Jade as a Local Product: Objects and Empire in Eighteenth-Century China

Yulian Wu, Assistant Professor of History, Michigan State University

In 1759, the Qianlong emperor (r.1735-1796/1799) conquered the northwest frontier of Xinjiang (so-called “New Frontier”), expanding the territory of the Qing empire (1644-1911) and changing the political relationship between the Qing state and inner Asian countries. As the Manchu court became the only legitimate authority to mine nephrite jade from the new frontier, the political status of this rare and beautiful stone transformed from a foreign tributary good to a local product. Previous scholarship has shown how the Qing imperial court and other parties participated in the tributary system for political and economic reasons, but few scholars have examined how the tributary objects themselves, as a central part of the system, were used to mediate various political relationships. This presentation focuses on the Xinjiang jade itself, exploring the meanings that jade embodied in the process of the transformation of its political status and the role that object played in the tributary system. It aims to offer a new perspective into the material manifestation of the court-Xinjiang relationship in eighteenth-century China and the dynamic connections between territory and objects more broadly. 

Co-sponsored by East Asian Studies and History