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Lands, Succession, and Clan: Local Society in North China under the Influence of the Eight Banners System

Special Issue
Yuanyuan QIU (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
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Following the shift of the political center of the Chinese state to north China in the Jin and Yuan dynasties, state power penetrated more deeply into regional society. In the Qing, two main sociopolitical systems were used to administer local society: the Eight Banners, which had oversight over Bannermen, and the prefectural administration system, which held jurisdiction over "commoners" (min). The composition and characteristics of these two populations were significantly different, as were the mechanisms by which they were administered and their relationship with state power. This paper examines Bannerman residing in manors (zhuangyuan) in Zhili. Although some owned massive landholdings, their status had many attributes associated with slavery. They had limited rights over the use of their land, which they could not trade freely. They could be dismissed or punished, with punishments extending to the forfeiture of their property. Nor could they choose who would inherit their land upon their incapacitation or death-rather, this was subject to the decision of the Banner organization. Manor clans were often succeeded even by people of different surnames. As a result of the very different ways in which Qing power shaped banner and commoner societies, society in north China, especially in Zhili, developed differently from south China. Complex corporate and property-owning lineages did not emerge in the north. In Eight Banner society it would have been difficult to form a strong lineage. The Eight Banners system itself thus had a decisive impact on the rural grassroots organization of the region, which previous scholarship has assumed to be simply "Chinese" through to the twentieth century. The social and economic organization of the Bannermen thus offers a unique perspective for exploring grassroots rural society, ethnic relations, state rule and other issues of Qing history.

Journal of History and Anthropology