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Fighting for Water Rights and Searching for Evidence: The Transmission and Compilation of Water Conservancy Documents in the Guanzhong Region from the Qing to the Republican Periods

Special Issue
Xiaohong CHAO (Xiamen University)
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By comparing local water conservancy documents from the Guanzhong region (Shaanxi and Henan) with systematic records in local gazetteers from Ming and Qing, this essay examines the compilation and transmission of such documents during the Qing and Republican periods. It illustrates some characteristics of the mentality and behavior of the populace in response to environmental change and the struggle for resources. Careful scrutiny of sources on the channels of the Qinghe river in Guanzhong illustrates that the names of specific channels in local gazetteers from Ming and Qing were anything but uniform, and many names were no more than a form of short-hand or code. On the other hand, in unofficial documents the same channels are identified with names that are rich in implicit meanings. Some of these terms and meanings were “infiltrated” into local gazetteers. By comparing successive drafts of the “Register of Channels of the Qingyu River” compiled by Liu Pingshan in the Republican period as well as other local documents, we can not only understand how water conservancy documents were transmitted, but also learn how local people compiled and even falsified key documents. From the Qing onwards, this had been done chiefly to assert claims to water from these channels, to mold public opinion, or to seek “evidence” for some type of claim. The “factual” account of some water conservancy facilities in the documents shows a degree of objectivity in representation. But the elaboration, transmission and even falsification of previously compiled documents also reveals the mentality and purposes of their authors.

Journal of History and Anthropology