Surveying military colony fields, compiling genealogies, and status transformation

As a result of the registration in the early Ming of “native” soldiers who lived together with Han military households, and the recruitment of indigenes by military officers and government students as private soldiers and family retainers in the mid- to late Ming, the ethnic and social composition of villages in the Ningfan Guard river valley region became increasingly heterogeneous. The population came to include both Han military households and Xifan

Where are the Western Aborigines? 107 indigenes that had taken Han surnames. In general this makes it impossible to specify precisely whether any part of this population was Xifan or Han. We can only say in general terms that in villages that are today considered Han there are many descendants of people who were once considered Xifan.

Pusadu village can serve as an illustrative example. Pusadu (“Bodhisattva Ford”) is today a Han village located approximately two kilometers northeast of the Mianning county seat. The western edge of the village is close to the Anning River. Not far to the north along either side of the river are continuous, high, mountain ranges which form a natural mountain pass. Beyond the pass lies what, during the Ming, was the territory of the “raw” aborigines (shengfari). Travelers moving south from the mountains passed through Pusadu before reaching Ningfan Guard fortress. According to villagers from Pusadu, their village was originally an earthen fortress to which military officers surnamed Zhou, Wang, and Deng had been posted to defend the pass against the “raw” aborigines. The earthen fortress disappeared long ago, although parts of the foundations are faintly visible. On the slopes of the hill behind the village are the graves of the Zhou, Wang, and Deng. Among them is the grave of Wang Guan, the Wang family ancestor who first settled in the region.34 According to Ming archives listing the officials of the Ningfan Guard and a tomb inscription composed in 1442, Wang Guan was originally from Xiangfu County in Henan. He and his elder brother Bao were the sons of Wang En. In the early years of Ming, En was appointed Company commander of Jinwu Right Guard for meritorious service. Later Wang Bao succeeded to Wang En’s position. He also served in Pu’an Guard in Guizhou and in Xuzhou Prefecture in Sichuan. In 1390 Wang Bao arrived at Jianchang Guard in Sichuan to serve as a Battalion commander, and not long afterwards, he was further promoted to assistant commander of the Suzhou Guard for pacifying the local uprisings. But he was wounded in the line of duty, and while he was convalescing, Wang Guan temporarily replaced him as assistant commander. By 1406, Wang Bao had recovered from his injuries, and resumed his original position. After this, Wang family members Wang Fu, Wang Yu, Wang Shou, and Wang Tai successively inherited the post of assistant commander of Ningfan Guard.35

Pusadu was an important strategic military base. The imperial troops stationed there, led by the hereditary Han officers surnamed Wang, had the important responsibility of protecting the Guard from attack. Therefore, when villagers today call Pusadu a Han village, it is not without foundation. But after the developments described above, including the changes to the registration system in the early Ming and the phenomena of military officials and government students recruiting indigenes as private soldiers and family retainers, by the late Ming, this village had also become home to many Xifan, to the point that the Sichuan Survey of Native Barbarians (Sichuan tu yikao), a text compiled during the Wanli reign, classified Pusadu as a Xifan village.36

When we conduct interviews in the village today, villagers insist that it is a Han village, and that all the villagers are Han, not Xifan. How did Pusadutransform from a mixed-residence village to one whose residents identify simply as Han? This transformation did not occur only recently. As we will see below, at least as early as the late Qing, the Xifan who had integrated into this village took the opportunity to redefine their own status. This was closely connected to the compilation of genealogies by Han lineages in Mianning, a process that unfolded around disputes over property.

In 1728, Ningfan Guard was converted to Mianning County. Even though some individual households like the Lu had already compiled genealogies, most lineages began to compile genealogies only in the mid-eighteenth century.37 The reason for this has to do with a land survey that was implemented in Sichuan during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735). Many of the Mianning lineages who survived the wars of the Ming-Qing transition had already become powerful in the Ming, and controlled large amounts of colony lands. In the Qing, they converted this land into lineage collective property. For example, Hu Quanli, who served as the magistrate of Taiyuan County in the Ming belonged to the Hu family of Hujiapu (“Hu family fortress”). During the Kangxi reign (1661-1722), the Hu claimed ownership over more than one hundred mu of colony fields left over from the Ming. They used this property to establish a charitable school, where several low-ranking intellectuals and officials were educated. However, this land had never been registered for tax with the local authorities. When the Yongzheng land survey was conducted, the land was hastily sold off by different members of the Hu lineage. This led to numerous disputes within the lineage. To this end, Hu Jinru, the lineage head during the middle of the Qianlong reign (1736-1795), began compiling the “Hu Surname Genealogy” in an attempt to restore order.38

Compiling a genealogy naturally requires tracing the origins of ancestors, but the people of Ningfan had almost no written records. Even as early as the Ming, the commanders of Ningfan Guard surnamed Li had been unable to compile a complete genealogy. They could only pass down a family tree that presented a simple record of the names and generations of their ancestors since the beginning of the Ming. The Li did not have any more detailed record of their origins.39 There were also few Ming dynasty grave inscriptions that could be consulted. Many lineages in Mianning and neighboring Xichang County (formerly Jianchang Guard) lacked gravestones for the first few generations that had settled in the region (or did not even know where the graves were located). So even the names and genealogical sequence of the ancestors were often unknown, let alone where their ancestors migrated from and why. For example, the founding ancestor of the Liu family of Maojiatun (“Mao family settlement”) was said to be Liu Yuan, who in the early years of the Hongwu reign (1368-1398) led troops of Jianchang Guard. But when the Liu genealogy was first compiled in 1745, the editor, Liu Songwei, wrote that because there were no gravestone records, the family did not even know the location of Liu Yuan’s grave. Moreover, the second, third, and fourth generation ancestors did not have gravestones either, so it was impossible to tell which grave belonged to whom, or who was descended from who.40

The collective memory of garrison military households became an important basis through which the lineages of Mianning and Xichang traced the origins of their ancestors. The Yuelutiemuer Uprising of the early Ming had had a deep impact on the region. Because many of the military households called up to establish Ningfan and Jiangchang Guards after the rebellion was suppressed came originally from Nanjing, and because there is a place in Nanjing known as “Qingshi Qiao” (Greenstone Bridge), when lineages from Mianning and Xichang were compiling genealogies, they often claimed that their own ancestors were Han from “Greenstone Bridge, such-and-such county, such-and-such prefecture, Nanjing.” The character for “Qiao” (“bridge”) resembles the character for “Ban” (“placard”), and so “Greenstone Bridge” was often written incorrectly as “Greenstone Placard.”41

It was against this background of a rising tide of genealogy compilation that Deng Qiyu, a descendant of the Deng of Pusadu, compiled the Deng genealogy in 1760. He identified his first ancestor in the region as Deng Bao, and his place of origin as “Qingshi Ban (Greenstone Placard), Xinghua County, Yingtian Prefecture, Nanjing.”42 We have no way of knowing whether this statement is accurate, but that is not really important. What matters is that this assertion had consequences for the descendants of Xifan who had been integrated into the Deng lineage. Even if the villagers of Pusadu today insist that they are the descendants of Han, with no relation to the Xifan, this does not reflect the situation during the Ming and Qing.

Some traces of this process could still be seen in the Qing. For example, beginning in the tenth generation, the Deng of Pusadu incorporated generational characters into their names. All of the members of a single generation shared a common character as the first of the two characters making up their personal names. The characters were chosen in sequence from a ten-character poetic couplet that expressed the collective goal of literacy and enlightenment for the descendants of the lineage. Descendants with the generational character “zhi,” the first in the sequence, appear frequently in local archives in the late Kangxi reign.43 By the Xianfeng reign (1850-1861), there are already members of the family whose names included the character “qi,” the fifth in the sequence, in the archives. Deng Qifeng was a member of this fifth generation.

He was also a descendant of Xifan who had become identified as Han. We know this because of evidence from legal documents. In 1858, Wang Zhaochun borrowed twenty taels of silver from Deng Qifeng, transferring thirteen plots of rice paddy fields as collateral and paying interest annually. In 1861, Wang Zhaochun returned ten taels of the silver to Deng Qifeng, and hoped to make a conditional sale (dang) of fourteen of plots of paddy field to cover his remaining debts. But Deng Qifeng refused to draw up the contract for the transfer. Worried that Deng Qifeng might sell off property that he thought still belonged to him, Wang Zhaochun then sought to make a final sale to Deng Qifeng in order to meet his obligations and cover the remaining debt. Deng Qifeng still would not agree. Both parties went to the yamen to file a lawsuit.44 The case files from this lawsuit include a plaint written by Deng Qifeng, who was a low-level examination graduate and was able to write legal texts. The opening and closing passages request “support [from the magistrate] in the complaint against the Fan barbarian (fanyi) Deng Qifeng over losses suffered in relation to a conditional sale” and “the complaint against fanyi Deng Qifeng, filed on the fourth day of the eleventh month of 1861 .”45

Mianning County yamen archives from the Qing frequently use the terms “Fan barbarian” (fanyi) and “Luo barbarian” (luoyi) to distinguish between members of the Xifan and Luoluo groups. The appearance of the term in the case materials tells us that Deng Qifan was a Xifan who had adopted the Deng surname. According to an 1858 document, he had a son called Deng Wenxing.46 This name includes the character “wen,” the next character in the sequence of generational names in the Deng genealogy, which confirms that Deng Qifeng and his son had adopted the naming patterns of the Deng lineage. The Deng genealogy compiled during the Qianlong reign only lists the names of the lineage members in the eleventh generation, with the generational character “qi.”47 Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether the ancestors of Deng Qifeng and Deng Wenxing were incorporated into the genealogy. From the fact that he referred to himself as a fan, it is possible that Qifeng’s ancestors were not. But when the genealogy was next revised in 1891, Deng Qifeng and Deng Wenxing were included.48 This indicates that by this time they had come to be considered descendants of the founding Han ancestor, Deng Bao, the man from “Greenstone Placard, Nanjing.” This case illustrates that by the late Qing the compilation of genealogies by Han lineages in Mianning served as a kind of cultural resource by which the descendants of Xifan who had been incorporated into Han lineages could demonstrate their own ethnic status. The conditions for Mianning river valley region’s “monocultural” Han-dominated social structure had been created.

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