Course Syllabus

A copy of the syllabus in .pdf format may be downloaded here.

Harvard University                                                                                                               Fall 2023





Wednesdays, 3:00-5:45 pm

CGIS South S040


Prof. Mark Elliott

2 Divinity Ave., Rm. 134A

Qing docs wiki (“Harvard Research Portal for Ming-Qing History”)



The primary aim of this course, informally known as “Qing Docs,” is to prepare PhD students to carry out independent research in late imperial Chinese history using original sources. Qualified MA students are also welcome. A limited number of auditors may also join; a form requesting permission to audit is available on the course website and must be completed by the second week’s meeting.

The emphasis throughout is on the Ming and Qing periods, but occasional reference may be made to materials touching on the Republican era. Students will pursue four distinct but related activities: a) close reading of archival materials; b) survey of the range of published and unpublished materials useful for research in late imperial Chinese history, including resources available on the Internet; c) participation in the continued development of a research portal for Ming-Qing history associated with the course website; d) writing of a seminar paper on the subject of a minor 1842 rebellion, covered in the course documents.



There are no specific course prerequisites. Students are expected to have a good reading knowledge of modern Chinese and at least one year (or the equivalent) of training in classical Chinese. In addition, some ability in reading modern Japanese is expected of registered students. Depending on individual research interests, reading knowledge of additional languages (e.g., Manchu) is of course helpful, but is not required. The class is conducted mainly in English.


Course structure and requirements

Meetings.  Class meetings are three hours in length, to be held once a week. We will divide our time between reading archival materials and reviewing and discussing the particular sort(s) of primary sources assigned for the week. Time will also be set aside for discussion of work on the research portal. Attendance is expected of all registered students and auditors. If you anticipate being unable to attend on a given day, you are requested to notify the instructor in advance.


Examinations.  There is no examination in this course.


Class participation.  About one hour of each class will be spent examining in some detail the type(s) of sources and/or reference materials noted for that week in the schedule. These materials are listed on the Qing docs wiki under Reference Guides. Starting in week 4, each week, one or two people will be asked to prepare a brief 15-minute presentation covering one or more items found on the handout. As part of that presentation, you will be asked to devise a short take-home exercise to familiarize everyone with the genre of material for that week. This exercise may be based on materials in HYL or on materials that are available online. The exercise will be made available a week in advance on the course website. Your presentation should begin by reviewing the exercise and using that as a platform to open up a broader exploration of that week’s type of source materials. You should also provide an example or two of a work of scholarship (book or article, in any language) that relies upon that type of source and explain to what effect the source is employed.

During the second part of class we will read documents relating to the 1842 rebellion led by Zhong Renjie, all of which are available online at the Qing docs wiki.The assignment for each week is found in the schedule below. Students are asked to review the week’s assignment in advance and should be prepared if called on to read the Chinese text aloud, with correct punctuation, and translate into English. You are expected to prepare the translation in advance, and not to sight-translate on the basis of notes you may have made on the original text. Discussion will focus both on text and context, i.e., the communications themselves and the system that produced them, and on successful strategies for archival research. 

Each week one person serves as recorder. It is his/her responsibility to produce a final translation into English of the document(s) we read that week. The translation should be distributed to members of the class before the following week’s class via the class website, as we will quickly review it for needed changes before moving on to the next document.


Web assignments

There are two kinds of web assignments for the course. The first assignment is a document project. Each student should create a new “Qing doc” on the model of those on the wiki. This means selecting a document of modest length, digitizing it (in .pdf format), and providing a gloss and an introduction. The materials thus created will be added permanently to the course site and become part of a growing body of materials for consultation by students in the future. The document project is due by 5 pm Friday 1 December.

The second web assignment pertains to editing and improving the Qing docs wiki.

  • For the “Documents” part of the wiki, this includes making corrections, additions, and enhancement of existing vocabulary glosses, and glossing and annotating documents that have been added more recently.
  • For the “Reference guides” section, this includes updating internet links, bibliographic information, explanations of online databases, etc., that are relevant to the subject of your in-class presentation. To receive credit, your entries must be original and must be in English (i.e., no wholesale cutting and pasting from Chinese-language sites), though of course Chinese characters for names and titles may and should be included; cite sources if you need to provide attribution of specific information.

You should also feel free to suggest new features on the research portal that would be of general use to late imperial historians. Note that there are different levels of access to this wiki. You will need to be logged in as a registered student to edit the wiki in order to complete your assignments.


Capstone assignment.  The main final requirement is a scholarly treatment of the Zhong Renjie rebellion based on the documents provided to you. This assignment may take the form of a seminar paper (length between 20 and 30 pages) or it may be in the form of a screenplay, a podcast, a video, an epic poem, or some other format of your own devising (which you are asked to clear in advance with the instructor).  More details on format will be provided later in the term. The assignment is due by 5 pm Monday 11 December.


Grading.  Grades will be based upon class participation (30%), the two web assignments (2 X 20%), and the seminar paper (30%).



Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History, A New Manual, Volumes 1 and 2 (enlarged sixth edition). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2022. (this is the version with the peach cover)

Other assigned reading will be available in .pdf format through the course website.


Use of Generative AI

Much attention has been given to the emergence of Generative AI and there has been considerable discussion of the impact this technology will have, and is already having, on teaching and learning. Because it has already become part of the learning environment, it is important to know the limitations and privacy issues regarding the use of AI as well as its appropriate and ethical use. GSAS has issued the following policy regarding Generative AI:

Generative artificial intelligence is a rapidly evolving technology with implications for graduate study. As GSAS reviews its policies to better understand the implications of these new tools, it is important to note that the School’s academic integrity policy has not changed: All work submitted for credit or undertaken as part of the requirements for the degree is expected to be the student’s own work. Work may not be that of a third party nor that created by generative artificial intelligence or machine learning software. As noted in the policy below, whenever ideas or facts are derived from a student’s research, sources must be indicated. 


Below are basic guidelines for what is and is not acceptable use of AI in this course.

Generative AI tools (ChatGPT, DALL-E, Bing, Bard, etc.) may be used for the following:

  • Checking grammar and style
  • Getting a rough translation of documents and materials *not* on the Qing docs wiki
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Drafting an outline or map of thoughts
  • Focusing research questions

Generative AI tools may not be used for the following:

  • Translation of documents and materials on the Qing docs wiki, unless explicitly allowed by the instructor
  • Completing an essay or paper
  • Anything being represented as your own work
  • Any use on an assignment or assessment in which verbal and/or written instructions specifically prohibit its use

Be aware that Chat GPT and other AI and automated content tools are known to return incomplete, incorrect, and/or biased information, along with fake citations or sources and must not be considered a reliable source of information.



Week 1 – 6 Sept.



Week 2 – 13 Sept.                                                    

ICD1:  Documents 1 and 1.a  Palace memorial (zouzhe 奏摺) and Grand Council record book (suishou dengji 隨手登記)

Source class: Dictionaries, bibliographies, concordances

recorder: ___Aaron__________


Week 3 – 20 Sept.

Wiki intro & homework

ICD1:  Documents 2, 3, and 4.  Qing Veritable Records (Da Qing lichao shilu 大清歷朝實錄)

Source class:  Dynastic histories 正史, chronicles 編年記, and fanglüe 方略

recorder: _____Axl__________

presenter: ___Harry_________


Week 4 – 27 Sept.

ICD1: Documents 5, 6, 7, 8.  Qing Veritable Records (Da Qing lichao shilu 大清歷朝實錄) I

Source class: Institutional compilations and administrative guides

 recorder: _____Francis_______

 presenter: _Aaron & Junyoung_


Week 5 – 4 Oct.

ICD1:  Documents 5, 6, 7, 8.  Qing Veritable Records (Da Qing lichao shilu 大清歷朝實錄) II

Source class:  Legal codes, statutes, and case books

recorder: _____Francis________

presenter: __Axl & Joshua____


Week 6 – 11 Oct.

ICD1:  Document 9.  Deposition (kougong 口供)

Source class:  Private writings and literary collections / Collectanea

recorder: ____Shuhuai_________

presenter: _____James_____


Week 7 – 18 Oct.

ICD1:  Document 10.  Funerary essay (muzhiming 墓誌銘)

Source class: Biographical sources

recorder: ____Nan_______

presenter: ___Isa_________


Week 8 -  25 Oct.

ICD1:  Document 11.  Palace memorial (奏摺)

Source class: Encyclopedias and daily handbooks

recorder: ____Isa_____

presenter: ___Isaiah___


Week 9 -  1 Nov.

            NO CLASS THIS WEEK


Week 10 – 8 Nov.

ICD1:  Documents 12, 13, 14.  Selections from Chongyang gazetteer (崇陽縣志)

Source class:  Local gazetteers and geographical sources

recorder: ___Junyoung__

presenter: __Wenxin____


Week 11 – 15 Nov.

ICD1:  Document 15.  Recitation script, Zhongjiu nao cao (鐘九鬧漕) 

Source class: Drama, song, and other performative genres

recorder: ___Harry_____

presenter: ____ Albert__


Week 12 – 22 Nov.

ICD1:  Documents 16 and 17. Public proclamation of Zhong Renjie and  "Complete account of wrongful imprisonment in Chongyang" (崇陽冤獄始末記) (part I)

Source class: Genealogies

recorder: ___James_____

presenter: ___Nan______


Week 13 – 29 Nov.

ICD1:  Documents 17 and 18. "Complete account of wrongful imprisonment in Chongyang" (崇陽冤獄始末記) (part II) and “Historical documents on the Zhong Renjie uprising”

Source class: Sources on science, technology, and medicine

recorder: ___Wenxin____

presenter: ___Francis___


Week 13 – Friday 1 Dec.

Document project due


Week 14 – 6 Dec.

Source class: Archival and documentary collections, published and online

Review of the rebellion


Week 15 – Monday 11  Dec.

Final paper due (submit electronically by 5 pm to dropbox on course website)