Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Before the mid-twentieth century, many people could choose whether or not to affiliate with a state. What made them evade or embrace the state? Whereas many researchers examine people’s vigorous pursuit in either direction, this dissertation concentrates on contextualizing the decision in relation to historical processes on different spatial levels in the nineteenth century. I argue that instances of the pursuit were collective, expedient, and provisional decisions made in, and in response to, changing frontier contexts. To illustrate this argument, I take the example of nineteenth-century Taiwan, reconstructing a history that was dynamic, abrupt, and nonlinear. The history was shaped by the agency of frontier peoples, the characteristics of the environment, and, finally, historical processes such as the emergence of borderlands. Collectively, these three factors might be called “frontier dynamics.”Beginning in the seventeenth century, Taiwan’s frontier populations utilized two mechanisms to acquire subjecthood, namely, the settler-colonial pattern and the settler-aboriginal cooperation mode. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the two mechanisms did not produce substantial results due to Qing China’s political reorientation. Therefore, most of Taiwan’s stateless regions remained. Over the course of the nineteenth century, however, the Qing’s domestic frontiers became international borderlands. In a globally interconnected world, renewed frontier dynamics, through these two mechanisms, led to an aggressive territorial project in 1874. To preempt the territorial ambitions of Japan and other countries, the project aimed to incorporate all of Taiwan’s stateless peoples and regions. The abrupt frontier policy alteration may best be viewed as the outcome of frontier dynamics, rather than as the design of the imperial center. This and similar incorporating projects implemented elsewhere in China could not achieve their intended goal even in the early twentieth century, and many nineteenth-century frontier actors made decisions in response to their belief in the many possibilities their choices could produce. The case of Taiwan demonstrates that statelessness and subjecthood were entangled with trans-ethnic or inter-group confrontation or cooperation; with the competition for rare tribal resources; with Chinese settler-colonial projects and literati-official activism; with the political implications of spatial interconnections, information flows, and social interdependence from the mid-century onward; with imperial rivalries and local power struggles in borderland conflicts; and, finally, with the intermediary role played by frontier officials between the stateless and the court.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Steven B Miles

Committee Members

Peter Kastor


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