- Emperor and Ancestor: State and Lineage in South China
For some books, reading the review is enough; a brief synopsis and a sense of how the reviewed work fits into the wider scholarly literature are all one has time to absorb anyway. For other books, the review only needs to say one thing: read this book. David Faure's masterpiece falls into the latter category. A short review cannot do it justice; for a full review, I refer the reader to John Lagerwey's review essay ("State and Local Society in Late Imperial China" in T'oung Pao, vol. 93, 2007, pp. 459–479). Here I only briefly discuss what the book sets out to do and how that contributes to the wider field.
Faure's argument is deceptively simple. The single-surname village, where all members trace their descent to a common ancestor, was a construct as well as [End Page 242]the functional reality that Maurice Freedman made it out to be, intended to integrate local society and the central state. This construct or "aspiration" (p. 11) appeared as the dominant organizational feature in south China during the Jiajing period (1520s to 1550s) and disappeared again in the twentieth century. The first part of the book charts how this lineage society could come into being. Beginning with the earliest records available for the area of his focus (the Pearl River Delta, and particularly the town of Foshan) in the Tang, Faure demonstrates the slow impact of Neo-Confucianism on the organization of society from the Southern Song and on the introduction of the lijia, not so much as the state intended it (as a population record) but as a land registry that facilitated the collection of taxes, especially when the Single Whip reforms converted all levies and corvee duties to a single monetary payment. Here lies the crux of Faure's contribution: his work shows that the ritual performance of lineage, with its ancestral halls and genealogies, made it possible for the locality to be part of the central state. The representation of lineage in our sources, in other words, reveals the official, legitimizing agenda of the state.
Faure's work makes a contribution to the field of late imperial history in the widest possible sense, in part through the presentation of meticulous and detailed research at the local level (although at times the level of detail makes it hard for the reader to grasp its link with the overarching argument of the book) and in part by proposing a way of reading the local in the context of the late imperial state and a way of understanding how the local was co-opted for the purposes of the central state. If this study of the Pearl River Delta does not claim to provide a blueprint for all of China, it does offer a way of doing local history: gathering the types of documents he has used here (including steles, privately held genealogies, contracts) and reading them with a critical awareness of the ways in which those sources reflect "the process by which the imperial state was formed" (p. 367).
In Jizhou (or Ji'an, as this part of Jiangxi became known from the Ming dynasty onward), I found Song and Yuan dynasty literati writing about local temples in an attempt to construct a local identity that fit with the imperial vision of the place of local communities. By the fifteenth century, the literati focus shifted away from temples for local gods towards the institutions associated with lineage society such as inscriptions for newly built lineage halls and prefaces for new editions of genealogical compilations. (See Ji'an Literati and the Local in Song-Yuan Ming China, Brill, 2007.) Faure's work provides a way of fitting such local developments into an empire-wide narrative and recognizing its significance for the integration of Jizhou/Ji'an into the ideological structures of the imperial state. In that sense, Faure's contribution goes beyond China to offer valuable insights to any historian of localities and regions. Rather...