- Empire and Identity in Guizhou: Local Resistance to Qing Expansion by Jodi L. Weinstein
Beginning in the eighteenth century, Qing rulers sought to establish direct administration over southwestern China by replacing the native chieftains or tusi with state officials, a process known as gaitu guiliu. In the past three decades, the accessibility of primary documents in both central and provincial archives and the recent publication of large numbers of Qing archives as well as ethnographic accounts have allowed historians to examine the dynamic interactions between the imperial center and ethnic frontiers, as the gaitu guiliu was implemented. Recent works, which focus on the indigenous response to Qing territorial sovereignty, include John Herman’s Amid the Clouds and Mist: China’s Colonization of Guizhou, 1200–1700 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); C. Patterson Giersch’s Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); and Jennifer Took’s A Native Chieftaincy in Southwest China: Franchising a Tai Chieftaincy under the Tusi System of Late Imperial China (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005).
The literature on state-indigenous interaction, however, primarily tells the story from the point of view of indigenous elites, rather than from that of the commoners. Weinstein’s book, which originated as a Yale University PhD dissertation, aims to fill this void by investigating the experience of the Zhongjia (nowadays, the Buyi), a Tai-speaking people that settled in central and southern Guizhou. In considering questions such as how the subordinated indigenous people reacted to the direct imperial rule in eighteenth century, this book places the Zhongjia commoners, rather than government agencies or indigenous elites, [End Page 208] at the center of inquiry. As such, it is an important and timely contribution to an expanding scholarship.
Weinstein finds that these commoners “employed the resources at their disposal to engage the state in a meaningful way and assert their own sense of identity” (p. 8). To explain the Zhongjia’s specific behavior in response to the state intervention, Weinstein employs Jean Michaud’s “livelihood approach” theory, which, in Weinstein’s words, focuses not only on “the activities that people use to make a living,” but also on “the social, ethnic, and religious resources at their disposal, and the decisions they make in view of local conditions and external forces” (p. 5). By applying the livelihood approach to Zhongjia history, Weinstein suggests that the Zhongjia made livelihood choices that best suited their economic and cultural needs, “rather than submit uncritically to the state’s demands” (p. 59).
This work consists of six chapters. In the introductory chapter, Weinstein reviews the literature on Qing territorial sovereignty and indigenous agency in southwest China and argues for the necessity of paying attention to the agency of commoners, by applying the livelihoods approach to study the “complex dynamic between state entities and local residents” (p. 7). The next chapter describes Guizhou’s natural environment and offers an introduction to Zhongjia history, culture, and socioeconomic organization. Weinstein draws on some ethnographic descriptions from the late imperial era, which portrayed the behavior of the Zhongjia as pragmatic and flexible. The reasons for the Zhongjia’s livelihood decisions, Weinstein suggests, lay partly in ecological conditions, whose harsh natural environment brought about tremendous social and economic consequences: unrelenting humidity leading to frequent epidemics, the picturesque karst topography producing little arable land, and the inability of the cultivated land to bear the burden of increasing population. At the same time, the Zhongjia had to share Guizhou’s fragile ecological space with a variety of peoples, namely the Lolo, Miao, and Han. Given its multiethnic landscape, the rulers of Yuan and Ming China extended their influence into the southwest frontier by consolidating the hereditary tusi offices, a means of indirect rule at the local level. Weinstein argues that the tradition of infrequent state intervention offered the local people the space to “pursue a wide range of livelihood choices” (p. 14).
The third chapter continues Weinstein’s discussion of...