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The Submission of Local Chiefs and the Construction of Lineage Society in Southwestern China: An Analysis of Beliefs in Lady Xian of Gaozhou

Special Issue
Xi HE (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
1 & 2
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Over the course of more than fourteen hundred years, from the Northern and Southern dynasties to the late Qing, the relationship between the imperial court and local society in southwestern China underwent fundamental changes. In the Liang-Chen period (sixth century CE), the lineages of leading chiefs submitted to the Chinese state, and used their submission to the state to enhance their own status. From Ming to Qing, the state system penetrated to the level of village society. On the one hand, increasing numbers of persons surnamed Feng came to claim Feng Bao and Lady Xian as their ancestors, and used written records and systems relying on written records (such as the compilation of genealogies) to create links between local tradition and the imperial center. On the other, the creators of local history incorporated the history of central state policies towards the locality in the reconstruction of their own tradition. The continual expansion of the Feng descent group and the construction of representations of local submission to state authority were thus two sides of the same process. This paper argues that from the longterm perspective, the locality's borrowing of state ritual forms to construct orthodoxy frequently meant that state ritual forms were superscripted on local practices. Therefore, it is precisely diversity and variety in local ritual practice that should be seen as expressing the inherent meaning of a ritual. The differences and similarities between rituals in different localities are a resource by which historians can reconstruct local history.

Journal of History and Anthropology