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Turning Hostility into Friendship: Immigrants, Natives and the State in Wanzai County, Jiangxi Province in the Qing and the Republic

Hongwei XIE (Jiangxi Normal University)
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This article studies the interaction of migrants, natives and the state, and its impact on social change through a discussion of three hundred years of history in Wanzai county, Jiangxi. From the Qing to the Republic, the complex and delicate relations within and between these three groups evolved over time. In the late Ming and early Qing immigrants from Fujian, Guangdong and southern Jiangxi had played a significant role in Wanzai county. Because of their involvement in local unrest they had been driven out by the local people and the state. In the early seventeenth century, the local government recruited new immigrants in order to promote economic development. These migrants gradually built better relations with the local government, which recognized and legitimized their rights. By the 1730s the state and the immigrants identified with one another. But natives who were registered in the household registration (lijia) registers sought to exclude the newcomers and restrict them to “guest registration” (keji). In response to this exclusion, immigrants developed four strategies for registration, and the process of registration for immigrants became a game played by the three parties. In the mid-Qing, the conflict between natives and immigrants intensified, leading to the formation of ethnic identification and the emergence of two ethnic groups. In the nineteenth century the previously strained relations improved as migrants and natives cooperated in dealing with the threat of the Taiping. Both the Republican government and the Chinese Communist Party took measures to smooth out differences between migrants and natives. Identification as “people of Wanzai” (Wanzai ren), an identity which emerged in the late Republican period, marked the fusion of migrants and natives.

Journal of History and Anthropology