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Vol. 6, No. 1 Late Imperial ChinaJune 1985 KUO-LU: A SWORN-BROTHERHOOD ORGANIZATION IN SZECHWAN Cheng-yun Liu* Long before the outbreak of the White Lotus Rebellion in 1796, a bandit organization known as the Kuo-lu rampaged through the eastern part of Szechwan and the mountainous areas of Hupeh and Shensi provinces . Although their power never grew strong enough to challenge the provincial authorities, the Chien-lung Emperor was very much concerned with their activities. Throughout the Ch'ien-lung period (17361795 ), local officials were under great pressure to destroy the Kuo-lu. Yet they somehow survived and remained active throughout the nineteenth century even as more elaborate organizations such as the T'ien-ti hui and the Ko-lao hui proliferated. Some historians have argued that the Ko-lao hui was derived from the Kuo-lu, mainly on the ground that both used similar terms to designate their group and leaders (Liu 1983). Nevertheless, the aim of this article is not to explore the connection between the Kuo-lu and the Ko-lao hui, but to study the Kuo-lu itself: to look at why people formed the Kuo-lu, who joined it, and how and where they conducted their activities. The Kuo-lu was an example of sworn brotherhood, which was also the basis of the more elaborate organizations like the Ko-lao hui and other secret societies. I would argue that the sworn brotherhood provided criteria of membership that enabled socially marginal men to survive outside the traditional networks of kinship, territorial, and occupational groups. In other words, the Kuo-lu was a kind of mutual assistance organization for those deprived of other help. I believe that this view may also explain why such secret societies as the Ko-lao hui flourished in the nineteenth century. *I would like to thank Professors Evelyn S. Rawski, Cho-yun Hsu, and Rubie Watson, all of the University of Pittsburgh, and the editors of this journal for their comments and editorial assistance. 56 Kuo-lu: A Sworn-Brotherhood Organization in Szechwan57 To study the Kuo-lu, I rely heavily upon memorials collected from the Ch'ing Archives in Taipei,1 mostly confessions of convicted Kuo-lu based on an investigation in 1781. This investigation appears to have been carried out with special diligence and intensity, for a rash of official reports poured into the court within a period of four months. These sudden official efforts to pursue the Kuo-lu were largely due to the Ch'ien-lung Emperor's personal interest. Alarmed by the upsurge of Kuo-lu activities, the emperor repeatedly ordered officials in Hunan, Hupeh, Kweichow, and Szechwan seriously to look into the problem, for he was afraid that these might lead to rebellion.2 The Governor-General of Szechwan, Wen Shou, was even demoted and then relieved from his position for failing to follow these orders seriously.3 This was obviously a warning to others. Using these archival materials, I have reconstructed the activities of 59 Kuo-lu bands although not all these cases are well covered. This data set is the main source of my statistical analysis.4 The Veritable Records (Shih-lu) and contemporary accounts are also used to complement the archival materials especially for the period after 1795, when official reports on the Kuo-lu are relatively scarce in the Taipei archives. The following analysis is therefore divided into two parts; the major part is concerned with the Kuo-lu during the Ch'ien-lung period; a second briefer section deals with the Kuo-lu in the nineteenth century. 'The Archives contain more than one million official documents, including record books, gazetteers, biographical packets, routine memorials, and palace memorials. Among them, the most relevant to this study are palace memorials, which were reports sent directly to the emperor from provincial governors, high ranking local officials and officers, and special envoys to the emperor. Local disturbances were always a favored subject in the memorials. Much information on the date, locations, names of leaders, and forms of action can thus be retrieved from the memorials. For a brief introduction to the Ch'ing Archives in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, see Chuang...