HS12 Legitimating the State: International Orders and Political Imaginations of China, 1300-present


This working group brings together three historians who study Northeast Asia from the Mongol period to the present, with a particular focus on the changing concept of “China” in the context of political legitimation and international engagement.


Active since: 2021

Collaborative Goals

This working group brings together three historians at different stages of career development to explore new approaches to Chinese history from three consecutive historical periods — the Mongol and Ming empires, the Qing dynasty, and 20th century China. All of us are interested in the evolving meaning of “China” from the perspective of empire-building, state-formation, and changing orders of international relations. Our goal is to challenge the prevailing paradigms on empire/nation-state building, and to provide alternative narratives of the history of China from the thirteenth century to the present from the perspective of the self-legitimating state in interaction with changing domestic and global conditions.

Global conquests, ethnic policies, imperial competitions, and nationalist and communist revolutions traditionally dominated historical narratives of Yuan, Ming, Qing, and twentieth-century China. By looking at how historical elements in state legitimation were recycled and appropriated in early modern and modern China, we aim to “revolutionize” the field by bringing back the original meaning of “revolution”—the completing of a full circle.

The intellectual exchanges between members of the proposed working group will go a long way towards enriching the current projects of all three participants: David Robinson’s work on Korean historical experiences at the twilight of the Mongol empire; Jenny Day’s study of transnational criminal justice in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and Yue Du’s research on the shifting locus of sovereignty in late imperial and modern China. In addition to writing and publishing articles and monographs relating to the proposed topics, we also plan to bring together leading and rising scholars for workshops and a conference. To supplement the CNY Humanities Corridor Signature Event funding, We will also apply to the Chiang Ching-Kuo foundation, the ACLS Programs in China Studies, and the Cornell East Asia Program and the Cornell Center for Social Sciences. Our plan is to host the conference at Cornell University in 2022-2023 or 2023-2024, depending on fund availability and travel feasibility, and to select a set of papers presented at the conference for an edited volume. Forming a Central New York Humanities Corridor working group will enable us to bring this ambitious plan to life.

Group Organizers

David Robinson

Robert H.N. Ho Professor in Asian Studies and Professor of History

Yue (Mara) Du

Assistant Professor and Himan Brown Faculty Fellow

Jenny Huangfu Day

Associate Professor of History


HS12 Initial Meeting

Oct. 13, 2021, 2 p.m.