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The Origins of Fishing Rights on Boyang Lake: Registration for the Fishery Tax in the Early Ming

Shigu LIU (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
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According to their genealogies, the fishing families who today live around Boyang Lake are not descended from the original inhabitants of the Xianyang plains, but rather from subsequent immigrants to the region. Surviving genealogies of the fishing families all claim that it was their ancestors who were the first to move to the region, and all mention an important ancestor who registered for the payment of tax in early Ming times. Despite internal contradictions and inconsistencies, these accounts of how ancestors settled in the locale are not insignificant. Accounts in the genealogies of ancestors registering for payment of tax reflect a major change in the region in the early Ming. With the establishment in the early Ming of the Fishing Tax Office (hebosuo), state power first penetrated the region through measures including the census of the lake's territory and the population, the collection of the fishing tax and the administration of the fishing families. This established the basic structure of fishing rights on local waterways that persisted from Ming through Qing to the Republican period. Registration for tax in the early Ming was obligatory, and some fishing families chose to flee rather than comply. Rising population in the villages beside the lake increased competition over the fishery and this led to disputes over fishing rights. In the course of these disputes, fishing families made use of narratives about their ancestors' settlement in the region to match up with the Ming state's tax collection records, in order to demonstrate that their ancestors had secured permanent rights to fish on the lake.

Journal of History and Anthropology