Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation uses the practice and licensing of gambling, especially the lotteries, to investigate social, intellectual, and geo-political changes in the transitional period of late-Qing China. This research begins with a study of a civil service examination scandal in 1885. A highly organized lottery scheme, where money was bet on surnames that would pass the state’s official selection examinations, spurred manipulation of the examination results. Based on current sources and agreeing with resent studies on public institutions in late-imperial China, I conclude that, the lottery contributed to a more inclusive public by providing people with simultaneous experiences across time and space. Moreover, licensing allowed the Qing state to extend its power in local society by incorporating gambling, an irrational activity, into another area of regulation. As a social practice in China, lottery gambling became a way for the Qing state to situate itself in the transnational revenue competitions and relate to the outside world.

Chapter 1 illustrates the evolution of gaming and gambling before the nineteenth century. My analysis shows that in its early days, gaming was complex, strategic, and private. As it evolved, it became simple, organized, public, and based on chance. The simplification of gambling made it lose its status among literati and become entertainment for the masses. Chapter 2 presents the prevalence of the lottery in everyday life in nineteenth-century Guangdong. Instead of criticizing the people’s frantic pursuit of the lottery’s monetary gain with top-down anti-gambling discourse, by historicizing major types of the lottery and highlighting the role of printing, I argue that the public lottery was rooted in cultural imagination, woven into daily life, an important consumption activity, and a new type of simultaneous leisure for people, which required little physical participation. Chapter 3 analyzes how the state and its officials institutionalized the taxing of the “surname guessing” and other types of lottery in Guangdong under the pressure of seeking military funds during the Sino-French War (1884-1886). I focus on Zhang Zhidong (1837-1906), the governor-general who proposed the licensing of the “surname guessing” game in 1884 and defused a lottery-related examination scandal in 1885. I re-contextualize the licensing of the lottery as a dynamic interaction between state and local society in terms of taxation and social control. Chapter 4 expands the study of gambling outside of China and intersects the discussion of diaspora by showing gambling as a transnational practice amongst overseas Chinese travelers, sojourner merchants, and immigrants across generations. This chapter displays a trajectory from South China and Southeast Asia to Chinese towns in coastal areas in North America as a “gambling belt,” which incorporates the Qing Empire into the world system, and unravels how people carried the conceptualization, operation, and enthusiasm of gambling into the new lands. Chapter 5 explores people’s spiritual world by investigating gambling as a symbol in popular prints. I argue that the changing pursuits from official titles to chance reflected the commoners’ views on self and society. Indeed, the pursuit of chance in folk prints indicated an alternative way to wealth separated from the civil service examinations, which transcended class, professions, and geographic origins. As an important part of public culture in nineteenth-century China, lottery reorganized interpersonal relations, served as an area to experiment new ideas and reforms, and facilitated exchanges in information, materials, and capital in and outside of the Empire.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Steven B Miles

Committee Members

Robert Hegel, Christine Johnson, Timothy Parsons, Lori Watt


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K73B5XD2

Available for download on Tuesday, December 16, 2025