AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 162

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Session 162: Pressure-Points: Border-Crossing Incidents Within the Chinese Realm

Organizer: Adam C. Fong, University of Northern Colorado, USA

Discussant: Victoria Cass, Johns Hopkins University, USA

This panel explores areas of Chinese history when crossing boundaries caused significant changes within Chinese society. The well-recognized characteristic of Chinese culture being fixated on harmony in fact stems from the changes caused by border-crossing moments like those explored by this panel. Michelle Low’s paper looks at the cultural trauma caused by the Yongjia Panic (311 CE) and its consequences. Low argues that Jin dynasty émigrés sustained themselves in the south through literature: re-forging their connection to their pasts, their ancestral homelands, and adding a new relationship to their new lives—highlighting the adaptable nature of Chinese culture. Adam Fong’s paper also looks at southern China, focusing on the cross-cultural environment of the port city of Guangzhou during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). Fong analyzes the various urban groups and their divergent interests, and concludes that the south also contributed to the well-known cosmopolitan nature of Tang society; but in a much different way than experienced in the north. Wensheng Wang examines the frontier region of the Han River highlands during the eighteenth century, and how its marginalization gave the White Lotus sect opportunities for growth. Wang asserts that the border-crossing nature of the region acquired a subversive nature vis-à-vis the Qing imperial government, which led to violent measures and counter-measures. Dong Jo Shin’s paper explores the experiences of the Korean minority during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Shin states that their experiences during that time caused their social transformation from border-crossing dissidents to a model minority.

Crossing the Yangtze Through Space and Time: How the Jin Dynasty Loyalists Made a New Home in the South
Michelle Low, University of Northern Colorado, USA

The early fourth century in China was plagued with violence in the form of internal rebellions, palace power struggles, and foreign invasion. The internecine warfare at the capital weakened the state significantly, allowing the non-Chinese tribes to rebel against the Jin Dynasty and eventually take over the heartland of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River valley, forcing the Jin state and aristocracy to flee across the Yangtze River to the south. The refugees who fled south all struggled to make sense of the violent changes and abrupt relocation to an alien world that they had previously viewed as peripheral. The Jin loyalists attempted to control their changing world, seeking personal and political stability, and to reestablish their state by falling back on their cultural traditions and shared historical imagination. Exodus literature shows how the refugees tried to maintain a connection between themselves, their ancestral homelands, their shared cultural heritage, and their unknown futures through the medium of poetry. Finally, once the refugees had settled in their new lands and lost the north, their writings show how they re-forged their connection to their pasts, their ancestral homelands, and added a new relationship to their new lives in the south. This paper examines how the Jin loyalists and refugees sought to preserve their state and civilization and finally, how they built a new relationship with their new surroundings in the south through their writings.

“The Yi and Di Are People Too”: Tang-Dynasty Guangzhou as a Border-Crossing Zone
Adam C. Fong, University of Northern Colorado, USA

This paper historically and analytically examines the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou from the seventh to tenth centuries CE—it focuses particularly on the cross-cultural interactions between the various resident groups, both positive and negative. As a vital node of commerce in the maritime connections between the Tang dynasty and the outside world, merchants and sailors from many parts of the Indian Ocean basin lived and worked in Guangzhou. In addition, the city itself functioned as an imperial outpost in a largely–unsubdued frontier area. This paper argues that the combination of these various groups—Tang imperial officials, non-Han locals, foreign merchants; as well as overlapping identities, such as Buddhist organizations—created a volatile, yet vital, urban space that contributed to the dynamic culture of the Tang period, and also helped create a new Cantonese identity. Drawing upon official records, private histories, poetry, fictional stories, religious documents, and travelers’ accounts, this paper establishes the usually marginalized city of Guangzhou as a center of the cultural changes that modern scholarship designates as a key attribute of the Tang dynasty. Understanding these changes, and the setting in which they take place, highlights the extent and limits of cross-cultural interactions during the Tang period, and explains the existence and continuation of regional variations within the Chinese realm. This paper contributes to the discussion of urbanization in China, cross-cultural interactions between China and the outside world, the formation of regional identities, ethnic tensions within China, and the influence of trade on pre-modern Chinese society.

Border-Crossing and Social Protest in the Han River Highlands in Mid-Qing China
Wensheng Wang, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This paper examines the frontier society of the Han River highlands and how it contributed to the rise of the White Lotus rebellion (1796-1805). While provincial boundaries divided this mountainous border region into three separate administrative areas, its hostile social ecology as well as the manifold border-crossing processes it precipitated undermined this rigid division and further limited the overextended state power. By the late Ming, the Han River highlands had become the intersecting hub of three agricultural zones. This large-scale interaction accelerated during the eighteenth century, with a massive wave of immigrants moving in from neighboring provinces. Their expanding border-crossing networks contributed to an enlargement of the unruly and unregulated highland society which provided abundant organizational resources for the spread of White Lotus ideology and for social protest. So the Han River highlands was not only a “middle ground” which brought people, goods, and ideas together, it could also be taken as a “nonstate space” because neither formal state regulation nor informal elite intervention was able to cope with the pressures of structural societal transformation in this late-settled border region. As a result, White Lotus teaching quickly penetrated into the highland society and became the central part of its subversive culture. With little normative power to tame the highland forces, the late Qianlong state resorted to outright use of violence which culminated in the ferocious extermination campaign against the White Lotus sectarians across the Han River highlands. Such overaggressive efforts finally prompted a violent counter-mobilization in the uprising of 1796.

The Making of a Chinese Citizen (Zhongguo Renmin) During the Cultural Revolution: The Immigrant History of the Korean Minority in China
Dong Jo Shin, Washington State University, USA

This paper examines when and how the Korean Minority became “Chinese people.” The Korean Minority is often called a “best minority ethnicity.” In other words, it means that the Korean Minority is well assimilated into China. But when and how did the Korean Minority start to have a Chinese identity? This paper argues that the identity of a Chinese citizen developed through the Cultural Revolution. At this time, the Korean Minority realized that nationality was more important than homogeneity of blood. The Red Guard found things such as Korean traditional clothing, notes written in Korean as traitorous and prosecutable—as was any record of crossing the border to North Korea. Even after the PRC was founded, the Korean Minority had often passed across the border for many reasons. But they did not know that this border crossing would be a problem in the future. The sources of this paper are the immigrant histories of the Korean Minority and some interviews. Most sources are made in Korean since this issue is currently neglected in Chinese scholarship. This paper will make the historiography of the Cultural Revolution richer since there are no materials in English about the Korean Minority during the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a complicated event that encompassed many aspects, such as ideological, political, and international relations. Particularly to understand the “Cultural Revolution of the people,” however, this paper argues that “nationalism” operated as one of the prime powers to draw in the entire Chinese populations.