AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 577

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Session 577: Market Towns and Market Town Elites in Late Imperial China

Organizer: Seunghyun Han, Konkuk University, South Korea

Chair: Peter C. Perdue, Yale University, USA

Discussant: Peter C. Perdue, Yale University, USA

Previous studies on Chinese urban history have generally taken as their focus large commercial cities or administrative centers. Below this level in the urban hierarchy, however, existed numerous market towns, under thinner government control and located at the nodes linking vast rural areas and administrative centers. Our panel aims to look closely into the public roles, urban consciousness, and social interactions of the residents, especially elites, in market towns during the late imperial period. In this period, urban institutions, once considered features of county seats, increasingly spread into market towns, and the public roles of town elites concomitantly expanded along this process. Our four panelists intend to shed a new light on the growth and the historical significance of sub-county elites in market towns, largely composed of lower degree holders, merchants, and rich commoners. Studying market town residents along the Grand Canal in North China, Gabbiani argues that their town consciousness was consolidated through their collective economic activities and other communal efforts such as the patronage of local temples and the organization of temple fairs. Miles, analyzing Jiujiang market town in the Pearl River delta, shows the ways in which town elites endeavored to resolve an economic threat brought to the town by the entrepreneurial migration of its residents. Wu studies elites’ gardens in Jiangnan market towns and shows that their garden styles incorporated both unique market town elements and the characteristics found in upper elites’ gardens in county seats. Finally, Han examines market town gazetteers and literary collections in Jiangnan and argues that market town elites’ growing desire to record themselves led to a better representation of their people in historical and literary works at the county level.

“Of Boats and Men”: Economic Activity and Urban Life in Market Towns along the Northern Reaches of the Grand Canal in 18th-century China
Luca Gabbiani, Ecole Francaise d Extreme-Orient, China

This paper will focus on the network of small and medium size market towns that spanned the northern reaches of the Grand Canal between Liaocheng, Dezhou, and Cangzhou, in North China in the 18th century. Due to the growth of commercial traffic on the Canal during the period, and in order to meet the needs of regional and interregional demand of such cash crops as tobacco and cotton, as well as the local circulation of their hinterlands’ agricultural products, these market towns experienced a surge in economic activity. This phenomenon had an important impact, giving rise to distinct forms of urban consciousness among the local communities. Drawing mainly on archival documents, administrative records, local gazetteers and travel literature, I will highlight how residents strove to organise services to Canal users, such as the supervision of docking procedures, the provisioning of local transportation, the management of periodic markets, and lodging facilities. I will also show that in due time—probably following the example of nearby prefectural and county seats—these local communities strove to carve out an identity for themselves through the setting-up of communal schools, the patronage of urban-based temples, the organisation of temple fairs distinct from those of nearby rural communities, as well as through an effort to attract opera troupes travelling along the Canal. The reference often made to these communities in Qing-period local gazetteers tends to show their efforts can at least partly be considered a success.

The Upland Reach of a Delta Town: Jiujiang and the West River Basin, 1570-1870
Steven B. Miles, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

This paper takes as its focus the market town of Jiujiang in the Pearl River delta. The economic basis of Jiujiang’s prosperity was the town’s specialization in sericulture and pisciculture. Describing the local activism of Jiujiang’s sociocultural elite, in my previous work I emphasized the protective measures that this elite devised to ensure the town’s continued prosperity and their own place in it. This was seen for instance in flood-prevention efforts of the nineteenth century, when town leaders cooperated with their peers in neighboring communities to shore up the series of dikes known as the Enclosure. Here I revisit Jiujiang, portraying the town not as part of an enclosure but rather as an emigrant community, and emphasizing not protective measures but rather ways in which the town’s reach was extended far beyond the delta upstream along the West River basin into mountainous Guangxi province. I argue that many Jiujiang families embraced strategies of entrepreneurial migration upriver. For example, a large number of Jiujiang men acquired household registration in upstream locales in order to sit for less competitive civil service examinations there. Even more Jiujiang natives traveled upstream as merchants. While many in these two categories of migrants returned to Jiujiang and invested in the local community, other migrants settled upriver permanently and in the process transferred the fish farming technologies upon which Jiujiang prosperity was largely based. In response, Jiujiang elites struggled to balance the protective and entrepreneurial, or the local and migrant, aspects of the town’s success.

Market Town Elites and the Cultural Construction of Market Town Gardens in Late Imperial Jiangnan
Jen-shu Wu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

In late imperial Jiangnan, an increasing number of market town elites built gardens and mansions in their localities. The sections in market town gazetteers on local gardens and mansions not only record the material aspects of gardens, but also various historical episodes related to the gardens, as well as the cultural activities of elites in their gardens. By analyzing the gazetteer authors’ motives for writing these sections, and the cultural strategies adopted by the authors, this paper explores the ways in which these authors endeavored to consolidate their own town consciousness, and how they simultaneously tried to link the culture of their towns into larger networks of elite culture. This paper explores how these authors tried to elevate the cultural significance of their gardens, and by extension, the importance of their market town culture in general. In this way, market town elites sometimes competed with elites in higher urban centers for a cultural status. However, these authors also perpetuated the image of “the scholar garden” and made a conscious attempt to portray their gardens in the styles of those in higher urban centers. Thus, we find that they reproduced the culture of the latter and contributed to a cultural hegemony created and disseminated by the elites in higher urban cities.

“We Want to Be Recorded”: Market Town Elites and Market Town Literature in Nineteenth-Century Jiangnan
Seunghyun Han, Konkuk University, South Korea

The nineteenth century was an age when the residents of market towns in Jiangnan represented themselves in literary works. Market town gazetteers and collections of prose and poems composed by residents of market towns appeared in large numbers in this period. Previously, elites in county seats had published the works of this kind, but in the nineteenth century, sub-county elites in many market towns came to initiate a similar tradition of their own. The purpose of these works, as articulated by the compilers, was to record the achievements of market town locals and the traditions of the towns so that they would not be forgotten and be included in county gazetteers. By examining some sample market town literary works and gazetteers, this paper will analyze closely their growing desire to record themselves in market town literature, and their urge to represent themselves better in similar literature at the county level. I will also examine county gazetteers and analyze how the compilation of market town literature affected the representation of market town people in the gazetteers. I argue that people, institutions, and buildings originating from market towns came to claim a greater presence in county gazetteers over the course of the eighteenth, and especially the nineteenth century. While earlier gazetteers and literary works at the county level were largely initiated and represented by those who resided in county seats, nineteenth century was the time of a more balanced literary representation among the elites in county seats and market towns.