AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 506

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Session 506: Chinese Society at the Margins: Social Boundaries, Status, and the Representation of Marginal Categories During the Ming-Qing Transition

Organizer: Claude Chevaleyre, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France

Chair: Pierre-Etienne Will, College de France, France

Discussant: Thomas Buoye, University of Tulsa, USA

This panel will mainly be an attempt to confront interpretations and research on certain social categories considered marginal in late Ming and early Qing China. It will focus on four such categories: prostitutes, the so-called rootless rascals, bondservants, and beggars. Following recent trends in social history (such as resorting to cultural history or the extensive use of judicial archives), we will explore the multiple representations conveyed about such categories, the social conditions they experienced, the challenges they represented to traditional order in a radically changing environment, and the way local officials and central authorities attempted to deal with them. Mostly considered a threat to traditional order and a source of social unrest by contemporaries, these categories of persons also appear slightly marginal in modern scholarship. The combined study proposed by this panel will provide a unique opportunity to take a step closer to bottom rung of society and to address more general problems such as social stratification, status and marginality, fuzzy social boundaries, mixed identities, or the discrepancy between official ideals and actual practice in 17th and 18th century China. Whenever sufficient sources are available, long-term evolutions – ruptures as much as continuities – during a “long 17th century” spanning the period from the Wanli (1573-1620) to the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735) or even beyond will be underlined, analysed and discussed.

Beyond Buying and Selling: Prostitutes, Pimps, and Their Clients in the Judicial Cases from the Late Ming and Early Qing Periods
Ka-chai Tam, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

This study examines judicial disputes involving prostitutes, pimps and their clients in the coastal societies of southern China during the 17th century. In the light of four late Ming casebooks – the Mengshui zhai cundu, the Zheyu xinyu, the Puyang yandu and the Yunjian yanlüe – and of early Qing collections of exemplar cases (cheng’an) edited and distributed by the Ministry of Punishment, the origins and management of the low-grade prostitutes who primarily sold sexual services to make a living, the nature of the judicial conflicts they faced, the ways the judges attempted to resolve these disputes, and the legal status and rights of the women in the trade, will all be explored. The main question raised in this paper regards the impact of the new inputs of Manchu statecraft ideas, and of the return of the Cheng-Zhu Confucian school to dominance in the political and intellectual realms in the early Qing period: what did change in the legal treatment of, and attitude of officials towards, prostitution during the Ming-Qing transition? Did judges under the Manchu regime, in contrast with the free-handed or even sympathetic attitudes displayed by their late Ming counterparts, see prostitution as a moral and social problem and attempt to increase social control by suppressing or even eliminating the “oldest trade in human history”?

The Evolution of “Substatutes on Rootless Rascals”: A Dynamic Legislative Adaptation to Social Changes from the 17th to the 18th Centuries
Ning Zhang, University of Geneva, France

This paper attempts to examine the ongoing creation of “Substatutes on Rootless Rascals” (guanggun li) during the 17th and 18th centuries in order to see how they were designed and revised by Qing legislators to meet an ever larger variety of changing social situations, how they were implemented by local magistrates, and to what extent they reflected a dynamic legal adaptation to social change, particularly to address new “indecisive” crimes. Our discussion will focus on the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods (1662-1735) through an examination of the following aspects: 1) the question of terminological change: from the problematic origins of the word guanggun as social characterization to the imprecise nature of the guanggun li as legal terminology; 2) the complex judicial nature of the guangun li, taking into consideration certain substatutes established during the Kangxi reign (dealing with the specific nature and regional aspects of crimes, and so on); 3) the social context and concrete implementation revealed in a few particular cases dating from the Yongzheng era (1723-1735).

Distinguishing Between Master and Bondservant: Status, Law, and Judicial Treatment of Bondservants in 17th Century China
Claude Chevaleyre, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France

In 17th century China, bondservants (usually named nubi, nupu, etc.) passed from shadow to light and caught their contemporaries’ attention, mostly by resisting traditional hierarchies and rising up against social order, burning their masters’ houses and killing their families, and eventually joining the masses that were to overthrow the Ming dynasty. Since then, bondservants have mainly been considered as a source of social disorder requiring tight control. Despite lengthy scholarly debates, modern historians have paid little attention to this social category per se, focusing more on the historical meaning of the rebellions known as nubian or on the signification of the existence of bond-servitude for debates about Chinese periodization. This paper attempts to explore the core nature of the bondservant’s status in the 17th century through an analysis of imperial law codes, various normative documents, and judicial cases. Following recent trends in scholarship using judicial archives as a privileged means of access to “social realities”, I will focus on actual situations depicted in routine judicial documents involving bondservants. Picking up elements regarding bondservants’ ordinary life, their place in local society, and the nature of their relationship with their masters, and discussing such notions as yi (“righteousness”) and zhupu mingfen (discrimination between master and bondservant), I will try to refine the supposedly “clear” picture conveyed by conventional sources. Changes in the status of and in attitudes towards bondservants from the late Ming to the Yongzheng era will also be explored.

Representing Beggars and Street People in 17th and 18th Centuries China
Alice Bianchi, INALCO, France

This paper explores the significance of paintings of beggars and other street people produced in the 17th and 18th centuries, focusing on images devised by professional painters and comparing them to other representations that circulated during the Ming and the late Qing. In so doing, I question the complex social relations between beggars and other lower-class types seen on the streets (blind men, strolling musicians and entertainers), and often represented in the same compositions. Focusing on the issue of the so-called “mean” categories (jianmin), I shall answer key questions such as: Was there any sharp borderline between hereditary beggars (duomin/gaihu) and nonhereditary ones? Were beggars completely different from itinerant theatrical troupes or other entertainers? In evaluating the function of such paintings, the artists’ possible intent, and the meaning such works may have held for their contemporary audience, I compare the artists’ sympathetic views towards these people to the officials’ attitude towards beggars and the government’s attempts at controlling them.