Leo Shin

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Revenue as a Measure for Expenditure: Ming State Finance before the Age of Silver (2016)

This dissertation explores fiscal policy during the first half of the Ming dynasty. Assuming a constant state of financial crisis caused by an ideological refusal and institutional inability to increase revenue, it identifies aspects of financial administration that contributed to the durability and resilience of the state. It first analyzes the principles of early Ming financial administration as reflected in the founding administrative text, Zhu si zhi zhang. The chapter devoted to the Ministry of Revenue focuses on the management of local resources through the timely and accurate flow of funds and information throughout the realm and along the administrative hierarchy. Based on evidence of standardized annual revenue reports, this dissertation argues that those principles were applied with relative success throughout most of the fifteenth century. Next, it identifies the practice of commutation in tax collection and official payments as the main fiscal policy that enabled the Ming to abide by its principle of keeping expenditure low while avoiding financial default. Commutation served as a partial tax remission that enabled taxpayers to convert the grain they owed to a money or commodity at a favourable rate. It also alleviated the physical and financial burden of transportation. But as the state came to depend on fixed silver payments, financial administration transformed from a system that was focused on managing local resources to one that was geared to maximizing revenue in the political centre. Finally, payments to officials, soldiers, and princes were affected by commutation. Despite their different social status, these groups were all treated as servants of the state and were managed according to the fiscal principle of measuring expenditure according to revenue. Throughout the fifteenth century payments were partially commuted to scrip and as a result salaries and stipends were greatly diminished. Nevertheless, particular policies and practices maintained a minimal degree of remuneration. And strategies employed by members of these groups in order to better their material condition illuminate the relationship between the state and its servants, as well as their place in local society.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Everyday colonialism: the 1906 typhoon and governance in early twentieth-century Hong Kong (2021)

As a Crown Colony, the Hong Kong government held particularly strong executive power—the Governor’s position afforded him seemingly unrestrained formal and informal powers. His power did have limits at times, however. This thesis shows how bureaucratic practices amongst the Governor, Colonial Office and Legislative Council and interactions with the mercantile elites demonstrated the delicate nature of Hong Kong’s colonial governance. Through examining the materials in connection to an everyday natural disaster like typhoon, this thesis offers a more nuanced and subtle picture of Hong Kong’s colonial governance at an everyday level, one in which the Governor’s power was constrained by the bureaucratic practices of both the Colonial Office and the Legislative Council, without being determined by the whims of European and Chinese mercantile elites. As a result, this thesis will serve as a case study into the workings of British colonialism on a day-to-day level.Colonial governance needs to be contextualized in its own time, place and form. The case of Hong Kong provides an example for comparative analysis in which colonial governance was conditioned by local context, especially within the Crown Colony system. This thesis will also show that, given the discrepancy of power between regulations and reality, the shared goal of stabilizing society and minimizing losses after typhoons further motivated all of the actors to fulfill their roles in the best light.Furthermore, as a devastating natural disaster, the 1906 typhoon also offers an entry point to look into how the unpredictability and uncontrolled nature of crises—or natural disasters in particular—mediated the governance and relations among actors. The role of natural disaster in governance has been largely ignored in the scholarship of Hong Kong history. Neither the 1906 typhoon nor the government’s response has been the subject of extensive research before. My thesis will fill both gaps: the government’s response will be evaluated at a structural level, and hence the response to the 1906 typhoon will be laid out more comprehensively, with the ultimate aim of achieving a fuller understanding of Hong Kong’s everyday colonial governance.

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Differentiation and harmonization: the compilation of the first illustrated gazetteer of the New Territory of the Qing empire (1644-1912) (2019)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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More than a transit port, but less than a refuge: Hong Kong and Jewish refugee transmigration, 1938-1941 (2019)

This thesis examines and situates Hong Kong within the context of Jewish refugee transmigration between 1938 and 1941. The necessity for Austrian and German Jews to escape persecution in Europe meant that some fled across the globe to Shanghai. However, the dominant image of Shanghai as the sole Jewish refuge in East Asia downplays the role of intermediaries along the path to safety. Centering on Hong Kong, I argue that these sites facilitate the movement of refugee Jews but also acted as refuges, albeit temporarily. Furthermore, I argue that Hong Kong specifically cannot be easily categorized as either. In addition to its role as an inbetween place or transit point, Hong Kong was also a temporary refuge for a small minority of escapees. Responses towards Jewish refugees emphasized either the individual‘s Jewish-ness or German-ness, both unstable and fluid social categories. I argue that the charity provided by local Jewish leaders to their refugee co-religionists was a way to avoid reifying older stereotypes of Jewish migrants as destitute, and to maintain the privileges held by Jewish elites. In contrast, the Hong Kong government was apathetic towards these refugees, until the outbreak of the Second World War, after which these individuals were primarily viewed as Germans or enemy aliens. The eventual Internment of such Jewish refugees at La Salle College represented a major manifestation of the perceived German threat. Despite local officials knowing that Jewish refugees were among those interned, German-ness was constructed and linked to the individual‘s nationality and passport. Scrutiny over characteristics of German-ness by local officials intensified in June 1940 with controversial decision to expel all enemy aliens from Hong Kong. I contend that this action can only be understood by considering larger geopolitics. In light of the rapid occupation of France and the Low Countries by Nazi Germany, as well as the Japanese occupation of South China, Hong Kong officials panicked. I argue that Hong Kong was more than a transit point, but less than a permanent refuge.

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Crossing the boundaries: from "outsiders" to "insiders" in early-Tang-dynasty China (2017)

The Tang dynasty (618-907) captured scholars' attention as one of the most cosmopolitan empires in Chinese history because of its openness toward transcontinental and trans-regional cultural, economic, diplomatic and religious exchanges. The empire attracted a diverse group of foreign subjects within its political boundaries. To better understand the nature of the Tang dynasty, this thesis takes a close look at the dynasty’s foreign policies toward this special group of foreigners. More specifically, it examines the life trajectories of individuals who were born and originally lived outside of the boundaries of the Tang in the north and northwest but later served in very high positions in the Tang bureaucratic system. Conventional understanding of the Tang dynasty has long included the existence of such varieties of political and ethnic groups within the Tang. However, scholars diverge on the Tang dynasty’s criteria of incorporating and treating foreigners in the regime. By scrutinizing each individuals' lives, this thesis argues that despite the emphasis on ethnic differences and political loyalty in Tang discourses, the Tang dynasty accepted foreigners primarily based on pragmatic concerns, namely, whether individuals could prove themselves useful to the dynasty. Differences in genealogy, culture and political loyalty were mainly used as rhetorical weapons against foreigners when they were no longer useful to the dynasty. Through detailed studies of individuals’ lives, this thesis points out the pragmatic nature of the Tang dynasty’s foreign policies instead of the more conventional understanding of a tributary foreign policy that greatly emphasized cultural and ethnic superiority. It points out that even though there were clear-set boundaries of political identity, it was ultimately fluid and fungible as long as individuals, regardless of ethnic or cultural backgrounds, proved themselves useful to the dynasty.

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The Art of Being Dominated: Strategies for Interacting with the State in Ming-Dynasty Liaodong, 1449-1618 (2015)

Focusing on Liaodong, a military region in Ming-dynasty China (1368-1644), this thesis examines some of the strategies the local population deployed to manage the imposition of the state. The argument is that, whether in dealing with tax obligations, labour services, or conflict resolutions, the military households in Liaodong were able to employ a wide range of strategies to “work the system to their minimum disadvantage”. The strategies examined not only demonstrate the ability of the Ming population to thrive under the domination of the Ming state but also indicate the vitality and resourcefulness of the Liaodong society. This thesis thus complements existing scholarship on other parts of China and adds to our understanding of state-society relations in the Ming dynasty.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Faith: Wang Tao's Attitudes towards Christianity (2014)

The Christian faith of Wang Tao 王韜 (1823-1897) has long been a focus of study among scholars. Throughout his life, Wang displayed different or even contradictory attitudes towards Christianity, at once praising and criticizing the religion to which he officially converted. Wang’s faith seemed to waver according to circumstances and hence he is often viewed as an opportunist. In addition, his wavering attitudes towards Christianity reflect the complexity witnessed in the dissemination of Christianity in late-Qing China and serve to underscore the problem of using “conversion” as a marker of one’s religious identity. Wang’s differing attitudes towards Christianity thus complicate our understanding of what it means to be a “true Christian” as well as what constitutes “faith” and one’s “religious identity.” Rather than treating religious identities as fixed entities, I argue that we should think of them as spectrums, along which individuals might locate themselves differently depending on their current circumstances.

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Reconciliation and Legitimization: The Fith Karmapa Deshin Shegpa's Trip to Ming China (1406-1408) (2012)

Departing from the vexed debate on the nature of the Sino-Tibetan relationship, this thesis examines the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa’s historic visit to the Chinese court in the early Ming era. By reading across Chinese and Tibetan language sources, in this thesis I reconstruct the entire trip of the Karmapa, a case of another dimension through which Tibetan Buddhism is perceived and the importance of the Tibetan hierarchs for the Ming to conduct its policy toward Tibetan Buddhism and the relation with the people of Inner Asia are illustrated. I argue that unlike those trips made by other Tibetan hierarchs, the trip of the Fifth Karmapa and his performance of Buddhist rituals were designed as a mean through which the Yongle emperor legitimized his controversial rise to power. From existing Tibetan and Chinese primary sources it becomes apparent that the Fifth Karmapa’s visit not only served to confirm and solidify the political power of the Yongle emperor through religious means but also brought tremendous financial benefits for the Karmapa and fostered the influence of his sect in Tibet and beyond.

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