Images of an Empire : Chinese Geography Textbooks of the Early 20th Century

Abstract: In 1901 the Qing regime, in power 1644-1911, took wide-ranging measures to reform the Chinese Empire. Fundamental changes were carried out within the field of education, resulting in the completion of China’s first modern educational system in 1904. Modern schools mushroomed across China and modern textbooks introducing non-traditional knowledge became common reading in the classrooms. Modern geography textbooks informed schoolchildren about the circumstances within the Empire and, to some extent, about the conditions in foreign countries. Thus these textbooks gave them an idea of their own nation in relation to the rest of the world.  The thesis examines the images of the inhabitants of the multiethnic Qing Empire, as encountered in a wide range of textbooks and other teaching materials, on the school subject of geography, used at various institutions of modern learning during the closing years of the Qing era. The focus is on the Han Chinese majority of China Proper (i.e. the eighteen provinces), although the images of the other major ethnicities of the Qing Empire are also examined, as well as the peoples of neighbouring Korea and Japan.This study highlights the extent to which the late Qing era was influenced by Japanese approaches towards reforms and modernization, especially in the field of education. During the process of introducing modern school geography in China, Chinese textbook compilers largely relied on Japanese sources on geography, thereby facing a Japanese, nationalistic and colonial discourse, which implied that Japan, as the most civilized nation in the East, was also in her right to dominate the region. Although Chinese educationalists hardly accepted Japan’s self-proclaimed position as the rightful leader of Asia, they were nevertheless influenced by Japanese descriptions of the continent and its peoples.