In this presentation Hilde De Weerdt examines the meaning and use of ‘citizen’ and ‘subject’ in the global historiography of citizenship based on a critical overview of histories of Chinese citizenship. She proposes that if in pre-twentieth-century European history citizens have also been subjects, in imperial Chinese history subjects have also been citizens. This argument is laid out in three steps. The first step, which has typically been disregarded in prior discussions on the topic, establishes that membership in some form of political community was articulated through political metaphors and illustrates this on the basis of the body metaphor. She then asks the question whether and how the people’s membership in the polity also constitutes them as citizens through an overview of the rules that govern the reciprocity between those groups constituting the polity. Finally, this question is further addressed through a discussion of the types of action open to commoners to shape especially local governance.
Hilde De Weerdt works on imperial Chinese intellectual and political history focusing on the question of how elite networks shaped Chinese politics. Her first book is an intellectual history of the civil service examinations. Her latest book examines the formation of a new information regime in imperial Chinese history, characterized by the production and dissemination of court- and polity-related texts by cultural elites (literati) instead of the court and high officialdom. It also examines the impact of this shift in cultural production on political identities and the structure of the polity.