2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 168: Civilizing Projects in Late Imperial and Contemporary Southwest China: Responses to Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam in Yunnan and Guizhou

Organizer: Jodi L. Weinstein, Yale University

Chair and Discussant Charles McKhann, Whitman College

Keywords: China, Christianity, Confucianism, Guizhou, Islam, Miao, missionaries, Yi history and culture, Yunnan.

A civilizing project, as described in Stevan Harrell’s seminal 1995 essay, is an inherently unequal interaction in which one group, the civilizing center, claims a superior degree of civilization and undertakes to elevate the civilization of a peripheral group.1 The four papers in this panel examine the ways in which the peoples of Yunnan and Guizhou have interpreted, adapted, and challenged the legitimizing rhetoric of Confucian, Christian, and Islamic civilizing projects.

Jacob Whittaker’s study of a sixteenth-century Yi-language statecraft primer shows how Yi literati adapted the Confucian civilizing project to create a civilizing project that benefited Yi lords rather than the Ming state. Drawing on archival documents, Jodi Weinstein suggests that some individuals in eighteenth-century Guizhou selected elements of the Qing civilizing mission and incorporated them into a repertoire of resistance strategies. Daniel Crofts uses missionary archives to examine the lure of Christianity for the Hua Miao in early twentieth-century Guizhou, finding that Protestant missionaries struggled to reconcile their original aims in China with the customs and creative Biblical interpretations of their unlikely converts. Kevin Caffrey’s fieldwork on Muslims in contemporary Yunnan reveals that despite government fears, the ongoing Islamic civilizing project in that province is by no means a threat to the Chinese state or Chinese civilization.

The panelists, including three historians and two anthropologists, commit themselves to stimulating active discussion. In particular, we hope to explore the extent to which civilizing centers can claim hegemony when the objects of their civilizing projects create alternative sources of civilizational legitimacy.

1 Stevan Harrell, "Civilizing Projects and the Reaction to Them," in Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers, ed. Harrell (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 3–36.

Indigenizing the "Confucian Civilizing Project" in Ming Southwest China: The Development of a Yi Epistemology and Educational Philosophy in the Canon of Yi and Han Teachings

Jacob T. Whittaker, University of California, Davis

Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Ming officialdom in Southwest China increasingly penetrated the indigenous polities ruled by native officials. Historians have viewed this group as the main agents of what Stevan Harrell has termed a "Confucian civilizing project."1 Less well explored are the ways in which indigenous elites engaged this civilizing project and shaped it to their own ends. In this paper, I examine the internal debates provoked by increasing Ming penetration among one indigenous ethnic group, the Yi.2 The Canon of Yi and Chinese Teachings (Ne-Sha mo-mi), a sixteenth-century Yi-language statecraft primer, reveals the compromises, innovations, and adaptations through which different segments of the Yi elite attempted to profit from the changes engendered by increasing contact with the Chinese. While much of its text suggests a Confucian imprint and in places explicitly links its own authority to that of Confucius, the Canon does not merely translate Confucian ideas into Yi. Instead, the Canon justifies innovation in terms of the historical precedents revealed in Yi lore, which it claims was first transmitted orally by the pe-maw ritual specialists, and then recorded by itinerant scholar-ministers who invented Yi writing and spread learning among the Yi polities of Southwest China. I argue that the epistemology and educational philosophy evident in the Canon of Yi and Chinese Teachings reveals that a segment of the Yi elite adapted tools from the "Confucian civilizing project" to create an "Yi civilizing project" dedicated to spreading values advantageous to Yi lords and not the Chinese state.

1 Stevan Harrell, "Introduction: Civilizing Projects and the Reaction to Them," in Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers, ed. Harrell (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 3–36.

2 I am using the familiar modern ethnonym "Yi" here as an approximation for the Ming group that called themselves "Ne"—there is considerable continuity between the Ne and the core groups that comprise today’s Yi, but the group boundaries are not identical.

Fostering a Culture of Resistance: Local Reactions to the Qing Civilizing Project in Eighteenth-Century Guizhou

Jodi L. Weinstein, Yale University

The first century of Qing rule brought an unprecedented degree of imperial control to western Guizhou (the prefectures of Guiyang, Anshun, Dading, and Nanlong). During the Yongzheng reign (1722–1735), local officials deposed hereditary native leaders (tusi) and reorganized their domains into regular government units. An explicit civilizing project accompanied these efforts at administrative consolidation. Qing authorities hoped that through education and moral suasion, Guizhou’s many non-Chinese peoples would embrace Confucian culture.

Drawing on archival sources, my paper examines local responses to this project. I argue that far from achieving its aims, the Qing civilizing mission provided discontented members of society with ammunition against the state. Guizhou’s rugged terrain prevented the mission from reaching many inhabitants, and those it did reach were selective in adapting its rudiments. Symbols of imperial authority and Qing official culture apparently held more appeal than lessons on Confucian morality. When planning Guizhou’s frequent insurrections, rebel leaders often combined these symbols with indigenous traditions, engendering a culture of resistance.

This paper seeks to engage the current historiography on Guizhou, which often overstates the dominance of the Qing state and the subordinate status of the province’s indigenous populations. I aim to portray the peoples of western Guizhou not as subjects of a hegemonic state, but as actors with creative resources. Following Peter Perdue’s comments on Qing ambitions in Central Asia, I further propose that Qing rule in Guizhou might be viewed not as a monopolization of cultural and political space, but rather a "hegemonic project with incomplete results."1

1 Peter C. Perdue, "Military Mobilization in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century China, Russia, and Mongolia," Modern Asian Studies 30, 4 (1996): 788.

The Hei Miao, the Hua Miao, and the Protestant "Civilizing Project" in Early-Twentieth-Century Guizhou

Daniel W. Crofts, College of New Jersey

Protestant missionaries first reached Guizhou in the 1870s. Twenty years later, they could claim few converts. The Han Chinese in this remote province clung to the beliefs and practices of Confucianism, unwilling to relinquish everything that distinguished them from unassimilated tribal populations. Consequently, some missionaries decided to extend their work to non-Han groups, namely the Black (Hei) Miao of eastern and southeastern Guizhou and the Big Flowery (Hua) Miao of the northwest. Drawing on a variety of missionary sources, this paper compares the Protestant "civilizing project" among the three groups. I shall attempt to formulate an explanation for the extraordinary level of Protestant success among the Hua Miao.

For many Hua Miao, the Christian faith provided an intoxicating alternative to Confucian civilization, which they rejected. The missionaries also promoted medical care, educational opportunities, and economic development heretofore unknown in this neglected part of the Qing Empire. Though delighted by the religious ardor of the Hua Miao, missionaries faced several conundrums. They could not condone the heavy liquor consumption that marked many local festivals, nor could they turn a blind eye to what they viewed as extreme promiscuity among the younger people. A struggle to confront "drunkenness and immorality" and to cultivate a "new-born sense of shame"1 ensued. More fundamentally, missionaries hoped that a Christian China might take shape through the conversion or transformation of individuals. What were they to do when these individuals interpreted Christian history through their own experiences, so that "the wicked Chinese killed Jesus"?2

1 Sam Pollard, The Story of the Miao (London: Henry Books, 1919), 35 69–79, quotations on 35, 71–73.

2 "The Hwa Miao New Testament," in China’s Millions, North American Edition, Aug. 1921, 117.

"Chinese-Muslim" Agency in Confucian Structure: A Hui Civilizing Project Situated

Kevin Caffrey, University of Chicago

The Hui in Yunnan are a Muslim people historically narrated back to the Tang dynasty with "Muslims in China" becoming "Chinese Muslims" somewhere along the line. An anthropology of these "marginal" Yunnanese finds that it is always local agents who incorporate larger orders and global influences into their own cosmological worlds rather than themselves being incorporated into those outside orders. And yet, fear of outside influence there drives much social policy and practice towards the Hui. Among these fears is official alarm that global Islam might negatively influence Yunnan—a potentiality sometimes narrated as a confrontation between Chinese civilization and Islam.

This paper will argue that there is a "Hui Civilizing Project" in Yunnan, and that much support for it does come from outside, but also that the situation does not justify the "clashing civilizations" view. Using ethnographic data, I argue that Hui traditional social position, occupations, and practices suggest that their "Civilizing Project" is as much Chinese as it is Muslim. Being different from the "Chinese or Confucian Civilizing Project," Hui Civilizing serves the Hui rather than the center—a dynamic necessary in imperial formations. Hui civilization is then not "Muslim" but "Chinese Muslim," and revelatory incidents from funerals, structures of religious training networks, and other forms of interconnected exchange show how the Hui alternative to Chinese Civilizing is not, as fear-mongers suggest, a challenge to the state. The Hui Civilizing Project is rather a project of positional consolidation within a uniquely arranged imperial nation-state.