During the Qianlong period (1736–95) in China, knowledge of Manchu origins, much of which had been of a folk or informal character, was given documentary institutionalization—that is, incorporation into the Qing (1636–1912) imperial cultural mosaic by the act of writing something official about it. Much but by no means all of Manchu civilization was derived from Jurchen culture (tenth–seventeenth centuries), which was primarily a folk culture in which oral tradition, shamanic ritual, and clan custom were the mainstays of orderly social life. Inseparable from those folk traditions were elements of tribal rule that affected political life in many ways in the Later Jin (1616–35) and early Qing periods. To the extent that Manchu society retained the archaic forms through the Qing era, the folk heritage was brought into conflict with the political institutions and classical traditions of conquered China, especially the emperorship. The history of the Qing court and its relation to the Manchus may be viewed as the aggregate of the processes by which the dynasty attempted to resolve this conflict through formalization of the old culture. In its political aspects this meant the progressive bureaucratization, regulation, and depersonalization of the state in displacement of the personal, diffused authority that had once been vested by tradition in the clans and confederations. In its cultural and ideological facets, it meant the documentation of descent, myth, clan history, and shamanic practice; what had once been various and mystically obscure was now made visible, manageable, and standard.

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