Research Project


Comets, Earthquakes, and other Omens: Metaphorization and Political Reform, 1874-1882

Daniel Hausmann

This project addresses the function of omens in the political discourse in the late Qing from 1874 to 1882. In 1874, the Coggia Comet was seen by the naked eye in the sky above the Qing realm and the Tongzhi emperor just began to reign personally. The appearance of the comet coincided with a fresh breeze in court politics, and referencing this omen served some officials as justification to criticize current decisions by the emperor or to make policy proposals. In 1881 and 1882 further comets were seen that again triggered some vociferous impeachments, policy proposals, and other memorials, some of which resulted in a new investigation into the accounts of Yunnan. This project thus describes and analyzes a period when omens rose to prominence and fell from grace in late Qing political discourse.

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