AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 461

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 461: Who Writes Local History? Gazetteers and Government from Ming to Modern Times

Organizer: Haihui Zhang, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Chair: Weijing Lu, University of California, San Diego, USA

Discussant: Beverly Bossler, University of California, Davis, USA

From imperial through modern times, Chinese governments have commissioned gazetteers (fangzhi) to collect data on geography, taxation, population, and local society. But gazetteers were not passive repositories of information. They were media for articulating local power relations (for example, who gets to serve on compilation committees?) as well as the authority of the state. Our interdisciplinary panel emphasizes the dynamic aspects of Chinese gazetteers from the late Ming dynasty to the present. Literature specialist Katherine Carlitz analyzes the way one county’s self-descriptions evolved from 1557 to 1673. Historians Joseph Dennis and Qin Fang focus on heretofore understudied materials: Dennis examines the Pelliot collection of Ming and Qing border-region gazetteers held in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, which can be used to study how peripheral regions were integrated into the dominant Chinese culture. Fang discusses the agendas behind the boom in new gazetteer production during the 1920’s and 1930’s of the Republican era. Information specialist Zhaohui Xue examines the local focus of present-day gazetteers, with their data on villages, city neighborhoods, and city streets. Historian Peter Bol details electronic text markup procedures that can transform the gazetteer corpus into a massive dataset to be mined for changes over time and space. Our discussant, social historian Beverly Bossler, has studied the intersection of discourse and genre, showing how changing views on the individual and society were expressed through the standard genres of Chinese historical writing. Our panel’s detailed studies can contribute to comparative work on historical sources in Asia and beyond.

The Pelliot Collection of Local Gazetteers from Western China
Joseph R. Dennis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Paul Pelliot (1878-1945) is best known for rare manuscripts he acquired from Buddhist caves in Dunhuang during a 1908 expedition in western China. These manuscripts have been thoroughly documented and are among the best extant sources on medieval China. On the same expedition Pelliot also collected local gazetteers; however, this part of his collection has been almost entirely ignored due to poor documentation. The collection is housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and with grants from the BnF and National Endowment for the Humanities, I am currently spending three months writing detailed abstracts of 40 gazetteers published between 1535 and 1908 in Gansu, Qinghai, Tibet, and areas of Shaanxi along the Great Wall. As I work on the abstracts, I am also gathering materials for a study of book publishing and circulation, in western China. The abstracts will be published initially on the BnF website, and eventually become part of a planned catalog of all BnF gazetteers. My AAS paper will first introduce the BnF gazetteer collection and documentation project, and then discuss the ways in which materials from local gazetteers of isolated areas can be used to better understand how peripheral regions were integrated into the Chinese world. This discussion will be based on records of library building, book publishing, collecting, and circulation, and argue that the Ming and Qing governments made substantial efforts to bring Chinese literary culture to these regions.

Jiading County Goes Upscale: the evolution of the Jiading County gazetteer 1557-1673
Katherine Carlitz, University of Pittsburgh, USA

For historians of late imperial China, county and prefectural gazetteers are crucial sources of local information, but they are far from neutral or value-free. Typically compiled by local scholars under the direction of the magistrate or prefect, the gazetteer was written by highly interested individuals, who burnished the reputations of magistrates and elites, or aired local grievances, or relegated unpopular officials to oblivion. The locality’s interests and grievances, as well as its social structure, might change over time, and this is reflected in successive gazetteer revisions. A longitudinal study of one county gazetteer teaches us about that county, and provides methodological pointers for studying other localities as well. I will examine the 1557, 1605, and 1673 editions of the Jiading xian zhi, the gazetteer of Jiading county (Ming Suzhou prefecture), spanning the late Ming commercial boom and the Ming-Qing dynastic transition. We will see that even after thirty years of Qing rule, Jiading county in 1673 still saw itself in terms remarkably like those of 1605. The significant changes in the county’s self-description took place between 1557, when a minor literatus-compiler could still set the tone of the gazetteer, and 1605, by which time the magistrate and elites had relegated that 1557 compiler to a footnote. Jiading county gazetteers will be compared to those of adjacent Taicang subprefecture, whose elites were closely intertwined with those of Jiading. The result should be of interest for the study of comparative historiography, comparative bureaucracy, and local social stratification.

Contemporary Use of Local Histories: A Case Study of Haining
Qin Fang, McDaniel College, USA

In 1924, Liang Qichao wrote A History of Chinese Thought in the Last Three Hundred Years (Zhongguo jin shan bai nian xue shu shi), in which he stated that local gazetteers (fangzhi), chronological biography (nianpu), and genealogies (jiapu) should be treated as treasures for Chinese history and culture studies. This statement extends his 1902-proposal of New Historical Studies (xin shixue), which emphasizes the employment of new materials, other than official Twenty-Four Histories (ershisi shi), to study Chinese history and culture. Liang’s statement predicts alternative ways of reading and employing local histories in modern and contemporary China. Influenced by Liang’s proposal, both public libraries and private collectors made great efforts to collect local gazetteers and genealogies for local histories studies. Local Gazetteer Offices were established to collect and produce gazetteers at all levels. While many categories were maintained, some new categories were added to reflect social and cultural transformation in newly published gazetteers. Meanwhile, influenced by Liang’s proposal of xinshi xue, Chinese genealogies, which were primarily read for property management, family regulation, and cultural prestige in the past, were collected and used for the studies of family history, local histories, demography, and eugenics. The newly published local gazetteers and newly collected genealogies in PRC, along with those of Qing and Republican period, are used to explore long-term evolution of a local region. In this paper, I will look at contents of local gazetteers and genealogies in Haining, Zhejiang province to examine the issues and problems of contemporary use of local histories.

Writing of city history at Grass Root Level-- Chinese gazetteers for city districts (chengqu zhi) and neighborhoods (jiedao zhi)
Zhaohui Xue, Stanford University, USA

Chinese local gazetteers (difang zhi) have been long recognized as important primary sources for studies of local history. Since the 1990s, along with the three major levels of governmental gazetteers, namely provinces (sheng zhi), cities (shi zhi) and counties (xian zhi), new and special kinds of local gazetteers for villages (cun), city districts (chengqu), and city neighborhoods and streets (jiedao) have been compiled. This paper will focus on the evolution of this fourth level of gazetteers, especially those for city districts and neighborhoods, and will address the following questions: what are the contents, characters and styles of city district and neighborhood gazetteers?? What are their boundaries? How do they differ from city and county gazetteers? How were they compiled? What is the value of these sources for Chinese urban studies and historical research? What are the current situations and issues in collecting these materials in the US libraries? This study aims to offer a window onto the remarkably rich information that can be found at this grass-root level.

Gazetteers: Going Beyond Searchable Text
Peter K. Bol, Harvard University, USA

Recent efforts to digitize large numbers of local gazetteers have created a growing corpus of searchable text. This paper argues that relying on searchable text alone will ultimately have limited value for historical research. The paper will show how simple text mark-up procedures can open this corpus to text-mining. By tagging names of names of people, places, offices, religious sites, and so on, gazetteers can be transformed into massive datasets that can feed geographic information systems and biographical databases. This in turn makes possible the large-scale analysis of data in gazetteers, allowing us to track change over time and variation through space and to spot anomalies in the data.

Writing of city history at Grass Root Level-- Chinese gazetteers for city districts (chengqu zhi) and neighborhoods (jiedao zhi)
Haihui Zhang, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Co-author with Zhaohui Xue