Fake News and Information Leaks: Constructing Documentary Authority in Late Imperial China
In seventeenth-century China, the Qing dynasty inherited a troubled information order. Within the bureaucracy, lengthy procedural correspondence buried urgent messages and covert networks troubled official hierarchies. Beyond the reach of the state, gossip and rumor endangered the stability of the new dynasty. This paper analyzes the negotiation of information scandals in the first century of Qing rule in China. It argues that in their attempts to restore the information order, Qing political agents established new boundaries between influence and authority, clerks and officials, and conversations and texts. The Kangxi and Yongzheng courts promoted gazettes and digests as authoritative foils to the rumors, tabloids, and forgeries that made up the “fake news” of early modern China. In so doing, by the mid-eighteenth century the Qing state shifted the material basis of politics from talk to text, and from story to document.