Boundaries, Markers and Rivers: Their Scripts and Names in the Qing Shi Gao

Boundaries, Markers and Rivers: Their Scripts and Names in the Qing Shi Gao

Oliver Corff

(60th Annual Meeting of the PIAC, Székesfehérvár 2017)

The Qing Shi Gao, Draft History of the Qing, continues the imperial historiographical tradition of the Twenty-Four Histories. Being the last of these canonical historical records, it bears testimony to the Qing Empire‟s contact and relations to the outside world in a dedicated
treatise—for the first time in the concept of the Twenty-Four Histories—on foreign relations
in eight chapters: Zhi 128-135 邦交 Bangjiao 1 to 8, fasc. 153-160. These foreign relations are different from the relations to tributary states which are covered in a different treatise hidden at the end the biography section: 屬國 Shuguo 1 to 4, fasc. 473-476.

The treatise on foreign relations begins with a general introduction to the matter, outlining China‟s immediate neighbourhood and history of relations with Russia. Special attention is given to boundary markers made of stone and their inscriptions in foreign scripts, e.g. the Cyrillic alphabet. Besides references to the Cyrillic alphabet, we also find references to inscriptions in other languages and scripts yet their precise meaning often remains unclear as all references are given in Chinese characters only.

Another area which is discussed in detail is the name of rivers serving as natural boundaries, one example being the Tumen river which is called 圖們江 Tumenjiang in Chinese but 豆滿江 Dumangang in Korean, a difference significant enough to raise doubts about the precise demarcation of the boundary. Here, it becomes evident that the reflection on names has a second meaning: it is also a reflection on the reach of the Empire.