AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 66

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Session 66: State-Society Relations Along China’s Political Frontiers

Organizer: Tracy C. Barrett, North Dakota State University, USA

Discussants: Tracy C. Barrett, North Dakota State University, USA; Cathryn H. Clayton, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

State-society relations in China have provided complex fodder for scholars studying a range of periods in Chinese history, but nowhere are questions of identity, national loyalty, and the construction of new polities more multifaceted than along China’s periphery. Where conquerors, colonialists, and multiple ethnic groups intersected, Chinese government officials, as well as officials in the states bordering China, struggled to manage societies made more volatile by the seepage of political turmoil or transformation across historically porous borders. The studies presented in this panel, covering a span of time stretching from the earliest days of the Qing dynasty to the Cultural Revolution of the 20th century, highlight the constancy of change as a factor in state-society relations along China’s periphery. Using oral histories, archival-based case studies, and historical analyses, this panel seeks to examine the issues confronting governments involved in state-building along China’s political frontiers across a 400-year span of Chinese history, paying special attention to the interplay of competing political authorities in each evolving or contested peripheral locale. This panel also strives to move beyond the well-known, generalised accounts of Chinese state-building in order to try to reveal more of the intricacy of each political situation at different times and in different regions of China’s periphery. The panellists’ wider goal is to help better illuminate and historicise the complexity of state-society relations along China’s contested frontiers.

Qing State-Making and the Mac Refugee Clan along China's Southern Frontier, 1667-c.1780
Alexander Ong, , Singapore

In 1667, the Mac clan, who had been holding out in the northeastern province of Cao Bang (Ch. Gao Ping) since the collapse of their reign over the northern Vietnamese-speaking realm in 1592, were defeated by invading armies of their political rival the Trinh lords. Surviving members who had escaped the bloody onslaught managed to flee across the border to China. The Mac exodus from Dai Viet coincided with the consolidation of the then two-decade-old Great Qing state (who had formally established themselves in the former Ming capital of Beijing since 1644), who subsequently granted them political asylum. This paper focuses on the Mac family after their forced expulsion from Cao Bang during the latter half of the seventeenth century, specifically the impact its members had on state-society relations within the highly volatile China-Vietnam borderlands up to about 1780. Through a close reading and analysis of historical documents emanating from both sides of the border, it addresses two questions: How did the Mac presence in China influence Qing state-making along the southern flank of its burgeoning empire? How did Qing governing institutions and strategies in that frontier zone, along with the dynamic conditions of local society operating within that area, shape Mac identity? In so doing, it brings into greater clarity not only the history of the Mac royal clan following their military defeat in Vietnam, but also how Qing ruling mechanisms and processes actually played out within the unique setting of the China-Vietnam borderlands.

State Representatives, Local Interests: Land Acquisition in Shuangcheng, Northeast China, 1830-1880
Shuang Chen, University of Iowa, USA

This paper examines the state society relations through the lens of land acquisition in Shuangcheng, Jilin, between 1830 and 1880. Shuangcheng’s unusual importance as a national project makes it a particularly interesting place to study state-society relations. It is one of the first settlements in Northeast China established under a program for the state relocation of bannermen from Beijing, Rehe, and elsewhere in Northeast China between 1815 and 1830. The state established the Shuangcheng farm both to relieve its fiscal burden of supporting the banner population and to sustain the Eight Banners. Upon the settlement of Shuangcheng, the state used land allocation to enforced equal distribution of landed wealth within bannermen. Although the state policy of equal land allocation was well maintained, the residents in Shuangcheng did manage to acquire more land, thereby resulting in stratification in land distribution. This paper intends to reveal the complexity of state society interaction beyond a binary model; both the state and society have different levels of representatives who do not necessarily share the same interests. As I will show, in Shuangcheng, the three levels of government institution—central, provincial, and local—sometimes had different foci on policy implementation, and thus conflicted with one another. Thus, the different interests of state representatives provided bannermen with opportunities to choose institutional support for their specific interests. At the same time, in the history of land acquisition in Shuangcheng, representatives of local society existed at all levels—individual, household, and village.

On Shifting Sands: Political Interactions along the Sino-Tonkinese Frontier, 1903-1930
Tracy C. Barrett, North Dakota State University, USA

For French Colonial authorities in Tonkin, the years surrounding China’s 1911 Revolution were particularly fraught with difficulty. Chinese revolutionaries and rebels ghosted back and forth across the Tonkin border on a regular basis, seeking temporary refuge from Imperial authorities and re-entering China to resume their political activities at will. During this period, Imperial officials worked closely with French authorities on political and economic matters as a by-product of their desperate attempts to stabilize their collapsing empire. After the revolution, though warlords ruled in southern China, the French continued working closely with leaders in Yunnan and Guangxi, the provinces bordering Tonkin, on issues of trade, political surveillance, and transportation, most notably the railroads. This paper examines state-society relations in southern China and northern Tonkin during this period of turmoil. How did French colonial authorities interact with southern Chinese officials on matters of politics, economics, and local security? In what ways did the traditional porousness of this political border ameliorate the more damaging impacts of political instability in the region? How were residents in the Sino-Tonkinese border areas able to play French authorities against Chinese authorities in order to improve their own quality of life? In seeking answers to these questions, this paper hopes to shine light on the complexities of state-society relations in the Sino-Tonkin border regions and to answer questions about political identity along a contested and porous frontier.

Recalling the State, Recollecting Society, Remembering the “Cultural Revolution” in Macau
Cathryn H. Clayton, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

What is “the state”? What is “society?” This paper will address the political and moral implications of these questions through an examination of oral histories of the violence that shook Macau, a city on China’s southern coast, in the mid-1960s. Although Macau’s status as a Portuguese colony protected it from the grossest excesses of the Cultural Revolution, in 1966-67, it experienced a spiral of street protests, bloodshed, boycotts, and Maoist radicalism that resulted in the deaths of eight civilians and the Portuguese state’s capitulation to the demands of communist activists. These events, known collectively as the 123 Incident (since the deaths occurred on December 3) is often viewed as an example of the repressive force of a colonial state being thwarted by the collective will of the society under its rule. But the testimonies of individuals who experienced these events suggest that the categories of “society” and “state” themselves are inseparable from powerful moral narratives of authenticity and illegitimacy, (local) selves and (alien) others. Drawing on interviews done in the early 21st century with Macau residents who lived through the events, this paper will show how out of the multiple contradictory accounts of the causes and effects of the 123 Incident emerge similar assumptions about the nature of states and societies and the normative relationship between them. In so doing, it will provide a new perspective on the question of how collective memories (and amnesias) of political violence can shape deeply-felt distinctions among Chinese and non-Chinese populations along China’s periphery.