In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews 225 and culture, works in Perth, Western Australia, as afreelance consultant and academic translator. REFERENCES A. C. Graham. Poems ofthe Late Tang. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965. Charles Hartman. Han Yu and the Tang Searchfor Unity. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986. David McMullen. State and Scholars in Tang China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Edwin G. Pulleyblank, "Neo-Confucianism and Neo-Legalism in T'ang Intellectual Life, 755805 ." In Arthur F. Wright, ed., The Confucian Persuasion, pp. 77-114. Stanford: Stanford University Press, i960. Michael Sullivan. Chinese Landscape Painting: The Sui and TangDynasties. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. David Ownby. Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in Early and Mid-Qing China: The Formation ofa Tradition. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. ix, 235 pp. Hardcover $39.50, isbn 0-8047-2651-5. Anyone who has ever had occasion to prepare a lecture on secret societies in Chinese history has probably also had occasion to fear the curious undergraduate who would ask, "So how did these secret societies get started, anyway?" If, like this reviewer, you might have responded with something like "Well, that's not entirely clear. . . ," then this new book by historian David Ownby belongs on your shelf—and indeed the shelfofanyone interested in local society and the state in the Qing. Written in a straightforward, unprepossessing style, Ownby's account ofthe origins ofthe Tiandihui (also known as the "Heaven and Earth Society" or the "Triads") and similar brotherhoods is an important contribution to the growing number ofarchives-based histories that move well beyond the old "primitive revolutionaries" paradigm to fundamentally reshape our idea ofwhat secret societies were and how they developed. This literature includes the essays in an earlier volume edited by Ownby and Mary Somers Heidhues, "Secret Societies" Reconsidered : Perspectives on the Social History ofEarlyModern South China and Southeast Asia (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1993), and Dian Murray's The Origins of the Tiandihui: The Chinese Triads in Legend and History (Stanford: Stanford Uni-© 1998 by University versityPress> *994)· ofHawai'iPressThe main argument ofthebook, nicelylaid out in the Introduction, is that secret societies were not originally organized for political or class action at all, but grew out of"brotherhoods" {hui, she, or yishe), mutual aid societies whose mem- 226 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 bers pooled resources to provide funds for funeral, wedding, and other expenses. Citing Japanese scholarship showing that brotherhoods had been around since at least the Tang and proliferated during the Ming, Ownby marshals evidence from his own research to reveal that the secret society variant of the named brotherhood emerged only in the early Qing in response to the increasingly populous, mobile, competitive, and violent society ofChina's southeast coast. The first secret societies could still be thought of as mutual aid societies—they just happened to offer a different type of aid: not monetary assistance, but physical protection from local enemies (as during property disputes) and, later, the state. Because this could involve real risk, rituals such as blood oaths were added to bind members together in fictive kinship. New brotherhoods acquired special names, founding myths, and secret passwords and hand signals, and some of the gods and trappings of popular religious worship were borrowed in a vaguely apocalyptic "repackaging of elements" intended to provide legitimacy and protection (pp. 58-61). Somewhere in this formative process—exactly when is not clear—secret societies acquired a political dimension. But Ownby suggests that anti-Qing sentiment was in fact an afterthought, probably owing to persistent state pressure and brutal suppression tactics such as mass arrests, the burning ofvillages, and largescale executions. An estimated 1,117 people were executed between 1788 and 1800 in connection with campaigns against secret societies, many in their native villages where their heads were stuck on posts as warnings to other would-be troublemakers (p. 125). Word ofthis sort of brutality got around, Ownby says. The unwitting publicity given to secret societies in the effort to extirpate them completely, and the failure of that effort, were crucial factors contributing to the politicization and spread of the Tiandihui (p. 117). Ownby concludes: "The Qing may not have been the Tiandihui's midwife, but it was certainly...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 225-229
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.