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China recompiles Qing Dynasty history costing 600 million yuan
The Epoch Times
10/10/2004

At the end of 2002, China launched an enormous project to compile and revise the history of the Qing Dynasty. It has been estimated that this project would take 10 years to reach completion at a cost of 600 million yuan (US$ 72.45 million). Planned products include a major book, History of the Qing Dynasty, containing about 30 million Chinese characters, literature and reorganized archive documentations. Nearly 400 research scholars, who are specialists in the history of the Qing Dynasty, have been working under contract for this project, which has generated much academic debate.

Throughout Chinese history, it was quite common for a new dynasty to recompile the history of the previous dynasty when its reign began. Zhu Yuanzhang, the emperor of the Ming Dynasty, issued the order to compile the history of the Yuan Dynasty in the first year of his reign. Aixinjueluo Fulin, the young emperor of the Qing Dynasty, also had the history of the Ming Dynasty compiled. In the late 19th century, the Beiyang Government compiled the history of the Qing Dynasty and finally published the manuscript “History of the Qing Dynasty” which took about 14 years.

The Qing Dynasty lasted for 268 years. Its population was many times greater than the total of all the previous dynasties of China. Moreover, its GDP was almost equal to the total GDP of the entire European continent at that time, and its economy achieved the peak of that ancient time in China. It has been stated that the act of recompiling of Qing Dynasty history would add practical meaning to the current society of China.

According to a paper by Huang Limin, professor from the China Institute of Statistics and Measurement, the existing version of the History of the Qing Dynasty by the Beiyang Government has explained the history in their own terms, so that many historical facts, comments, and knowledge are not tenable. Therefore, that manuscript cannot be considered as a formal historical biography. However, Huang questioned whether it were necessary to recompile the history of the Qing Dynasty in the name of the nation.

A scholar of Qing history has explained that all the archived documentation and materials preserved from the Qing Dynasty already constitute a complete representation of Qing history. It is impossible to cover all source records in historical literature. Each period of the Qing Dynasty had special features, schemes, and patterns of its own, thus it is not reasonable to renew it with today’s thinking and ways.

Another historical scholar said that because the entire compilation of “History of Qing Dynasty” by this project would contain 30 million Chinese characters. It would take 10,000 days for a doctoral graduate student specializing in Qing history to consume it all, assuming a reading rate of 30,000 characters per day. He questioned whether ordinary people could even finish reading such mass of written information. He also pointed out that using contract employment for this huge project may not be an appropriate way to do research.

Is it a good idea to recompile the history of the Qing Dynasty? If so, how should it be done? Despite the intense scholarly dispute in domestic and overseas academic areas, the project of revising Qing history is still going on. Recently, the “Conference of Compiling the History of the Qing Dynasty for Scholars from Both Sides of Taiwan Straits” was held in Beijing, attempting to draw on collective wisdom and absorb useful ideas in order to complete the project.

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