From Personal Network to Institution Building: The Lifanyuan and the Formalization of Manchu-Mongol Relations

Heuschert-Laage, Dorothea (2014). From Personal Network to Institution Building: The Lifanyuan and the Formalization of Manchu-Mongol Relations. History and Anthropology, 25(5), pp. 648-669. Routledge 10.1080/02757206.2014.946022

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The Qing emperors, who ruled over China from 1644-1911, managed to bring large parts of Inner Asia under their control and extended the territory of China to an unprecedented degree. This paper maintains that the political technique of patronage with its formalized language, its emphasis on gift exchange and expressions of courtesy is a useful concept for explaining the integration of Inner Asian confederations into the empire. By re-interpreting the obligations of gift exchange, the Qing transformed the network of personal relationships, which had to be reinforced and consolidated permanently into a system with clearly defined rules.
In this process of formalization, the Lifanyuan, the Court for the Administration of the Outer Regions, played a key role. While in the early years of the dynasty, it was responsible for collecting and disseminating information concerning the various patronage relationships with Inner Asian leaders, over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries its efforts were directed at standardizing and streamlining the contacts between ethnic minorities and the state. Through the Lifanyuan, the rules and principles of patronage were maintained in a modified form even in the later part of the dynasty, when the Qing exercised control in the outer regions more directly.
The paper provides an explanation for the longevity and cohesiveness of the multi-ethnic Qing empire. Based on recently published Manchu and Mongolian language archival material and the Maussian concept of gift exchange the study sheds new light on the changing self-conception of the Qing emperors.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute for the Science of Religion

UniBE Contributor:

Heuschert-Laage, Dorothea


200 Religion
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
400 Language > 490 Other languages
900 History > 950 History of Asia








Dorothea Heuschert-Laage

Date Deposited:

08 Dec 2015 16:37

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:50

Publisher DOI:





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