China proper

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China proper (also Inner China) was a term used by Western writers on the Qing Dynasty to express a distinction between the core and frontier regions of China. There is no fixed extent for China proper, as many administrative, cultural, and linguistic shifts have occurred in Chinese history. One definition refers to the original area of Chinese civilization, the North China Plain; another to the "Eighteen Provinces" system of the Ming Dynasty. While "China proper" is associated with the Han people, many Han live and have lived outside of China proper. The term was and is not an administrative distinction for the governments of China. Today, the term is controversial and usually promoted by separatists to argue that certain areas are not culturally a part of China.


Origin of the concept

It is not clear when the concept of "China proper" in the Western world appeared. According to Harry Harding, it can date back to 1827 (see Harding 1993). But as early as in 1795, William Winterbotham adopted this concept in his book (see Winterbotham, 1795, pp.35-37). When describing the Chinese Empire under the Qing Dynasty, Winterbotham divided it into three parts: China proper, Chinese Tartary, and the States Tributary to China. He adopted the opinions of Du Halde and Grosier and suspected that the name of "China" came from Qin Dynasty. He then said: "China, properly so called,... comprehends from north to south eighteen degrees; its extent from east to west being somewhat less..."

However, to introduce China proper, Winterbotham still used the outdated 15-province system of the Ming Dynasty, which the Qing Dynasty used until 1662. Although Ming Dynasty also had 15 basic local divisions , Winterbotham uses the name of Kiang-nan (江南, Jiāngnán) province, which had been called Nan-Zhili (南直隶, Nán-Zhílì) in Ming Dynasty and was renamed to Kiang-nan (i.e., Jiangnan) in 1645, the second year after the Qing Dynasty overthrew the Ming Dynasty. This 15-province system was gradually replaced by the 18-province system between 1662 to 1667. Use of 15-province system and the name of Kiang-nan Province indicates that the concept of China proper probably had appeared between 1645 and 1662.

The concept of "China proper" also appeared before this 1795 book. It can be found in The Gentleman's Magazine, published in 1790, and The Monthly Review, published in 1749.[1]

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