Ethnic and Status Identity in Qing China: The Hanjun Eight Banners


David C Porter

PhD defended at: 

Harvard University


This dissertation is focused on the Hanjun, the ethnically Han component of the Qing dynasty’s Eight Banner System. The liminal status of the Hanjun – part of the banner system, which was closely associated with a Manchu ruling house, and yet marked as ethnically Han – makes their history a valuable window into Qing ideas about identity. This dissertation traces how the Qing court managed the Hanjun over the course of the dynasty, finding that though Han ethnicity was central to official conceptions of Hanjun identity, it was secondary to their status identity as banner people prior to the 1750s. Though scholarship on the banners often describes them as a fundamentally Manchu organization that served to reinforce a shared Manchu ethnic identity, careful study of the Hanjun reveals that for much of the Qing the banners were an inherently multiethnic institution. Banner people, I argue, constituted a “service elite,” like the samurai of Edo Japan or dvorianstvo of imperial Russia, a common early modern technology of rule that used legal privilege to maintain the loyalty of a large hereditary class of soldiers and administrators. A mid-eighteenth-century policy of expelling much of the Hanjun population from the banners represented an attempt to change the Qing service elite from a status-based category to an ethnic one, but this attempt was abandoned by the early nineteenth century, and the multi-ethnic Qing service elite persisted until the end of the dynasty.