1. The Ancestors who Founded the Village
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13 There are three different stories about how Cave Gully was founded. Many people will tell you that the village began when a foreign missionary settled there, but the Duan and Wu families both claim that their ancestors were the first to arrive, some eight generations ago, and that they settled land occupied only by abandoned tombs. The ancestor of the Wu family is said to have come from a nearby village called Wu Family Cliff. Like many poor people, he made his living pushing coal down from the hills in a barrow to sell to the people of the plains villages. His wife used to bring him lunch, which he ate at the foot of the hills where a stream flowed out onto the plain. After a while he saw that the land was abandoned, so he planted some crops, and when some of his crops were stolen he put up a hut so he could stay overnight to keep watch. Eventually he and his family moved to the site. The Duan family say that their ancestors came from Mu Family Village in nearby Qingyuan county and did business in Beijing where two brothers, Duan Tianhe and Duan Wanhe, converted to Christianity. When the brothers came back home they were persecuted by their neighbors, so they left the village to found a new settlement. They arrived as traveling doctors and built a fourroom cave dwelling, which gave the new village its name of Cave Gully. The Duan provide evidence for their early arrival by saying that the original cave dwelling survived until recently and must have dated back to the Ming because the chimney was built into the wall, as the Ming emperor decreed for commoners, rather than outside as was done later. chapter 1 The Ancestors Who Founded the Village 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 13 9780520273115_PRINT.indd 13 27/04/13 3:46 PM 27/04/13 3:46 PM 14 | The Ancestors Who Founded the Village They say that when this building was recently demolished to make way for a new highway, a picture of an angel (or maybe Jesus, the accounts vary) was found under the plaster on the wall.1 Stories like these about the first ancestor of a family to settle in a community are common across China and can give us important insights into a village’s history. This does not mean that all the events in them took place exactly as described: the stories of the Duan and Wu families disagree about which family arrived first, there is no evidence for a Ming dynasty chimney regulation, and the wall painting has not been seen in living memory. On the other hand several elements have been part of the stories told by many Catholic families in this area since at least the nineteenth century and are important for understanding their history. Firstly, conversion to Christianity marked a new beginning for the family, who now remember their history starting with the ancestor who converted. Secondly, the people who converted had left their homes: they were merchants who joined the religion in Beijing or migrants founding a new community. Thirdly, and most surprisingly, there are no missionaries in the stories.2 Eight generations takes us back to the eighteenth century. At that time Cave Gully was far from any centers of missionary activity. So why did families there join this new religion? What did it mean to them? And why did it then matter so much that they remember this event as the beginning of their family history? Some time after the first conversions, when Cave Gully had grown to eight families and we meet its villagers in the archives for the first time, they were willing to suffer flogging rather than renounce their religion. To understand why, we need to know what it was that they believed and practiced and how it reached them. It was at the intersection of two great trading systems that Shanxi people first encountered Christianity. The province is shaped by river systems that wind through uplands and mountains between the Mongolian steppe in the north and the ancient Chinese heartlands of the Yellow River in the south (see map 1). For centuries the Mongols were a major military power, a constant threat to the Chinese state, and Shanxi was the corridor to the Mongol frontier. Beginning in the fourteenth century , merchants selling provisions to the frontier armies were paid with certificates allowing them to trade salt under a government monopoly. This...