David Porter

David Porter

Ph.D. Candidate in HEAL
David Porter

My dissertation focuses on the Hanjun banners – the mostly Han Chinese component of the Qing Dynasty’s Eight Banner system. Though the banners are usually considered to have been a fundamentally Manchu institution, I seek to demonstrate that, for much of the Qing, banner identity is far better seen as a status category than an ethnic one. My work shows that prior to the middle of the eighteenth century, the Qing rulers treated banner membership as a reward for service to the court, and particularly military service in the expansion of the empire. Beginning around 1750, this vision was partially repudiated, and for a time an ethnic understanding of what it meant to be a banner person took hold, with a massive portion of the Hanjun population expelled from the banners as a result. However, by the late 18th century, the wave of expulsions subsided, and Han banner status increasingly came to be on equal footing with the banner status of Manchus. My dissertation will thus provide insight both into a central question of Qing history – how identity was thought about and the role of ethnicity in the Qing state – and one of global early modern history – the ways in which massive groups of “service elites,” granted hereditary status but bearing little similarity to a nobility, were mobilized in the service of empire and state-making, with the Qing banners sharing a role with groups like the samurai of Tokugawa Japan and the dvorianstvo of Tsarist Russia.

            Aside from my dissertation, I take a broader interest in questions of empire and identity in Qing and early Republican China. My article (forthcoming in Modern China), “Manchu Racial Identity on the Qing Frontier: Donjina and Early Twentieth Century Ili” explores how one early twentieth century Daur man married Qing ideas of empire and Manchu identity with new ideas of racial nationalism to develop his own vision of a Manchu race. In addition, I have done work on Manchu participation in and engagement with early 20th century Chinese nationalist movement, on the role of the imperial hunt in the Qing court’s relationship with (mostly) banner elites, and on a network of private correspondence – conducted in Manchu – among high officials spanning the entirety of Qing imperial territory that provides insight into the creation of solidarity among frontier administrators and their attitudes toward official service.

            I have served as a teaching fellow for courses in Chinese philosophy and the entwined histories of China and Inner Asia. In the latter capacity, I also served as head teaching fellow, developing digital tools for student engagement with the temporal and spatial context of the course, as well as guides to course readings and strategies for digesting both academic texts and primary sources. In the 2016-2017 academic year, I will be teaching Harvard’s first year course in the Manchu language, and serving as a Graduate Student Associate at the Fairbank Center.

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