The Language of Nation-State Building in Late Qing China : A Case Study of the Xinmin Congbao and the Minbao, 1902-1910 book cover
1st Edition

The Language of Nation-State Building in Late Qing China
A Case Study of the Xinmin Congbao and the Minbao, 1902-1910

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after January 31, 2023
ISBN 9781032074214
January 31, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
184 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The Language of Nation-State Building in Late Qing China investigates the linguistic and intellectual roots of China’s modern transformation by presenting a systematic study of the interplay between language innovation and socio-political upheavals in the final decade of the Qing Empire.

This book examines the formations, internal tensions, and promotion of such macroconcepts as ‘nation people’ (guomin国民), nation (minzu民族), society (qun群), state (guojia国家) and revolution (gemin革命) as novel ideas borrowed from Europe but mediated through Meiji Japan. Using corpus-based discourse analysis of the full-text corpus (4.2 million words) of the two most influential periodicals Xinmin Congbao (新民丛报) and Minbao (民报), this book scrutinises the multi-faceted formulations of these concepts and their impact. It underscores the adaptation and appropriation of European post-enlightenment values to the socio-political conditions of late Qing society.

The analysis centres on the epic debate (1905-07) between these two periodicals that offered two distinctive visions of future China. Comparable to the 18th century great debate between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine on the French Revolution, the Chinese debate has hitherto attracted little scholarly attention outside China. Yet, the debate not only turned the tidal wave of the public opinion against the Manchu monarchy and contributed to its downfall in 1911; it has given rise to a radical current of intellectual thinking whose ramifications have been keenly felt throughout 20th century China. This book represents the first study in English on this press debate that contributes significantly to the intellectual foundation of modern China.

This book will be useful and relevant to academics, postgraduate students and final year undergraduate students in the field of Chinese Studies, and anyone interested in the role of language in shaping modern intellectual history.

Table of Contents




Introduction Intellectual and Linguistic Genesis of the Chinese Nation

Chapter One Lure of Utopia: Liang Qichao and Xinmin Congbao

Chapter Two Discourse of Xinmin: Mindset Remodelling

Chapter Three Press Debate between Xinmin Congbao and Minbao, 1905-1907

Chapter Four Discourse of Guomin: Rule of the People vs. Rule of the State

Chapter Five Translating ‘Nation’: The Remaking of the Chinese Society

Chapter Six Rupture in Modernity and the Struggle for National Identities


Appendix 1 List of key articles in the late Qing press debate corpus

Appendix 2 Top twenty concept nouns in the late Qing press debate

Appendix 3 Top fifty concept nouns in the full-text of Xinmin Congbao and Minbao

Appendix 4 Occurrence frequency of the term ‘state 国家’, 1830-1930

Appendix 5 Occurrence frequency of the term ‘nation民族’, 1830-1930

Appendix 6 Occurrence frequency of the term ‘revolution 革命’, 1830-1930

Appendix 7 Occurrence frequency of the term ‘democracy 民主’, 1830-1930

Appendix 8 Occurrence frequency of the term ‘people’s rights 民权’, 1830-1930

Appendix 9 The top 30 collocation word chains for guomin in the debate corpus


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Qing Cao is Associate Professor in Chinese Studies and Director of the Centre for Comparative Maternities at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham University


‘New concepts, new words for them, new actions from them! How powerful the wordsmiths were, in laying the fires for China’s century of alternating regeneration and destruction, is laid bare in Qing Cao’s study, a remarkable illustration of the role of language in shaping history.’

Hugo de Burgh, Walt Disney Professor of Media & Communications, Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University


‘What was a nation, a state, a nation state? A citizen? Even a society of citizens? Let alone a republic. With democracy. With rights. There were no words for these things in late Qing China and, thus, in the everyday population, no concepts which made sense of what foreign-trained intellectuals were slowly beginning to discuss – hesitantly, for they too had no Chinese words to encompass world-wide movements and conditions of modernity. The debate had first to take place, with words and concepts clarified by the literate and educated. Qing Cao has traced these debates in the most influential periodicals of their day. It is an intellectual history that is also a linguistic history. The foundational concepts came from Europe, from the French Revolution. To even articulate ways of going forward that would match the organisational prowess of the imperial nations that came to China required not only a reinvention of the Chinese sense of self, but the creation of a vocabulary that could express that new self. The marvel of his book is how well Qing Cao renders this. No revolution has ever been so transformative: not just a world reborn, but all selves in the world reborn. The Chinese could only stand up when they first learned to think forwards and speak in a new conceptual language. The fruits of that era remain with us today.’

Stephen Chan OBE, Professor of World Politics, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London


‘The press was a powerful vector for creating the nation in modern China. Qing Cao uses original sources and rigorous analysis to show that a key newspaper contributed to this process. Fascinating reading for all scholars of modern nationalism.

Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford