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The Development of the Miao Frontier and the Recasting of Local Deities: A Debate with Donald Sutton on the Historical Background to Changes in the Legends of the White Emperor Heavenly Kings

Special Issue
Xiaohui XIE (The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)
1 & 2
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Prior to the incorporation of the Miao borderlands of Western Hunan into the ordinary Qing administrative hierarchy through the replacement of native chiefs with appointed bureaucrats (gaitu guiliu), the Yaxi and Wuxi region of western Hunan was under the control of the powerful Yang family. Their ties to the Heavenly Emperors were the celestial expression of Yang authority. When the Miao frontier was first developed in the eighteenth century, local officials paid little attention to the local narrative traditions as they recorded the Heavenly Emperors in written texts. Local narratives used stories about the Yang Family Generals to assert the orthodoxy of the Heavenly Emperors and their identification with the state. At the same time, using patrilineal reckoning of descent, they tied local society to the dynasty. The Heavenly Emperors became both deities and ancestors. In the nineteenth century, the dynasty strengthened efforts to civilize and transform (jiaohua) the Miao borderlands. The orthodox status of deities that had been enfeoffed by the dynasty was recognized by the state. The issue of how to form linkages to the Heavenly Emperors now became important to various local elites. Initially, some people of Yang surname used genealogies to construct ties to the state and the Heavenly Emperors and thereby express a certain identity. In the later period, other local elites used local narratives as the basis of their records in local gazetteers, stressing the local character of the Heavenly Emperors and weakening the ancestral element in their narratives. This in turn influenced later local historical narratives.

Journal of History and Anthropology