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Twentieth Century Studies of Ming-Qing Community Compacts

Hung-lam CHU (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
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The community compact, xiangyue in Chinese, was an institution originally designed for community mutual aid and moral uplift. During most of Ming and Qing times in later imperial China it was conceived mainly as an institution for the reproduction of social order. Because it involved both local control and social education at large, it had drawn attention of scholar-officials in and out of office. It began to capture the interest of modern historians, sociologists and political scientists in the wake of local self-government and rural construction promoted earlier in the twentieth century. From the 1930s on, except during the 1950s, a substantial amount of scholarly studies from modern perspectives have appeared in Chinese, English and Japanese. Those presented by the historians have especially broadened our understanding of the complexity of Ming-Qing society both in its class relationship and in its conceptions of social order. The present paper offers a critical review of modern scholarship on this institution, especially in terms of methodology and arguments. It also proposes an approach of research which may further our understanding of the nature and effect of functioning compact organizations in Ming and Qing times.

Journal of History and Anthropology