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Understanding Narrators and Their Societies through the Study of Their Historical Narratives: A Case Study of Stories about a Participant in the Autumn Harvest Uprising

Tongxue TAN (Sun Yat-sen University)
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Three very different versions of the story of Li Zongbao, a participant in the Southern Hunan (Xiangnan) uprising of 1928, circulated in the years before 1949. In the first, he was a thug and a bandit who awakened to an understanding of his times, but who later became a Kuo Min Tang (KMT) turncoat. In the second, he was a revolutionary who ultimately betrayed the revolution. In the third, he was a poor man who fought injustice, but who ultimately compromised with the KMT in order to protect his family and his community, and was murdered by his wife under the pretext of political struggle. The second version dominated after 1949. After 1980, local authorities in his home region began to treat Li as a prominent local figure even though his political status remained ambiguous. In local rural society starting in the mid 1990s, the political elements of Li's story were de-emphasized, replaced by a focus on his personal abilities and the situation of his nuclear family. Differences between official state political discourse and the moral discourses of rural society in the reform era are thus reflected in these different perspectives. Studying narratives, the people who tell them, and the societies they inhabit through examination of different versions of a historical narrative can be a productive approach for micro-research in historical anthropology.

Journal of History and Anthropology