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Chinese Secret Societies in the XII-XI Centurles_. t Study of Chinese society during the Qing dynasty has suffered in the past from the fact that, with a few notable exception» such as the Nian, it has been the study of the Chinese •»establishment" (scholars, ofiielals, military leaders), of the elites. Hummel' s biographical dictionary, oespite its very great usefulness, is ratfear typical of this mandarin-minded approach. But the other side of the social atreas, the forces at work against the established order, are just as important. Chinese secret societies are crucial in this respect. They are constantly mentioned in manj books and articles, but merely mentioned. Whatever the difficulties involved, they certainly deserve a more systematic and moie objective study. It is not enough to call them "superstitious organizations", ?? say that "led by shrefd and opportunistic rascals, these destitute and ignorant farmers began to stage rista and commit robberies" (Hummel, ? 407). At the 17th International Conference of Chinese Studies, at Bordeaux. September 1964 (formerly the so-celled "Junior Sinologues8' the modern history section decided tt take up this question as a central theme for the next meeting at Leeds ir July 1965«. Several papers arid contributions have been prepare! : in England: secret societies and tht Tai ping secret societies and the Xin-hai revolution m francs; the social basis of the Borer movement the Hunghuzi of Northern Enchuria the secret societies and ti» labor mi vement the Red Spears and the Komi it e m the secret societies in Mao 7,i-dong'3 writings a tentative list of 20th cent try Chinese leaders who have been connected with secret societies in Japan: a survey of Japanese works on the secret soeieties. Russian contributions are also expected. It is hoped that after the Leeds Conference these contributions might be expanded and footnoted by their authors, that they might be supplemented by contributions from scholars in other countries, and that the materials then be published as a book. In addition to research articles, the book might also include bibliographical surveys (original materials, Russian studies, Japanese studies etc) and also translations of significant documents not easily available. The approach to the study of the secret societies will be historical much more than ethnographical. It is of course useful to collect data on the ritual», the symbols, the secret gestures; but we are more concerned with their real position in Chinese social and political life, such as: - their social basis. The rank-and-file, peasants on the one hana but also destitute soldiers, boatmen and other migrant or uprooted elements* The leaders and cadres, smugglers, handicraft workers, semi-educated people, more generally marginal elements of the rural society, not engaged in agricultural production. Some leaders seem also to have been very rich people, for whom these illegal activitie were profitable, a contribution to the process of primitive capital accumulation. - their ideology. Religious syncretism, especially between taoisa and buddhism; the symbolic role of mountains, as opposed' to the wellruled lowlands; the ging legitimism; the primitive peasant anarchism directed against the rich; the tendency to replace the official order by another legal order of their own, a "legal order sui generis for the secret societies" (Françoise Aubin) . - their geographical distribution. The contrast between the -sects« (¿iao-aen) and the "societies- (hui-dansh the contrast between the societies working at a regional or tentatively national level, at a provincial level, at a# local level. - their political role. Against the foreigners (the Boxers are far from being an isolated case—cf. the ahyi-christian riots of 1891 under Ge-lao-hui leadership); against the Manehusj against the state local apparatus as such; against Japanese aggression ( whilst other societies like the Yi-guan-dao were pro-Japanese5 î against the labor and communist movement since 1927. This tentative list in itself already suggests that their role was a complex one. - their evolution. Prom a substitute for genuine political opposition (as A.Wylie described them in 18535 to sneer gangsterism (the thesis of Police Inspector Morgan, Triad Societies -in HoBg1 Kong). Or did the two aspects coexist for a long time? Some of these questions may not be answered easily, or may remain unanswered for a long...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 5-8
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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