautonomous, yet highly structured and even rationalized procedures. Although frequently in violation of formal law, this extra-statutory system nevertheless remained an irreducible component of local government under the Qing. Recognizing the centrality of such informal practice to yamen administration forces us to rethink not only traditional assumptions concerning local corruption in the Qing, but also the ways in which we conceptualize the boundaries between state and society in late imperial China.

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Product Details

  • Series: Law, Society, and Culture in China
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804737584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804737586
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,495,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This book is by far the most important study of local government in late imperial China that has yet been published. Its only possible rival might be T'ung-tsu Ch'u's 1962 classic, "Local Government in China Under the Ch'ing," which Reed's book has largely superseded.
A unique feature of Reed's book is that it makes use of the only county government archive of any size that survives from the Qing dynasty, the Ba County archive. This singular body of material became available to scholars only shortly before Reed began his doctoral research, and he was quick to seize the opportunity to provide an insider's view of how local administration actually worked in the late empire. Previous scholarship had depended on the writings of senior officials appointed by the imperial center, and was severely limited by the top-down, condescending perspective of such sources; it tended to pass along unwittingly the prejudices of Qing elites as empirical fact.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution of the book is to rescue us from diehard stereotypes of clerks and runners in the local government offices ("yamen") of late imperial China. For centuries, these locally-recruited personnel were vilified as inherently evil and corrupt; such rhetoric was a standard part of official and elite discourse for several dynasties, and earlier generations of scholars tended to accept it at face value. Yet no one until Reed had bothered to ask why a system that employed such personnel, and depended on them for most of the vital and sensitive tasks of government, could function so well for so long.
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