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Chapter One Introduction The Moral Excellence of Loving the Group
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The Idea of Native Place

Identity and Connection with the Native Place . The Chinese language contains a variety of expressions for the concept of native place. Terms such as jiguan, sangzi, laojia, yuanji , and guxiang , which abound in Chinese records and literature, translate variously as birthplace, hometown, native place and ancestral home. The concept of native place was a critical component of personal identity in traditional China, and geographic origin was generally the first matter of inquiry among strangers, the first characteristic recorded about a person (after name and pseudonyms), and the first fact to be ascertained regarding individuals coming before the law.[4]

For immigrants who sought a living in Shanghai, native-place identity expressed both spiritual linkage to the place where their ancestors


were buried and living ties to family members and community. These ties were most frequently economic as well as sentimental, for local communities assisted and sponsored individual sojourners, viewing them as economic investments for the community. Both religious and economic practices depended on the assumption that the traveler's identity would not change along with his place of residence, that changes of residence were only temporary, and the traveler would return to his native place regularly on ritual occasions, and finally, upon his death.[5] These beliefs were not altered by a residence that lasted several generations. Children of immigrants who were born in places of "temporary residence" similarly did not acquire a new native-place identity but instead inherited the native place of their fathers or grandfathers. In practice, insofar as possible, immigrants returned home for marriage, mourning, retirement and burial. Moreover, throughout their period away, they sent money back to their native place, expressing their family and geographic loyalties in flows of remittance.

Because of these patterns of belief and practice, urban immigration


in China was perceived as sojourning and did not involve a fundamental change of identity. Immigrant communities in Shanghai referred to themselves as "Ningbo sojourners in Shanghai" (lü Hu Ningboren ) or "Guangdong lodgers in Shanghai" (yü Hu Guangdongren ). These labels stress the fundamental nature of native-place identity, even as they recognize the sojourners' location in Shanghai. The labels also suggest the hybrid nature of sojourners' identities: while linked to both Shanghai and their native places, once sojourning, they were not purely of their native place, nor could they simply adopt their locational identity (Shanghai).

For individual sojourners the maintenance of elaborate ties with their native place was an ideal which could only be fully achieved by the wealthy.[6] Nonetheless, all but the most impoverished sojourners tried regularly to visit their homes, even when their villages were distant. This included members of secret societies and criminal gangs. Reporting on the January plunder of a pawnshop by a Guangdong gang as well as attacks on wealthy households in the Shanghai suburb of Gaoqiao (on the east bank of the Huangpu River), the North China Herald of January 23, 1858, noted that this was the season when Cantonese were about to return to their native province for the Chinese new year, "the Scoundrels thereby laying in a stock of clothing and money for their new year dissipations and absconding with impunity."

It was most critical for sojourners to return to their native place for burial. Chinese death ritual required that the dead be buried in ancestral soil and that tablets for the deceased be installed in the family altar, so that their spirits could enjoy the comforts of home and the sacrifices and solicitude of later generations.[7] Nonetheless, the cost of shipping a coffin safely home could be prohibitive. To avert the tragedy of burial away from native soil, native-place associations assisted less able fellow-provincials in achieving the goal of home burial. The associations also


established graveyards in Shanghai for sojourning fellow-provincials entirely lacking in means. Many of these burials were considered temporary, pending shipment home. Similarly, buildings were erected in Shanghai for the temporary storage of coffins until they could be shipped back to the native place, and funds were collected within the native-place community to assist with building expenses. Foreign travelers in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently observed the shipment of corpses in heavy, hermetically sealed coffins, expressing adherence to the ideal in practice. Large-scale temporary storage of coffins, contact with cemeteries in the native place, coordination of transportation, and the underwriting of coffin transportation expenses were continual and important areas of huiguan activity.[8]

Separation and Suffering . The act of sojourning stimulated both the cultivation of native-place sentiment and linkage among fellow-provincials. Mutual ties developed and intensified as fellow-countrymen traveled beyond their native place, leaving the special way of speaking and the unique forms of dried tofu or sweet cakes of their village; passing through neighboring counties with still comprehensible dialects and recognizable dishes; and arriving finally in strange places where words were unfamiliar and palatable food was difficult to find. Both the tongxiang (fellow-provincial) bond and the nostalgic recreation of the native place were sojourner responses to separation from the native place and the hardship that such separation was perceived to entail.

The suffering that sojourning entailed was a frequently evoked literary theme. Few literate Chinese would not have been familiar with Li Bai's famous poem:

The moon shines on my bed brightly
So that I mistake it for frost on the ground.


I gaze at the moonlight with head lifted;
Now my head droops and I think of my native place.[9]

Immigrants separated from their native place were not merely nostalgic, they believed they suffered physically and spiritually from the separation. In a letter to the Shanghai newspaper, Shenbao , the Xiangshan writer "Rong Yangfu" (a pseudonym) defended the integrity of people from his native place in the province of Guangdong, who had been maligned in a previous article. He began by describing the richness of Xiangshan intellectual traditions, evidenced by the famous Huang and Zheng families which had produced eighteen generations of Xiangshan scholars. Then, in order to account for the existence of disreputable Xiangshan prostitutes in Shanghai, he argued that because of their separation from their native place, the moral character of these individuals had deteriorated and they were no longer really Xiangshan people. They may have been born in Xiangshan, but they had become impure in the polluting atmosphere of Shanghai: "How is it that none speak the Xiangshan dialect? The reason is that they were kidnapped young from Xiangshan to serve in Shanghai in these despicable professions. Moreover, when they came to this foreign place they drank the water and ate the food, and their language changed. Their hearts also changed."[10]

For Rong and his audience, native-place identity derived as much from the food and water of the native place as from the culture and dialect—in fact, the intake of foreign food resulted in linguistic and even spiritual destruction. In the sojourning condition, native-place identity was invoked less as a birthright than as a delicate plant which demanded constant cultivation.

Expressions of the importance of connection with the native place for the living were mirrored in the spiritual realm. There were two types of huiguan: yang huiguan , for the living; and yin huiguan , for the dead. Serving the dead in the manner that yang huiguan served the living, yin huiguan were built in burial grounds where they housed coffins, comforting and uniting the sojourning souls.[11]

Even gods who were away from their native place were believed to


suffer. In cities outside Fujian, figures of the Fujianese goddess Tianhou (Empress of Heaven) were carried to the local Fujian huiguan to be ritually reunited with their native soil.[12]

Sojourners' Constructions of Native-Place Community. Huiguan were nodal points in a system of formal and informal native-place coalitions which marked the urban landscape, and they are therefore a major focus of this study. Because they bore native-place labels, brought together sojourners in various activities and represented the "face" of different native-place communities, they were crucial sites for the construction of a positive idea of native-place identity and community for their sojourning populations. This development of community relied on financial resources and networks of influence in the city, resources which motivated the development of patron-client tics connecting poorer sojourners to a sojourning elite. Groups without the means to construct native-place associations tended to have weaker identification with fellow sojourners in Shanghai and weaker notions of native-place identity.

Sojourners established huiguan to create a supportive home environment in an alien city as well as to symbolically assert the importance of their sojourning community.[13] Formal association began with the construction of a temple for local gods and burial-grounds or coffin repositories for sojourners. Through their connection with religious life and critical ritual moments in the lives of sojourners, associations maintained native-place ties and sentiment over long periods in foreign environments, contributing to the organization of trade and safeguarding native-place business or trade interests. These associations played a formative role in organizing what might be called the "raw materials" of native-place sentiment—dialect and the local practices people brought with them into the city—and reformulating them into an urban representation of native-place community.

Native-place sentiment and organization in the sojourning community worked in the manner of a large kin organization. The number of


actual kin sojourning in a city could rarely be large enough to constitute a powerful organizational base. The tongxiang tie had the advantage of encompassing a significantly larger group, subsuming within it kin ties.[14]Huiguan directors consciously reinforced the linkages between their associations and actual organized lineages through the institution of the worship of deceased huiguan directors. The spirit tablets of these former directors (xiandong shenwei ) served the role of huiguan ancestral tablets.[15]

Although sojourners at most levels of society coalesced into native-place groups, only communities with sufficient capital could undertake the construction of the large buildings and burial complexes that characterized fully developed native-place associations. Within each city, the native place was reconstituted according to the size and stature of the sojourning urban community. If sojourners from one province were sufficiently numerous and wealthy, they formed several prefectural-level (sometimes even county-level) associations. Where sojourners were more scarce, they formed provincial-level associations and even associations of people from adjacent provinces. Thus, for instance, a person in Shanghai from Huilai county, in Chaozhou prefecture (Guangdong), belonged to the Chao-Hui Huiguan (representing the two counties of Chaoyang and Huilai), one of several associations serving the relatively large population of Chaozhou sojourners. In Suzhou, by contrast, as the Guangdong community grew smaller over the course of the nineteenth century, the originally separate Chaozhou association merged with the Liangguang association, which represented the two provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi.

The variability of association names and degrees of territorial inclusiveness in different cities has led some scholars to question the real importance of the native-place idea in social organization.[16] Evidence from Shanghai of contact among associations in different cities representing overlapping native-place areas suggests that, in fact, such flexibility was an active tactic facilitating the maintenance of native-place


communities. Although it is certain that native-place associations reflected practical as well as sentimental imperatives, it would be a mistake to imagine that sentiment (as opposed to instrumentality) was secondary in the nature and activities of these associations. First, there were definite limits to the flexibility of the concept. Although the native-place unit could expand to encompass adjacent prefectures and even provinces, it was normally unthinkable that northerners and southerners, for instance, or people from nonadjacent provinces would organize together in a single huiguan . Second, study of the broad compass of associational activity (as opposed to a limited functionalist view which sees native-place ties as tools of economic self-interest) makes dear an inextricable interweaving of religious practice, economics, taste, habit, and other cultural meanings. Finally, and most important, it is critical to recognize that (however flexible the native-place idea was in practice) communities in the city nonetheless constructed themselves symbolically in reference to a unit of place, a "placeness" which provided a basis not simply for individual identity but also for connections among people. The impulse to organize on the basis of place is epitomized by the Pudong Tongxianghui, a native-place association in Shanghai formed by local people who were not actually sojourners.

The construction of organized communities and institutions of fellow-provincials meant that the native-place identity of sojourners linked them not only to their native place but also to their reconstituted native-place community in Shanghai. This resulted in a kind of doubling of gestures. The wealthy maintained face in both communities, funding charitable works among fellow-sojourners in Shanghai and for fellow-provincials at home. Similarly, birthdays and other celebrations were held in both places. Upon his father's sixtieth birthday, for instance, the wealthy Xiangshan businessman Xu Run demonstrated his filial piety by constructing congratulatory "longevity halls" (shoutang ) in both Shanghai and Xiangshan. Thus an understanding of the nature of native-place sentiment in Shanghai must comprehend the re-creation of the native-place community in Shanghai.[17]

Because Shanghai huiguan often established regular communication with huiguan in other cities representing the same native place, it is also possible to speak of the creation (despite the apparent contradiction) of a third, interurban, level of native-place community on the national


level. This seemingly paradoxical creation of national communities out of native-place tics was a critical element in the modern transformations of native-place community. Although the grouping together of fellow-provincials segmented cities internally, it also resulted in the transcendence of urban borders, integrating urban centers into larger interurban networks of fellow-provincials. Sojourning Guangdong merchants in Shanghai were in dose touch with sojourning fellow-provincials in other ports where they maintained business interests. In several cases, stronger and wealthier Shanghai huiguan directed the activities of smaller and weaker ones. The Shanghai Chaozhou Huiguan, for instance, often directed the affairs of the Suzhou Chaozhou Huiguan. The Siming Gongsuo, or Ningbo Huiguan, maintained close contact with Ningbo groups in other cities and oversaw and coordinated activities on a multiport scale.

The potentially national scope of native-place communities is confirmed by the example of the Hu She, an association formed by sojourners from Huzhou (Zhejiang). The Hu She was explicitly established in 1924 on a national basis, with its central headquarters in Shanghai and branch offices in Nanjing, Wuhan, Suzhou and Jiaxing, among other cities. The existence of formally and informally constituted national so-journing networks highlights the paradox of "local" native-place ties as they functioned historically. Although it might be imagined that native-place sentiment was necessarily localistic and parochial, the existence of multiple levels of native-place community meant that in practice the horizons of native-place sentiment could range from the provincialism of the native place, to more cosmopolitan Shanghai urban awareness, to deep involvement in national issues.[18]

The Native Place and China . Although Chinese commentators understood native-place sentiment to be natural, they also described it as virtuous and "morally excellent," as illustrated by the quotation which begins this chapter. The virtue of native-place sentiment lay


in its groundedness in a larger political ideology which deepened the rationale for native-place ties and gave them broader and extralocal significance. Love for the native place was virtuous because it helped to constitute and strengthen the larger political polity of China. Native-place sentiment was vulnerable (as suggested by the second quotation) if it was not attached to this larger ideal. Therefore the leaders of native-place organizations in the nineteenth century legitimized their associations not through appeals to nature or to utility but through reference to Chinese identity.

For most of the nineteenth century the ideological connection between native-place identity and Chinese identity was grounded in quasi-Confucian ideas of concentric circles of cultural and territorial identity. This rationale for the establishment of native-place associations is reflected in a statement of the origin of the Shanghai Guang-Zhao Huiguan (Guangzhou and Zhaoqing prefectures, Guangdong):

China is made up of prefectures and counties and these are made up of native villages, [and the people of each] make a concerted effort to cooperate, providing mutual help and protection. This gives solidarity to village, prefecture and province and orders the country. Since [ancient agrarian harmony deteriorated], merchants have increasingly sojourned in distant places, living with people not from their native village, county or prefecture, and they have different senses of native-place feeling. Thus people from the same village, county and prefecture gather together in other areas, making them like their own native place. This is the reason for the establishment of huiguan . This is the ancestors' way of expressing affection for later generations. Shanghai is first under heaven for commerce, and the gentry and officials of our two Guangdong prefectures of Guangzhou and Zhaoqing are more numerous here than merchants from other places. [Therefore we established a huiguan .][19]

Such statements, which resembled in structure the concentric logic of the Confucian text "The Great Learning" (Daxue ), also served strategic purposes, defusing threats both from the state and from hostile locals in Shanghai who would view the establishment of an outsiders' huiguan with suspicion. Given the hostility of the Qing state toward private associations, this statement, like others of its type, invoked Confucian values as a means of providing legitimacy to the organization by linking local


solidarity to the order of the polity (leaving the commercial advantages of association unstated). Similarly, such statements stressed a common orthodoxy which could be shared by people from different places, help-hag to dispel perceptions that sojourners were utterly foreign. In this regard, native-place associations brought with them into the city a language of common Chinese identity, even as they served as powerful markers of cultural difference among different Chinese groups.

The Chinese elites, reformers, and community leaders who articulated ideological connections between the native place and the larger political entity of China would, over time, abandon their invocation of Confucian values and take on the rhetoric of modern Chinese nationalism. In the process, their use of native-place sentiment and organizations would both reflect and help to define the urban development of Chinese nationalism.

previous chapter
Chapter One Introduction The Moral Excellence of Loving the Group
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