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Voices, Boundaries and the Chinese Writtern Genealogy among the Miao of Eastern Guizhou

Mei-ling CHIEN (National Chiao Tung University)
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By looking at the Chinese written genealogy as a locally specific literary genre, this article analyses lineage genealogies compiled in Chinese script by educated Miao elites in eastern Guizhou. These elites developed multivocal modes of expression by blending of Chinese and Miao languages, in order to textually construct boundaries between Han and Miao ethnicity. Like Han Chinese genealogies, their genealogies include heroic stories about their early ancestors as a way of expressing ideas about ancestry, locality, migration, ethnic difference, and subordination to Chinese dynastic officials. But the multilingualism of these elites enabled them to use the dominant, standardizing Chinese script to express their own attitudes and redefinition of the meanings of the borderland and of ethnic difference. The texts used a type of pidgin written in Chinese script, but did not simply express Han Chinese cultural values and meanings. Rather, they transmitted the sounds and meanings of Miao language and culture, for example the practice of tekonymy (the renaming of parents after their child). These distinctive elements were concealed or disguised through the creation of a form of Chinese-Miao pidgin. By using this pidgin, Miao elites destabilized the close link that had existed between legends of ancestors, Han Chinese culture and the Chinese state. Thus these genealogies were a distinctive “mixed-voice” genre, that subtly but powerfully gave the Miao a certain agency, allowing them to articulate their perception of ethnic distinction in written form, and creating space for distinctive subjectivity.

Journal of History and Anthropology