China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This panel looks at accounting in the broad sense of government management and control. While the formation of a centralized tax system is lauded as a modern feature of the Chinese imperial state, the practice of accounting that enabled it is largely confined to financial history and neglected in broader scholarly analysis. On the local and national levels, accounting was a major part of daily official work. It involved touring, surveying, bookkeeping, archiving, and reporting. These actions depended on forms of knowledge and infrastructure that can be viewed as a technology of government and a feature of governmentality in Imperial China.
We examine accounting as a form of practical knowledge that is applied to government affairs in and beyond the financial realm. We ask how were things categorized and counted? In what manner and frequency were they reported? What knowledge and ideals did these actions reflect? To what extent was information used as a platform for policy? And what was the mutual influence of changing economic and social conditions to changes in the content or method of accounting? Focusing on the Ming period (1368-1644), the panel presentations examine accounting practices in different governmental projects. Together, they offer an image of evolving forms of governmentality that built on the legacy of the Yuan period and created the basis for further developments during the Qing. Incorporating approaches of science and technology studies, this panel offers new interpretive frameworks and methodological measures for the study of government and society in Imperial China.