China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - War’s Witness: The Beijing Diary of Wang Zhonglin

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite A, Lobby Level

Only three years remain from the diary of a little-known clerk named Wang Zhonglin (1816-1878), yet the diary describes several major crises in the history of the Qing dynasty: the advance of Taiping forces south of the Yangtze River, the rise of the Nian rebellion, the flight of the Xianfeng emperor from the capital, and the invasion of the summer palace by European armies. Through a close reading of the diary, this paper analyzes the local and regional social networks through which Wang gathered news of the destruction that threatened his friends, family and home. It argues that personal records like the diary of Wang Zhonglin form useful, yet understudied sources for understanding communications and emotional networks in crisis. More than solitary musings, Wang Zhonglin’s diary reflects the interests of an aspiring literatus, the emotional networks of a southern transplant, and the political anxieties of a Qing loyalist. During his years in Beijing, Wang combined his official duties with literary work dedicated to his hometown milieu and his deceased father. Simultaneously, the diary depicts Wang’s growing absorption in capital life, with gossip about the careers of acquaintances, complaints about muddy streets, and stories of nights carousing. In addition, Wang keenly followed the fortunes of family and acquaintances in afflicted regions, and recorded news of politics, rebellion, and invasion gathered from oral conversations, letters, and gazettes. By recording notes and observations on these three themes in his diary, Wang created bridges between emotional, professional, and dynastic loyalties.

Emily Mokros

University of California, Berkeley, California

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