Many historians of China, particularly those based in North America, insist that the Qing dynasty's territorial expansion was imperial and comparable to the imperial expansions of other global empires. Other historians, particularly but not only those based in the People's Republic of China, continue to resist this interpretation. They argue that dynastic expansion in the Ming and Qing periods was simply a form of nation-state building, akin to similar processes in Europe. Rather than rejecting their claims as a product of Chinese nationalism, we argue that the term “empire” should be (re)understood as a global co-production, emerging from multiple intersecting histories and scholarly debates about those histories. Doing so challenges influential definitions of empire that rely on a distinction between empires and nation-states, highlighting their dual presence in both Euro-American and Chinese pasts (and presents). This move demands a rejection of periodizations that suggest that empires ceased to exist following the period of decolonization from 1945 to the 1970s. This opens up new avenues of historical and normative inquiry to acknowledge the modern continuity between empires and nation-states.

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