The author suggests an explanation why institutional histories have gone out of fashion: they tend to depict their objects as static. Here, the author uses the Board of Rites (libu) as an index of the historicity—plasticity, responsiveness, growth, or attenuation—of institutions and as a case study of the distinct phases of state building for the Qing Empire. The author regards the Board of Rites as central—and possibly indispensable—to the maintenance of internal government coherence, the integration of culturally diverse peoples in a single instrument of conquest and occupation, and the construction of a code of legitimacy, while negotiating the thorny problems of struggles for power among imperial relatives, military leaders, and civil officials.

The process by which the empire legitimated itself to its agents was developmental and inseparable from state building, and the author presents a clear chronology of political growth and functional change. The Chinese concept of...

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