The Qing Empire and its Offshore Islands during the Long Eighteenth Century

In the historiography related to island studies or island management, historians very much neglected Imperial China for a fairly long period of time and especially during the early modern era. One explanation for this neglect is that in a Chinese context, islands had often been considered mythical, marginal, distant, inferior, and even isolated spaces. Perhaps the only few exceptions are Taiwan, Hainan Island, the Penghu Islands, and Nanao Island off the coast of the Guangdong Province. But when it comes to smaller, less-important islands, for maritime historians studying China and the West, these are rarely on the radar.

In this talk, Prof. Po will argue that China’s offshore islands played a unique and notable role as an interface between the mainland and its inner sea throughout the long eighteenth century. The interrelations between these islands and the central regime in Beijing had not necessarily been loose or weak. The needs of national security and coastal stability had to reckon with the particularities of these offshore territories, as they were linked by commerce and politics, navigation and sea patrolling, as well as provisioning a military tasked with addressing the problem of piracy.

Ron Po is a historian of late imperial China from the fourteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Since completing his doctorate at Universität Heidelberg in 2013, he has taught in Germany, the United States, and Canada, and is currently an associate professor of the Department of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of The Blue Frontier: Maritime Vision and Power in the Qing Empire, published by Cambridge University Press in 2018, and two books in Chinese, entitled The Placid Ocean: Qing China and the Asian Seas, and Turning the Tide: Historical Actors and Social Memories in Late Qing China, both of them published by China Times Publishing Co. in Taiwan. In 2019, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.