The Board of Rites

The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China (University of California Press, 2019), is an institution-centered approach to political domination and the formation of the Qing empire.

Focusing on the symbolic practices that structured power and legitimized authority, the book challenges traditional understandings of state-formation and argues that in addition to war-making and bureaucracy building, the disciplining of political actors was essential in the making of the 17th-century Qing state. Drawing on Chinese- and Manchu-language archival sources the book shows that the early Qing political environment was premised on sets of intertwined relationships that were codified and constantly performed through acts such as the New Year’s Day ceremony, greeting rites, and sumptuary.

Extending the discussion beyond China to the context of early modern Eurasia, the book further makes the case that Eurasian rulers’ solutions to the problem of political discipline shaped the structure and fate of early modern empires. This insight not only helps explain the rise of the Qing empire but also begins to rethink some key problems of classical social theory.

The book was awarded the Tso Shun-sheng Prize by the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica and the Joseph Levenson Prize honorable mention by the Association of Asian Studies.


"It is a very thoroughly researched, extremely well-constructed, and stimulating analysis of how a core Qing institution bridged the political gulf between elite Manchu and Chinese officials to create a stable, effective imperial government. It will take its place alongside the enduring institutional studies of Qing conquest and rule, and will open more than one new path for further study."

--Pamela Crossley, Journal of Asian Studies

"Keliher’s book provides a new way of looking at Qing rites that goes beyond the debate about sinicization and renders the whole question somewhat irrelevant. Yes, the Manchus indeed used the Ming ritual framework, but the context and purpose of their adaptation set their practice apart from the Ming precedent."

--Jennifer H. Day, H-Asia

"This is one of those wonderful books that says something that the moment you read it you know is completely obvious but somehow no one has seen before: that the Qing ritual code (the Qing huidian) was not simply inherited from earlier Chinese dynasties but was constructed in a negotiation about power at the start of the dynasty and then set the forms of power...Keliher illuminatingly describes state rituals as a form of political and moral discipline, rather than as a particular sphere of action separate from politics or bureaucracy."

--Henrietta Harrison, The English Historical Reivew

"I strongly endorse his arguments for recognizing the importance of new li in the formation of the new Qing order."

--Willard J. Peterson, The American Historical Review

"In his pathbreaking work of Qing history, The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China, Macabe Keliher provides a keenly perceptive analysis of the potency and efficacy of li (ceremonies, rituals, and rites) and of the decisive and instrumental role of li in state-formation during the early Qing dynasty (1636–90)."

--Thomas Bouye, Law and History Review

"By taking seriously his protagonists’ preoccupation with li/doro/ritual as recorded in the historical sources, Macabe Keliher has produced an enriching and important work of scholarship that may be appreciated on a number of levels. First, The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China helps to fill a lacuna in our account of the evolving struc- tures of the early Qing state. Second, it offers a fresh perspective by bringing the meth- ods of ritual studies and cultural analysis to bear upon our scholarly understandings of state-formation. And third, by highlighting the ritual and symbolic dimensions of state- building during the early Qing, Keliher suggests an alternative basis for comparison with a wide range of early modern states."

--Michael Chang, Journal of Chinese History

"An extremely valuable and well-balanced work that will stand the test of time."

--Richard J. Smith, China Review International

"Keliher clearly presents an informative and useful framework for clarifying how the authority, legitimacy, and compliance surrounding the formation of Qing China in the seventeenth century were established, constructed, and secured in accordance with the foundation of the Board of Rites in the Qing court...[The book] will also provide a useful backdrop not only for historians of Imperial China but also for researchers conducting comparative studies of the political system of East Asia, including Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910), which also adopted the Six Boards System with the Board of Rites.

--Tae Yeon Eom, Journal of East Asian Studies