Most of my colleagues advise, I think with considerable wisdom, against engaging in Internet dialogue with historians in China. Their reasons, I believe, are primarily based upon good information suggesting that a great many historians, both professional and amateur, are paid to troll sites like Amazon and Google Books; each negative comment about a foreigner's book on China or Chinese history may actually be rewarded with a small payment. This practice is not limited to China, but the fact that it exists (or, has been brought into existence by unwise and intellectually destructive practices of Amazon, Google and others) at all argues against taking seriously any kind of comments posted in these fora.

Second, it is impossible to participate in direct dialog because sites in China publishing extensive reviews of foreign scholarship on China are actually closed to anybody not living in China. You can read the criticism, or in some cases outright trashing, but not respond to anything. In such an environment, the tendency of writers to make casually destructive, uninformed, or dishonest remarks is encouraged, while sober consideration or honest reading is devalued. This, again, is not exclusive to China. But it is another argument against bothering to even read, let alone respond, to anything written in China about foreign scholarship on Chinese history.

But while it may be wiser to refrain from any kind of comment on the Internet, complete refusal to engage with Chinese scholars there is nevertheless inconsistent with our purposes in being in this field. And while it is true that free-range trolling against foreign scholars is clearly regarded as both fun and profitable in some quarters, it is also true that there is a very considerable portion of the historical profession in China that has read foreign scholarship carefully and widely, makes well-balanced criticism, and acknowledges a debt to foreign research or analysis where it exists. They, too, work through the Internet. They should be distinguished from and talked to when possible, because we learn from it. We cannot neglect opportunities to learn from our colleagues in China.

In my own case I find that the most extravagant criticism is directed against A Translucent Mirror. There is much to criticize in the book (I would choose the footnotes relating to Mongols and Mongolia, but I will have opportunity to do that when I post errata for the book), but so far the criticisms I have read have nothing to do with the book, which is disappointing. But even when the criticisms are not actually related to what is in the book, there are still interesting things to learn.

As an example: I read a very interesting article by He Qilong 何启龙 entitled "Questioning Whether Yuan Buddhism Supports "Political Co-Rule" 质疑元代佛教能提供的 政治合法性 . The article is a critique of Herbert Franke, David Farquhar and myself, the charges being that we have characterized Yuan Buddhism as pluralistic, tolerant, and encouraging benevolent government. We have thereby suggested that the Qing invocation of Yuan Buddhism was an essential aspect of Qing legitimacy in China. But, according to He, we have neglected several facts. First, there are extensive Buddhist documents in Uighur that show the true character of Yuan Buddhism, which was neither pluralistic, nor tolerant, nor peaceful. Moreover, we have neglected the fact that China has its own Buddhist traditions, and have instead focused on medieval Mongol Buddhism as if it were the main channel of Buddhist influence in China.

I most certainly neglected all these facts, for the simple reason that they had nothing to do with the interpretation that A Translucent Mirror was based on. The book was about Qing imperial ideology --its sources in the seventeenth century, its apogee in the eighteenth century. As a matter of fact I have already been criticized for my discussion of Yuan Buddhism (not the imperial tradition particularly) in several venues by the venerable Professor Yao Dali 姚大力, and my response is still the same. I have never researched or published on Yuan Buddhism. The character and diversity of Buddhism in China generally was not my subject in the book, and it is hard to see how it could have got into the book without some strange diversions. The Uighur documents were unknown to me before I read He's article (which I do recommend to my colleagues and students), for the reason (again) that they had nothing to do with Qing imperial ideology, even as it related to the cakravartin traditions the Qing claimed (as I have it) to have inherited from the Chinggisids (not the "Mongols"). As interesting as I now find the documents, they are still not related to what my book was about. If the Qing emperors and their historians had known of these documents and discussed them in some way, it would relate; but they didn't and it doesn't. I don't think it relates well to David Farquhar's work on Mongol elements in early Qing rulership either. Franke's subject was more general, but whether esoteric Uighur documents shedding light on the origins of Yuan Buddhism would have been relevant to his interpretation is questionable to me.

As He makes clear in his critique (and Professor Yao's earlier critique is similar in many respects), his problem is less with what was said and more with what was not said; he dislikes the "omission" of material he thinks would force a new characterization of Yuan-period Buddhism. But most of us try hard to omit material that is not relevant. We all like to rag on people who try to ride our own hobby horses, or vulgarize our specializations by putting them in service of some larger problem or interpretation. That specialists in Yuan Buddhism find my discussions of the Qing perspective on the Chinggisid cakravartin tradition lacking from the viewpoint of a specialist on Yuan-period Buddhist belief is inevitable. I would like everybody to like my books, but if scholars specializing in subjects peripheral to my subject are unhappy that I have not incorporated findings irrelevant to the topics of my works, I have to just be philosophical about that. But there is another problem with respect to critiques such as He's. The author is concerned that my work somehow promotes an acceptance of Qing legitimacy, and this is a widespread criticism of the school of "New Qing History" (a mythical "school" which so far as I can see is an unfortunate mangling of the pretentious discussions of three or four specialists on the Qing). In this particular case, He is concerned about my discussion of the secular and sacred political zones in Tibetan law (how or why he transmutes it to a discussion of Yuan or Mongol Buddhism I am unsure). This form of co-rule, he suggests, was a source of the legitimacy of Qing plural systems of law and governance.

In A Translucent Mirror, this small reference to medieval dual government (not only in Tibet, but also Europe and the Islamic world) is used to establish a threshold for early modern rulerships --they are contrasted to the earlier dual system, not regarded as its descendants. Moreover, systems of dual governance or co-rule also have nothing to do with the book (though I am interested in them in my current research). The book was about exactly what the title says: "History and Identity in Qing Ideology." Yuan Buddhism, or systems of co-rule, were outside the subject of the book. There isn't much more I can say by way of response to this.

The mood of historical discourse in China on the Qing, and particularly in popular venues (foremost the Internet) promotes a relentless focus on the issue of Qing legitimacy, and whether foreign scholarship is supporting it deliberately or through a lack of understanding. To scholars in Europe or America (or Japan, I think), the whole idea that modern historians would make retrospective judgements on whether a government was "legitimate" or not seems ludicrous. Most of us would find no way to fit it into any kind of interpretive discussion, unless the discussion is actually about the intellectual, legal or cultural foundations of legitimacy itself. Yet, to a certain portion of the Chinese audience, anybody who writes about the Qing empire without specifically denouncing its illegitimacy is specifically supporting its legitimacy. This is probably an unbridgeable gap at present. So long as Qing scholars, students, and hobbyists believe that there really are things like "the New Qing History," they will continue to feel a disquiet about the motives of foreign scholars who look searchingly at the Qing empire.