Making the Palace Machine Work
Making the Palace Machine Work
Mobilizing People, Objects, and Nature in the Qing Empire
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15.6 x 23.4 cm
Asian Studies
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Map of Imperial and Forbidden City
Map of Beijing and outskirts
Map of Qing China (1820)

Conventions for the Notation of Time, Weights, and Measures
Note on Translation
List of Figures, Tables, Charts, and Maps

Part I. Operating the Machine: Personnel and Paper Trails
Vignette essay. Moving Pieces: On the Reuse of Interior Decoration Objects in Qing Palaces (Shuxian Zhang)
1. Working the Qing Palace Machine: The Servants' Perspective (Christine Moll-Murata)
2. Manager or Craftsman: Skillful Bannermen of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) (Kai Jun Chen)
3. Kupiao and the Accounting System of the Imperial Household Workshops (Yijun Wang and Kyoungjin Bae)
Part II. Producing the Court: Materials and Artefacts
Vignette essay. The Story of An Image: Ding Guanpeng's 'Ultimate Bliss' and the Auspiciousness of Reproduction (Qiong Zhang)
4. Piecing Shards Together: The Uses and Manufacturing of Imperially Porcelain (Guangyao Wang)
5. Resplendent Innovations: Fire Gilding Techniques at the Qing Court (Hui-min Lai and Te-cheng Su)
6. Transporting Jade: Objects, Ecology and Local Bureaucracy in Qing Xinjiang (Yulian Wu)
Part III. Mobilizing Nature: Plants and Animals
Vignette essay. Decluttering: On the Classification of Objects at the Imperial Household Department (Elif Akçetin)
7. Growing and Organizing Lotus in Qing Imperial Spaces: Interlocking Cycles of Money and Nature (Martina Siebert)
8. The Medicine Supply System of the Qing Court (Xueling Guan)
9. When There Is Peace, There Are Elephants (Hui-chun Yu)

Reviews and Features

"In sum, Making the Palace Machine Work is remarkable for its novel focus on the inner workings of the palace, which are often overlooked in scholarship on the Qing court. It reveals that the minutiae of the day-to-day palace operations can be just as fascinating as the grander imperial spectacles that they help create."
-- Aurelia Campbell, Journal of Chinese History, 2023

Making the Palace Machine Work

Mobilizing People, Objects, and Nature in the Qing Empire

Making the Palace Machine Work: Mobilizing People, Objects, and Nature in the Qing Empire brings the studies of institutions, labour, and material cultures to bear on the history of science and technology by tracing the workings of the Imperial Household Department (Neiwufu) in the Qing court and empire. An enormous apparatus that employed 22,000 men and women at its heyday, the Department operated a "machine" with myriad moving parts. The first part of the book portrays the people who kept it running, from technical experts to menial servants, and scrutinises the paper trails they left behind. Part II uncovers the working principles of the machine by following the production chains of some of its most splendid products: gilded statues, jade, porcelain, and textiles. Part III examines the complex task of managing living organisms and natural environments, including lotus plants grown in imperial ponds in Beijing, fresh medicines sourced from disparate regions, and tribute elephants from Southeast Asia.

Martina Siebert

Martina Siebert works as subject librarian at the East Asia department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and as independent scholar. She researches and publishes on the history of Chinese exploration into nature and technology with a focus on the styles and agendas of presenting and organizing that knowledge in writing.

Kai Jun Chen

Kai Jun Chen is Assistant Professor at Brown University. The author of a forthcoming monograph on the technocratic culture in the Qing Imperial Ceramic Industry, he specialises in the history of imperial institutions, handicraft technology, and material culture studies.

Dorothy Ko

A native of Hong Kong, Dorothy Ko is Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is a cultural historian of early modern China whose research and publication focus on gender, technology, and material culture.