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Chieftains, Bandits and Commoners: Mountain people of Yunnan under Ming State

Ruizhi LIAN (National Chiao Tung University Taiwan)

This paper focuses on how tribal people living in the mountainous areas of Yunnan were organized under the Ming state and how their status changed in the course of the conquest of the southwest. The changes considered here occurred between the 14th and 16th centuries. At the time of the Ming arrival in Yunnan, the tribal chieftains and their people possessed abundant natural resources, including salt wells, gold and silver mines, and also enjoyed privileged access to trading routes in the mountainous hinterland. Control over these resources and privileges was structured through a network of kin groups. When the Ming state conquered this part of Yunnan it centralized control over natural resources and delegated responsibility to its own agents. This led to conflicts with the mountain chiefs and other people who are identified in state documents as "bandits". I argue in this paper that the extension of state power in the Ming upset the ecological balance of exchange systems between tribal society and agricultural populations, resulting in rising tension and conflict between the mountain people and lowland farmers. I demonstrate how, as a means to resolve this problem, the illiterate bandits of the mountains were separated into different political systems and sorted into three groups: registered subjects, native soldiers and native subjects, and mountain societies that were structurally marginalized by these political divisions.

Journal of History and Anthropology