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Chapter Three Community, Hierarchy and Authority Elites and Non-elites in the Making of Native-Place Culture during the Late Qing
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Chapter Three
Community, Hierarchy and Authority
Elites and Non-elites in the Making of Native-Place Culture during the Late Qing

This chapter explores the dynamics of tongxiang community and the sources of huiguan authority in the late Qing. After the Small Sword Uprising, as Taiping and other refugees and immigrants swelled the population of Shanghai's sojourning communities, huiguan leaders extended the scope of huiguan activities, strengthening their connections with their communities (and their positions of power within them). Larger and more powerful huiguan came to rest on a broader economic base, as sojourners diversified their trade interests and carved out new occupational niches. Guangdong merchants, for example, reinvested much of their opium wealth in a multitude of new and less risky enterprises.[1] The areas of crude interdependence between wealthy huiguan leaders and non-elites, so visible and clumsily negotiated in the rough-and-tumble years of the early treaty port leading up to the Small Sword Uprising, change in the new social order of post-Taiping Shanghai. Huiguan directors of the 1860s and 1870s look considerably more respectable and sedate than did the adventurer-merchant huiguan leaders of the Small Sword period. They also transformed their huiguan , formulating new rules and procedures of association and en-


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compassing elite/non-elite interactions within rhetorical and symbolic strategies which linked disparate elements into more stable, hierarchical communities. These strategies underlay the activities that constituted, defined and maintained the tongxiang community.

Huiguan leaders maintained authority by cultivating the idea of broad tongxiang community, regularly enacting hierarchy and continuously working out alliances with various elements of the community. Without ritually affirming community and hierarchy, they would not have been able to maintain the perception of tongxiang bonds.

Huiguan Business and the Huiguan Oligarchy

On most days in late-nineteenth-century Shanghai the large huiguan buildings which architecturally symbolized community were nearly empty. Periodically a small and exclusive group, calling themselves "elders" (weng ), or "directors" (dongshi ), met together in a central room in the huiguan complex to discuss matters which came before them—social, political, religious and economic.

Surviving records from the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo suggest the nature and rhythms of affairs within the huiguan oligarchy. In 1872, in an atmosphere of regained wealth and respectability, twenty-four directors contributed to the reconstruction of the building. All were prominent Guangdong merchants, compradors or officials in Shanghai. Records from this year show that the directors met several times each week in the early evenings after business hours, arriving casually between 6:00 and 7:00 P.M. A small group of active directors, ranging from as few as three or four to as many as ten or fifteen, normally attended. Shanghai officials, if Cantonese, often attended huiguan meetings.[2]


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Through the last years of the Qing, a very small group controlled huiguan business. An 1897 discussion of protocols for use of the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo seal reveals this dearly. The seal was locked in an iron safe with two doors. Three keys fit the outer door, each kept by one director. The single fourth key, which opened the inner door, was held by a fourth director. Without the seal, of course, no documents could be signed and no financial transactions could take place.

It is sometimes assumed on the basis of collective decision making practices or fraternal rhetoric that nineteenth-century huiguan were sites of indigenous democratic practices.[3] Such a view should be tempered by recognition of the hierarchy embedded in huiguan practice. Huiguan rules stressed that individual sojourners did not have the right of access to the huiguan . Individuals who needed help were to go first to the leader of their regional subgroup. Without a letter of introduction from this intermediate authority, the gongsuo would not respond to an appeal. Individuals of good reputation who became implicated in lawsuits were instructed to attain a note of guarantee from a native-place shop.[4]

Even within the sojourning elite, the rhetoric of collective decision making that informed huiguan rules and record keeping concealed a practice of quietly coerced consensus, in which the most powerful members of the oligarchy determined the outcome of any decision. Year after year the same individuals appear in leadership roles. In the records, all decisions are unanimous. Discussion and dissent simply do not appear.[5]

In their meetings, the ciders/directors discussed a wide range of busi-


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ness, including disputes over individual and business debts; family inheritance cases; price fluctuations for various goods; company shareholder arrangements; purchase and rental of huiguan property; insults and affronts to friends, associates and other Guangdong sojourners; injury to property (including wives and concubines); shop disputes; customs fees; disputes over purchased concubines; collections to develop factories; hiring and payment for huiguan employees (guards, construction workers, water carriers, janitors); bankruptcies; apprentices; charitable collections. This list is deliberately random; huiguan records and meeting practice did not separate diverse concerns into different categories, nor did a specialized organizational personnel deal with different problems; the "elders" addressed whatever business came before them.

Business was introduced by directors themselves; by individuals with sufficient connections to contact the elders/directors; and by businesses or trades within the Guangdong sojourning community.[6] At times representatives from particular trades or shops attended the meetings to present cases, as in 1897, when directors of two subgroups in the oil trade came to the huiguan to resolve a dispute. At other times the directors used the huiguan as a court, dispatching investigators, summoning plaintiffs and accused before them and passing judgements. Such cases were resolved when the parties involved signed an agreement "in the gongsuo , in the presence of all." The meeting records spell out the terms of settlement in business and inheritance cases and are marked with signatures or fingerprints and crosses, the marks of the illiterate. Those sentenced to pay penalties or turn property over to business colleagues or family members affirmed their intent to pay "before the [huiguan ] god, with a pure heart" (zai shen qian qing xin ), the god's authority reinforcing that of the huiguan directors.[7]

Although the rules of the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo refer to huiguan


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business as gong shi (public or collective matters), private and public, personal and collective, were not clearly distinguished in practice during this period. Personal finances as well as business arrangements flowed through the mediating institution of the huiguan . Directors discussed their investments, invested together, and helped each other out in family and other business when one or another was out of Shanghai. Guangdong merchants and officials in other places contacted the Shanghai Guangdong merchants through the huiguan and asked them to handle various matters for them. Funds for private business transactions were often transferred through the huiguan . Payments for huiguan business, when large stuns were involved, would often combine the limited "common funds" with contributions and loans from individual directors.[8]

The concerns of sojourning workers do not frequently appear in the huiguan ledgers, which are densely packed with the property concerns of the sojourning elite. Nonetheless, strikes or pay disputes did periodically intrude on the business of the directors. At such moments it becomes possible to glimpse in action the types of bonds, beliefs and power relations which structured class relations within the tongxiang community.

The day-to-day concerns of artisans and workers were handled by artisan or worker native-place associations (bang, dian , or hui ). It was only when matters could not be handled at this level that the merchant huiguan directors stepped in as a higher adjudicating, enforcing or mediating authority. An example of such an instance may be seen in an 1879 ease in which the carpenter Zeng Ajin and his brothers refused to pay the 20 percent of their earnings required by the Guangdong carpenters' Lu Ban Dian. Because the brothers worked for foreign employers, they also dodged penalties imposed by the carpenters' association. To force the unruly brothers to comply, the carpenters' association appealed to the huiguan . As reported in the North China Herald , "The carpenters' society is subordinate to the General Cantonese Guild, which ultimately took the matter in hand; and a few days ago a warrant was issued by the District Magistrate in the city... to compel payment." In this case we


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see not only the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo's readiness to enforce the rule that all Guangdong carpenters had to belong to their association, but also the positioning of the huiguan between the carpenters and the Chinese authorities (and the willingness of the latter to enforce huiguan decisions).[9]

A carpenters' strike at Farnham, Boyd and Company in 1902 provided another occasion for huiguan intervention. Four Cantonese carpenters were arrested by foreign-settlement authorities for intimidating a Ningbo labor contractor who was responsible for employing Ningbo carpenters during the Cantonese carpenters' strike. In an effort to resolve the strike and investigate the case, the Mixed Court contacted the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo. According to the huiguan correspondence with the court, the directors summoned the carpenters' headmen to the huiguan to persuade them to return to work. The huiguan directors in return agreed to arrange for the release of the four arrested carpenters and provide strike-compensation funds to the workers. After investigating the situation, the directors contacted the foreign shipyard owners to secure the carpenters' release. When this initial attempt was unsuccessful, they enlisted the help of the Daotai, selected members of their community to act as guarantors to go to the court on the carpenters' behalf, and finally secured their release.[10] This example highlights the mediating role of the huiguan , which fashioned a compromise to both mollify fellow-provincial carpenters and return them to work. It also represented them in court as a matter of course. Although business involving foreigners was not always smooth, the action of the Mixed Court in this case nonetheless makes clear that foreign authorities, like Chinese, recognized the need to work through the huiguan in order to resolve the labor dispute.


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In Chinese matters, the huiguan leaders not only commanded the authority to resolve routine disputes but also were capable of quickly mustering considerable resources and participation on short notice. In 1898, for instance, when rice was scarce in Guangdong and prices were rocketing, the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo responded with alacrity to appeals from hospitals in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, using native-place connections to purchase and ship more than thirteen million pounds office from Hankou to Guangdong. The details of this massive endeavor are precisely recorded in the huiguan meeting notes. Twenty sojourning Guangdong firms took on the responsibility to purchase and transport the rice, accompanying it to Guangdong to ensure that none of it would be sold along the way.[11]

In such large and smaller matters, huiguan authority "worked" because, in addition to serving their own interests, huiguan leaders understood that their long-term interest depended also on the cultivation of the larger sojourning community. For this they needed arenas which went beyond their interior meetings and courtroom dramas.

Encompassing the People

Burial and Welfare Services . Because of the importance of burial in the ancestral home, huiguan expended considerable amounts of managerial energy and funding on the provision of coffins, coffin storage in special repositories (binshe or bingshe ) prior to shipment, and cemeteries (shanzhuang, yimu ) in Shanghai for the "temporary" resting or burial of deceased tongxiang whose families could not afford the costs of shipment and burial in the native place. Such functions required not only the purchase of land and the continual building of new cemeteries and mortuaries to accommodate the growing immigrant population but, in addition, payment for geomancers, guards and sacrifices at cemetery altars.[12] Toward the end of the nineteenth century, as both western and Chinese authorities imposed limits on coffin storage, huiguan also


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began more systematically to take on the considerable expense and management of coffin shipment to the native place.[13]

Huiguan cemeteries and coffin repositories symbolically encompassed the large community and reinforced the social hierarchy which structured it. Burial arrangements reproduced the social hierarchy of the living. Diagrams and rules for the operation of coffin repositories indicate several levels of coffin accommodations (with a corresponding scale of expenses) as well as strict separation of the sexes within each rank.[14]

Ordinary sojourners in Shanghai could depend on their huiguan not only for assistance when they passed away but also for help in the present. Huiguan often provided return passage for those who could not remain in Shanghai and intervened in court cases on behalf of those needing guarantors. An example of both forms of assistance may be found in the case of the Guangdong prostitutes Chen Yuanjin and Run Jin, who wished to redeem themselves and quit their profession. The Guang-Zhao Gongsuo petitioned the court on the women's behalf. Meanwhile, it arranged for tongxiang to guard the women while their case was being decided, to protect them from being abducted by their brothel keeper. The magistrate approved the petition and turned the women over to the huiguan, which arranged for their safe return to Guangdong.[15] Such acts, like burial provisions, reinforced the idea of a larger native-place community while establishing the huiguan oligarchs as the benevolent heads of a paternalistic hierarchy.

Religious Festivals and Processions . The early sojourning merchants and artisans established their associations as religious corporations. As their stone inscriptions testify, they built huiguan to collectively worship local or patron gods as well as to consolidate native-place


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sentiment and facilitate the enterprises of fellow sojourners. This temple function was expressed in alternate names for huiguan (dian, tang, miao ), as well as in the altars that formed the ceremonial center of their buildings. The religious role of huiguan reinforced their symbolic centrality to the larger sojourning community.

Huiguan capacity as religious centers for sojourning communities must have been strained by immigration. The largest huiguan buildings could not accommodate more than several thousand people, whereas sojourning communities could number more than one hundred thousand. It was at least partly to maintain their image as community leaders that huiguan directors sponsored religious festivals which extended beyond their gates. Public processions displayed local strength, territorial jurisdiction, and the wealth and prestige of the merchant-sponsors, creating community among participants and enacting hierarchy.

Huiguan were major though not exclusive organizers of large festivals and processions in Shanghai in the second haft of the nineteenth century.[16] They derived authority by both sponsoring and controlling large gatherings which were by their nature prone to be disorderly. Huiguan authority as institutions which kept order in the city was thus dependent on the periodic disruption of normal public order.

Although sojourners shared the Chinese ritual calendar with local residents, religious practices also set them apart. Huiguan did not participate in local earth god (tudi ) rituals. Identification with Shanghai soil would have jarred with the fundamental identification with ancestral soil, the "projection of consanguinity into space," to use the description of Fei Xiaotong, that underlay native-placc identity. The Siming Gongsuo, for example, had its own tudi temple, representing Ningbo soil in Shanghai. Earth god altars were also located in sojourners' coffin repositories.[17]

The two major types of popular religious rituals associated with huiguan were jiao and yulanpenhui. Jiao were Daoist rituals on behalf of


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territorial cult communities, associated with the consecration and renewal of temples and temple territory. They involved ritual manipulations of temple gods by Daoist priests and were often combined with a procession by the inhabitants of a particular area associated with a temple. Smaller jiao with processions and theatrical performances were associated with celebrations of gods' birthdays.[18]

Yulanpenhui, Buddhist-influenced ceremonies to feed and propitiate hungry, wandering orphan ghosts, took place in the middle of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar (see Figure 4).[19] Participants carried grotesque representations of ghosts, set lantern boats afloat for drowned souls, and scattered rice on the ground and in lakes, streams and canals. They also attached lanterns to platforms or conical structures, along with sacrificial offerings.

People from Ningbo and Shaoxing prefectures in Zhejiang province, from the Guang-Zhao and Chaozhou areas of Guangdong, and from Fujian were known for exuberant jiao and yulanpenhui in Shanghai. Preparations were costly and elaborate. In addition to huiguan resident priests, Daoist and Buddhist priests came to Shanghai from as far away as Guangdong to officiate. Organizers erected bamboo-and-mat platforms to enlarge the dimensions of altars for the three-day ceremony. Open-air stages were constructed for continual opera performances. Peddlers and food sellers flocked into Shanghai for the great marketing opportunity presented by the throngs of participants. Such festivals brought "enormous trade in sea slugs, glazed ducks and rice cakes," spirit money, incense, and ritual paraphernalia.[20]

Processions, which could extend three-quarters of a mile, consisted of troupes of musicians, laborers dressed as bannermen and officials, lantern carriers, ancestral tablet bearers, ornamented ponies, Buddhist and Daoist priests, and sedan chairs carrying major contributors (see


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Figure 4). During the period of the yulanpenhui, stalls bedecked with red paper invitations to the hungry ghosts filled the streets, stacked with ritual cakes to be purchased for ghostly consumption. Cakes were also distributed to the poor. At various places in the city participants set fires to transmit spirit money, paper clothes and paper houses for the suffering ghosts. Foreigners complained that these bonfires took place during periods of heavy traffic (between 5:00 and 6:00 P.M.), on major roads and bridges. They were at any rate timed and located for peak visibility.[21]


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Figure 4.
Yulanpenhui. The title and caption read, "Ghosts Making Trouble on
the Street: Yulanpen gatherings in Shanghai are especially spectacu lar.
In the  last ten  days of the last month, a crowd of Daoist priests and
laymen gathered in a proces- sion to offer incense. When they walked
through the main street of the British  Settlement the people who joined
them burned paper in gots along the way. The [British- employed] Sikh
police tried unsuc- cessfully to stop them, so the po lice dragged  two
participants to the police station. The people in the procession were
enraged. They assembled a ghost gang, in which everyone was horse
faced, cow headed, lion toothed and golden eyed. They crowded at the
station and fought with their ceremonial knives. The red-turbaned police
emanated black ghost power. The blue-faced devil troops exhibited
barbarian rabble spirit. The two who were trapped in the devil country
have not yet emerged from the door to the underworld."Source: Dianshizhai
hua bao (Dianshi Studio pictorial  newspaper), 1983 Guangzhou reprint of
late-Qing edition (1884-1898).

Such complex events—which incorporated religious ritual, performance and entertainment, demonstrations of wealth and prestige, charitable acts and free food, and the vigorous transaction of petty business—had multiple meanings. Yulanpenhui, which propitiated wandering ghosts, and jiao, processions associated with territorial cults, may have had particular resonance for sojourning communities. As the provision of burial services demonstrates, huiguan were concerned not only with live sojourners but also with sojourning souls, souls conceived as suffer-


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ing until they could return to their ancestral home. Sojourning ghosts, far from ancestral soil and outsiders in an alien environment, bore a close resemblance to the familyless wandering ghosts invoked by yulanpenhui. The concerns of poor male sojourners who lived in Shanghai without wives or children appear in stone inscriptions of Ningbo worker and artisan associations: "Living, we are guests from other parts; dead, we are ghosts from foreign territory."[22]

On another level, the marginal hungry ghosts who demanded charity may have functioned as symbolic representations of the marginal and hungry in Shanghai. Despite the deportations of ruffians and vagabonds that followed the Small Sword Uprising of 1853, such people increased as the city grew, drawing their numbers from refugees and immigrants, those who lost work through the vagaries of Shanghai's shifting labor market. For the many unmarried sojourning men far away from their relatives and without families of their own in Shanghai, the festivals and processions could provide a ritual sense of public belonging. The poor among them also had the right to demand (and receive) gifts of food.[23]

It was perhaps because these ceremonies had such resonance for marginal and potentially disruptive elements that they disturbed Chinese officials. Such gatherings were condemned by the conservative reformer Ding Richang, who served as Governor of Jiangsu beginning in 1867. Ding, who had demonstrated his concern for maintaining order in Shanghai's rapidly changing and increasingly chaotic environment by ruthless beatings, imprisonment and mass deportations of vagabonds during his term as Su-Song-Tai Daotai in 1864-65, prohibited jiao and Buddhist festivals. He argued that these were un-Confucian and unrighteous, wasteful, and likely to encourage crime.[24]

There were many reasons why Chinese officials tried to discipline popular festivals, rituals which competed in size and grandeur with


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official ceremonies. The potentially violent crowds certainly worried them. Western observers noted bloody accidents and quarrels as the poor jostled and pressed to receive cakes and vied to participate in the processions.[25]

The symbolic content of these rituals also challenged the state. Yulanpenhui involved ritual sacrifice, not to gods (which could symbolically represent the emperor and on whom the state could inscribe values which would uphold the Confucian state hierarchy) but to orphan ghosts. Because ghosts were anomic and marginal individuals, outside the hierarchical social order, they represented illegitimate power. A ritual like the yulanpenhui, which recognized ghostly demands for food as legitimate, may have made the state particularly uneasy.[26]

Ding's efforts to suppress popular processions in the late 1860s were followed by yearly prohibitions by the Daotai and city magistrates for the next several decades. Official proclamations permitted merchants to construct altars and conduct ceremonies for the ghosts but forbade them to organize yulanpenhui processions and "incite the crowds to riot." Chinese constables, dibao, were instructed to intervene against processions. Anyone who dared to ignore the laws was warned of merciless punishment.[27]

Chinese officials also sought foreign assistance in suppressing the processions. The Daotai requested the Consul General of the International Settlement to issue placards to admonish and guide huiguan and sojourning communities. Settlement police were requested to uphold the prohibition, as they indeed appear to be doing in Figure 4.[28]

Processions continued nonetheless. Even under the strict rule of


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Ding Richang, the North China Herald observed that "[proclamations were] still hanging on the city walls when a monster procession took place." In 1872, "the autumnal religious processions ... [were] engaged in as freely as ever." By the end of the decade, despite the Shanghai magistrate's "indefatigable" floggings of procession promoters, the "religious fervor" of Chinese residents still broke through.[29]

In the last quarter of the century, newspaper references to unruly jiao appear less frequently, and annual yulanpenhui took place within the confines of cemetery walls.[30] The Guang-Zhao cemetery was noted for the scale of its yulanpenhui:

The property is particularly large. There is a hall for the gods, a reception hall, an artificial hill and a small lake. In all seasons the flowers and trees can be enjoyed for the scenery.... Each year in the seventh moon there is a yulanpenhui and celebration of the zhongyuan festival. The tongxiang collect money and meet, hiring monks and Daoist masters to propitiate the roving ghosts. They not only burn mountains of incense and candles but also set up stands displaying curios and the work of famous calligraphers. Crowds persist into the night, viewing lanterns and theater. On the 14th, 15th and 16th, the people are numerous, wearing hair ornaments, scented clothing and fans, their numbers increasing into the evening. The Daotai fears ruffians, robbery and theft, thus he sends braves in addition to his attendants, arranging for each to separately patrol the area. Thus fights may be broken up.[31]

Although the Guang-Zhao festivities remained grand, a process of confinement resulted in smaller and less public festival celebrations. By the turn of the century, at least in the Ningbo community, different occupational subgroups took turns at using the huiguan for their individual jiao. The huiguan remained at the ceremonial center, but the community trader the huiguan umbrella was increasingly divided by shifting ritual practices by occupation and class.[32]

This shift also reflected changes in elite public opinion. In the 1880s reformist attacks on yulanpenhui appeared in the Shenbao which echoed


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Ding Richang's conservative Confucian condemnation of superstition and waste and which intermixed traditional arguments with modern-sounding practicality: "This Seventh Moon Festival is very popular in Shanghai, and the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo's yulanpenhui is the most extravagant and luxurious. They make paper buildings and enormous paper constructions. Every year they spend tons of money. Yulanpenhui are an old custom and people believe if they contribute they will gain protection. But such things are uncertain. No one knows if helping ghosts will effect a positive result.... The yulanpenhui is to relieve the homeless ghosts. But they are already dead.... Why not help the living?" This writer argued, tongue in cheek, that the ceremonies did not even serve the interests of native-place sentiment. Yulanpenhui did not just assist Guangdong ghosts, it also helped ghosts from other places. "Now if you save the money and send it directly to Guangdong, your own place will derive all the benefit." He recommended frugality, even if tradition could not be abandoned. When floods struck Guangdong in 1880, huiguan directors were exhorted to restrict their festival spending and promote public righteousness by caring for their own people:[33] "Because you are from Guangdong ... you must be concerned with the plight of your fellow-provincials. You will contribute to Guangdong because you are from Guangdong. If you don't contribute, who can they depend on? ... You could reduce your yulanpenhui expenses by 70-80% and give this money to Guangdong. Sending it to the native place will improve your reputation."[34]

In the meantime, such articles did not inhibit public enjoyment of a good festival. Even elite public opinion, as expressed in the progressive Shenbao, was torn between reformist criticisms of "superstitious" and "wasteful" ceremonies and appreciation of festival marvels. An editorial written at the same time as the Guangdong flood (and including a few


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perfunctory comments about wastefulness) expressed clearly the popular appeal of the jiao for people in all walks of life:

The lights and ornaments at the Guang-Zhao Shanzhuang were even more intricate than last year.... In the daytime it was very crowded and lively. Most who come in the day are ... low class people. But at night come the people with fragrant clothes, their shadows like running water.... The noise of carts and vehicles is like a waterfall, flowing until morning. At the east gate on a construction of about one hundred paces in length hung one hundred lights, high and low, a city of fire. Lamps hung over the gate as high as heaven, illuminating an ingenious paper Guangdong opera below.... Opposite were paper constellations and a marvelous crystal palace.... Everywhere hung calligraphy and paintings of famous people. It was very elegant. In the International Settlement some people ... made an altar.... They had Ningbo fireworks ... but it was nothing compared to the Guang-Zhao Shanzhuang.[35]

Despite increasing claims on huiguan money for public charity, in their confined and increasingly compartmentalized forms, festivals associated with huiguan remained popular into the twentieth century.[36]

If festivals incurred considerable expense and problems of control, they also represented a kind of compromise between huiguan leaders and groups in the sojourning community which might otherwise have threatened huiguan authority. Processions not only gave huiguan an opportunity to assert their centrality in the tongxiang community and their importance in the city but also provided occasions for public displays of group pride and belonging for less socially elevated but nonetheless powerful groups. The wealthy and prominent huiguan leaders gained popular prestige and recognition by sponsoring processions. Festivals provided poor sojourners with temporary employment, free food, and also a moment of ritual role reversal in the opportunity to dress as officials and notables. Festivals were also a likely source of profit for secret societies. Information from other cities suggests the dependence of huiguan leaders on professional organizers to solicit additional "contributions" for these festivals. Such organizers were often secret-society members who used this license to extort money.[37]


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Huiguan authority depended on the leaders' ability to create a sense of community hierarchically arranged below the huiguan. Nonparticipation in popular festivals or serious restraint of crowd activities would have created visible lines of opposition within the community, placing huiguan leaders outside expressions of popular sentiment. As sponsors, they could preside over and benefit from popular enthusiasm.

Religious ceremonies also brought workers' associations (hui ) formally into the huiguan institutional structure. Because rituals (including burial arrangements) were expensive, they motivated the formation of organizations to collect funds and compelled cooperation and coordination among separate organizations. In the late nineteenth century, as the merchant directors who comprised the huiguan elite became more focused on other forms of public activism, Ningbo workers and artisans formed mutual-aid associations which collected funds and invested in city property in order to have a stable funding base from which to assist members with burial costs and the costs of jiao and yulanpenhui. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, these associations began a process of formal incorporation into the merchant-dominated Siming Gongsuo to ensure access to huiguan religious halls and altars. The formation of worker mutual-aid associations and their incorporation into the huiguan, a process which continued into the first decades of the twentieth century, reflected necessities imposed by demographic growth. By the turn of the century Zhejiang sojourners had grown rapidly from a mid-century population of approximately sixty thousand to well over one hundred thousand. Communitywide access to huiguan resources even at ritual moments vastly exceeded huiguan capacity (and the funding capacities and inclinations of huiguan directors). Non-elite members of the community clearly felt the need to both organize and effectively "buy into" the powerful Siming Gongsuo in order to ensure access and protection.[38]

As early as 1863-64, Ningbo foreign-employed workers and servants


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formally estabhslied the Changsheng (Long Life) Yulanpenhui, a religious association to ensure the ritual provision of yulanpen sacrifices at the Siming Gongsuo for a period of three days and nights each year. In 1896-97 the Changsheng association transferred its considerable property holdings into the huiguan. The terms of the arrangement provided for permanent huiguan management of Changsheng Hui assets in return for guaranteed provision of yulanpen expenses. A stone inscription authored by Shen Honglai, leader of the Changsheng Hui, documents the contrast between the concern of this man of the laboring classes for protecting Ningbo coffins and the expediency of the elite huiguan directors. Learning of a huiguan plan in 1898 to displace four hundred coffins in order to construct a new coffin repository and road, Shen protested to the directors, pressuring them into showing more respect for the Ningbo dead.[39]

Ningbo carpenters similarly organized a Changxing (Lasting Prosperity) Hui and established a formal tie with the Siming Gongsuo in 1879 to guarantee access to burial services, coffin storage and shipment. Each carpenter contributed small but steady amounts of money, which the association kept in a fund. By 1894 the carpenters' association owned property and capital of five thousand yuan. In 1899, following the model of the Changsheng Hui, it asked the huiguan to manage its holdings, ensuring yearly income for coffins, yulanpen sacrifices for hungry ghosts, expenses for Qing Ming (the day of sweeping graves), and a jiao at the end of the year. Similar arrangements, recorded in stone inscriptions, were made by associations of Ningbo butchers, ferry workers, dock-workers and shiphands, bamboo workers, carriage varnishers and metal workers, all of which formally placed themselves under the organizational umbrella of the Siming Gongsuo during the last two decades of the Qing.[40]

The exuberance of religious festivals at the end of the Qing suggests


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that although huiguan sponsored such events, their control over them was limited. In the immigrant, densely populated but largely unpoliced "frontier" city of Shanghai, huiguan interest lay in extending ritual activity to incorporate popular festivals. It is not clear that huiguan directors could have suppressed popular demonstrations if they had tried. The sponsorship of large-scale community events, on the other hand, established and enhanced the image of huiguan as patron organizations within their large tongxiang communities. Similarly, prominence in religious functions, including burials and propitiations of gods and ghosts, invested the huiguan with more sacred authority. Provision for ghosts, as well as disaster victims, the poor and the wayward all served to enhance paternalistic authority. As the huiguan merchant elite moved toward a more secular and national public-spiritedness, huiguan directors increased their distance from festivals. They nonetheless benefited from the compartmentalized incorporation of more religious sojourners into the huiguan. While the huiguan repositioned itself, shifting from organizing common religious rituals to managing group investments, the workers and craftsmen who continued to believe in jiao and yulanpenhui used huiguan facilities, but their rituals became private occasions.

Opera and Native-Place Community Huiguan performances, like the religious festivals of which they were often part, were fundamental in knitting together a community out of disparate class elements. Theatrical performances, like processions, served the twin functions of huiguan publicity and popular expression. The noisy open-air performance of local opera in the dialect and style of the native-place asserted sojourner presence in the city. Huiguan opera performances could also exacerbate preexisting tensions between regional groups.[41]


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Like the expansion of huiguan religious functions to incorporate the needs and interests of the broader community, dialect opera was a late development in the evolution of huiguan as urban institutions. In Shanghai, this change occurred in the late nineteenth century, as huiguan endeavored to represent the increasingly large and diverse so-journing communities which resulted from immigration.

Public theaters did not exist generally in Shanghai until the last decades of the nineteenth century. Prior to this time, as the diary of an opera connoisseur in Shanghai in the 1850s confirms, huiguan opera performances made native-place associations important cultural centers in the city.[42] Although most people went for the pleasure of seeing opera, huiguan opera was conceived ritually as the provision of entertainment for the gods (jisi xiqu, sacrificial theater). This ritual function was expressed in huiguan architecture, in which elaborate stages faced the altars of huiguan deities across the central courtyard. The human audience for these performances was initially small: sojourning merchants, literati and officials.

The development of popular urban theater from huiguan theater, a process which has been described by Tanaka Issei, reflected a prior process of popularization that took place within huiguan performances themselves. This popularization of huiguan theater followed city growth and reflected the tastes of the increasing numbers of sojourning craftsmen and workers. These performances, still funded by the huiguan leaders, were known as charitable, or righteous, performances (yiyan ), conveying the idea that huiguan -sponsored opera was a form of community service or patronage.[43]


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Opera was not performed in local dialects until the late Qing. The earliest huiguan served communities of officials and scholars who favored the elite operatic styles of the court. Merchant-dominated huiguan, like those established in Shanghai, initially modeled themselves after the scholar-official huiguan. This orientation led early merchant huiguan to put on selections from kunqu, a form patronized by the court as the official national operatic style.[44]

This changed in the late Qing, when huiguan in expanding commercial centers began to sponsor performances by traveling opera troupes from their native places, operas performed in native-place dialect. Huiguan performances also began to reflect the tastes of a more popular constituency, discarding conventional and conservative tales of loyalty and filiality for the excitement of romantic love and martial heroism.[45]

As this shift suggests, by the late nineteenth century huiguan opera performances reflected a marriage of elite and non-elite influences. Merchant prosperity enabled huiguan to support increasingly lavish performances by opera troupes from the native place. The less cosmopolitan horizons of non-elite sojourners formed dialect and cultural barriers to the appreciation of any opera other than that of the native place. Because huiguan were the patron organizations of a large sojourning community, they could not afford to alienate that community with unfamiliar and elite cultural forms, so they catered increasingly to the parochial tastes of workers and craftsmen.[46] In this fashion, huiguan came increasingly to promote local native-place rather than elite culture. By cultivating a broader sojourning community, huiguan became less rather than more cosmopolitan cultural centers in this period.


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Tanaka identifies three phases in state attitudes toward huiguan opera, reflecting shifts in opera content. In the early and middle Qing, the state attempted to suppress popular opera performance but permitted the sacrificial performances of officials and merchants within huiguan. Such performances were considered Confucian and neither lewd nor wantonly martial. In the late Qing, as urban public theater began to develop outside huiguan, the government viewed huiguan performances as preferable to what was offered in public theaters. Huiguan theaters were protected because the government believed that the elite directors would exercise conservative taste and shun unorthodox plays. By the end of the Qing, as huiguan performances increasingly embraced the "lewd" and martial themes the state opposed, the government made weak attempts to restrict these types of performances, but it refrained from vigorous suppression of huiguan theater.[47]

Huiguan theater, which continued into the early twentieth century before being displaced by public theaters, may have served state interests in social control just as it served the interests of the huiguan leaders. Opera both brought a wide community into the huiguan and reinforced the hierarchy within that community. Huiguan leaders and their selected guests sat either on a raised platform around the stage or along the two side balconies (kanlou or kantai ). The rest of the crowd, those who were not the benefactors but the recipients, pressed into the wide courtyard. From the courtyard, the audience had to look up, not only to the performance but also to the feasting and richly clothed patrons of their community (see Figure 5).

Righteousness and Reputation

A third source of huiguan authority and an important aspect of community identification and cohesion involved the huiguan


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directors' maintenance of group honor. As different regional groups interacted and competed with one another in the city, people from each native place developed reputations. An active tactic of native-place rivalry involved the creation of regional stereotypes and the defense of regional reputations. In the late Qing, as the following quotation illustrates, these reputations (and the native-place identifications they implied) were not given but contested:

People are born lucky or unlucky. If lucky, they are born in Qufu, and the closeness of sages will enable them to get a good education.... People who are unlucky enough to be born in a bad place suffer from having bad people as their fellow-provincials. We were not lucky, and thus we were born in Guangdong.... The people we call compradors, "foreigners' dogs," "Guangdong sluts" and "saltwater sisters" all come from Xiangshan county. The people of this county are born without a sense of shame. They are too low and despicable to mention.... Xiangshan people use their lack of shame as a way to make money.... In former times people could petition to change their native place. But we cannot change our native place, and thus we are in a dilemma. Gentlemen, in the future when you write your articles ... could you blame explicitly the compradors or the "foreigners' dogs"? Please don't say generally, "the Guangdong people."[48]

During the 1870s and 1880s economic rivalry between Guangdong and Zhejiang people, combined with a Zhejiang-dominated press, produced a lively public discourse about Guangdong identity. Frequent press attacks on Guangdong identity sensitized the Guangdong community and activated the Guangdong elite to defend Guangdong honor. The existence of a positive Guangdong identity depended on its construction and vigilant defense by a wealthy Guangdong sojourner elite. In contrast, groups without influential elites lacked the wherewithal to establish and maintain their reputation and therefore lacked a key element in the formation of a positive sense of group identity. People from northern Jiangsu, for example, lacked advocates who could contest negative stereotypes. As Honig's study illustrates, although other people


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spoke of a Subei group, Subei sojourners themselves lacked both community and well-defined native-place identity.[49]


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Figure 5.
Huiguan opera. The illustration depicts a Guang-
dong Huiguan opera performance which was held
to worship the god Guandi. The moralistic caption
describes the crowd as large and disorderly, crushing
and injuring a young man who was lured inside by
the sounds of gongs and drums. Having pointed out
the dangers of attending the opera, the author concludes
by admonishing young people to avoid such dangerous
pastimes. Source: Dianshizhaihuabao (Dianshi Studio
pictorial newspaper), 1983 Guangzhou reprint of late-
Qing edition (1884-1898).

Huiguan leaders maintained their native-place reputation through a variety of tactics. Huiguan prestige was bolstered by an association's ability to appropriate for itself high claims of moral purpose. Insofar as huiguan directors could present themselves as exemplars of Confucian virtue, they could be regarded as deserving leaders both in the sojourner community and in the city. As a consequence of this principle of authority and legitimation, huiguan were given to displays of benevolence. As


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a correlate, huiguan were deeply sensitive to threats to the honor of their native place.

Righteous Charity. Huiguan and huiguan leaders demonstrated their benevolence in both ritual and substantive acts of public service and philanthropy. These included the support of hospitals and benevolent institutions (shantang ) which cared for orphans, widows, the ill and the poor; the provision of relief to tongxiang in Shanghai; the maintenance of "righteous burial grounds" for paupers; the sponsorship of "righteous performances"; and the observance of the correct ritual in the worship of native-place gods.

They also served as important collection agencies, organizing and dispensing relief in periods of natural disasters. As Shenbao editorials criticizing festival waste made clear, maintaining "face" in Shanghai included demonstrating care for one's native place. As their Shanghai resources grew in the 1870s and 1880s, huiguan responded to disasters in · their native areas with alacrity. When devastating floods hit Guangdong in 1885, for example, the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo launched a citywide relief-collection campaign, successfully soliciting contributions not only from tongxiang but also from other huiguan and from several foreign companies.[50]

Other demonstrations of righteousness are better understood as purely symbolic. It is difficult otherwise to explain a single roundup of three thousand beggars by the Silk Huiguan for the purpose of feeding each one a bowl of rice gruel and sending them off with fifty copper cash.[51] In a similar vein Tang Maozhi, the director of the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo, became deeply concerned with the shooting of stray dogs in the International Settlement. He arranged with a Shanghai benevolent institution that the dogs be caught and sent by boat to Suzhou, where they would be freed.[52]

Defending Native-Place Honor . Benevolent activities and the creation of a righteous image, even through the rather crude, if en-


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tirely traditional, habit of labeling their works "righteous" (yi ),[53] reveal a concern for reputation based on Confucian ideals of governance which transcended the native-place identity of the tongxiang group. Huiguan leaders demonstrated leadership qualifies by joining together with directors of other huiguan to sponsor famine relief and contribute to local benevolent institutions. In this concern for righteous governance, huiguan appear as urban analogs to socially activist gentry institutions.

A contrasting area of huiguan concern for reputation appealed to a different source of righteousness, one which emphasized the purity and integrity of the tongxiang group and stressed the need for boundaries. In this regard, huiguan were deeply concerned with the purity and honor of tongxiang women. Because the huiguan as an institution depended on the maintenance of an idea of native-place community, it was critical for the huiguan leadership to act in such a way as to maintain the integrity of the community. In this type of behavior, huiguan acted in the manner of a lineage or kin network. A dramatic example of huiguan concern with community purity may be seen in the case of an ill-fated alliance between women of a wealthy sojourning Guangdong family and an actor who was not only despicable for his low profession but came from a rival native-place group.[54]

Moving Mount Tai to Squash an Egg: The Tang Yuelou Case . At noon on December 23, 1873, a young Chinese woman in bridal dress was conveyed in an open wheelbarrow through the streets of the International Settlement on the way to the Mixed Court.[55] This parody of a respectable wedding procession (in which the bride was normally hidden from public exposure, ensconced in an elaborate palanquin), attracted a crowd of people who spread notice of the impending case.


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When the court convened the next day, the jostling onlookers over-flowed the courtyards, blocking traffic outside. The extraordinary interest aroused by the case owed to the twin attractions of a scandal staining a prominent family and rumors of illicit liaisons with the star of the Shanghai theater world.

The girl was of Guangdong origin. Her father, surnamed Wei, was a tea merchant and comprador for a foreign firm.[56] Like other wealthy sojourning merchants, Mr. Wei maintained two households, one in Shanghai and one in his native place. Mr. Wei's concubine, néee Wang, was in charge of the Shanghai household. His other wives lived in Guangdong.

Madame Wei was an avid opera-goer who frequently attended the performances of the famous actor, Yang Yuelou.[57] While Mr. Wei was transacting business in Fuzhou, Madame Wei betrothed her stepdaughter Abao to the actor, despite the fact that actors were considered disreputable.

During a trip to Shanghai, Mr. Wei's brother learned of the betrothal. Lacking the lineage solidarity he could have drawn on back home, he turned to his fellow-sojourners in the city. The huiguan directors discussed the impending threat to the honor of their community and ruled that Yang should annul the betrothal to save the face of the Wei lineage. They notified Yang of their decision, and Yang met with his Anhui fellow-countrymen to decide what to do.

Yang's tongxiang reasoned that the affair was already concluded because the betrothal had been properly arranged. Supported by his tongxiang, Yang refused to back out and concluded the marriage through secret negotiations with Madame Wei.[58] Toward the end of December, servants delivered the bride to the Yang household. Madame Wei


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packed her own belongings and secretly moved in as well. When Mr. Wei's servants discovered her absence and the absence of valuable household objects they reported the matter to friends of Mr. Wei.

Mr. Wei's friends were outraged by the secret marriage and called a meeting at the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo. The huiguan petitioned Magistrate Chen at the Mixed Court, demanding the arrests of the women and the actor, accusing Yang of kidnapping, rape and theft. Accordingly, the magistrate dispatched his runners. The runners broke into Yang's house and arrested Yang and the Wei women, whom they found in the midst of wedding festivities.

Because of the value of Wei household objects found in the Yang compound, Magistrate Chen concluded that the magnitude of the case exceeded the jurisdiction of the Mixed Court.[59] He sent the accused for interrogation by the Shanghai District Magistrate. The District Magistrate was the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo director, Ye Tingjuan. When Yang first appeared before him, Ye ordered lictors to suspend his body and inflict one hundred and fifty blows of the bamboo rod on his ankles. Under torture, Yang confessed to abducting Abao. After a lashing on the back Madame Wei admitted that she had permitted the marriage even though the Wei family had deemed it inappropriate. The magistrate also interrogated Abao, who feebly protested that she had only followed the maxim, "If you marry a chicken then you follow a chicken." When an examination proved that she was not a virgin, Yang was accused of rape. Powder discovered at Yang's home was produced in court and declared an aphrodisiac, used by Yang to incite ill behavior on the part of the women (making Yang's crime more despicable and the women more innocent).[60] Magistrate Ye sentenced Yang to branding, exile and forced military service, a verdict the Shenbao described as

a Guangdong victory.[61]

Although the disposal of the case reportedly pleased the guardians of


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Guangdong honor in the city, the actions of the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo also aroused criticism, as did Magistrate Ye's ruling. Editorials appeared criticizing the magistrate's regional bias. Although the first reports condemned Yang as a wanton habitué'e of prostitutes who had a reputation for getting into fights, they also shamed the Guangdong people by impugning the character of their women. Abao was described as being "as beautiful as a prostitute."[62] Rumors circulated that Madame Wei was lascivious and had arranged the marriage in order to live with Yang herself. Front-page editorials declared that the entire case was a false accusation by the Guangdong people, who tried to save face by pretending that a legal marriage was a matter of seduction, rape and theft.

By January the Guangdong people in Shanghai were a regular object of ridicule in the newspaper. Because they had mobilized "the power of the people of an entire province to accuse an actor and an escaped daughter," they were portrayed as "moving Mount Tai to squash an egg."[63] Not only did editorials daily debate the merits of the case, the newspaper also began to publish articles describing "saltwater sisters" and focused attention on Guangdong-organized kidnapping and trade in young women, further piquing the ire of the Guangdong community.[64]

A struggle ensued between the Guangdong people and the Shanghai Magistrate on the one hand and the Daotai, Zhejiang and Shanghai people on the other, a struggle no doubt informed by underlying economic tensions between these regional groups. On January 29, 1874, the North China Herald reported that the enraged Guangdong people twice


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stormed the Daotai's office threatening to burn down the Shenbao office and kill the editors if he did not take action. Daotai Shen Bingcheng, a Zhejiang native, declined. Unable to force the Daotai into action, the Guangdong people insisted the Chinese staff of the newspaper be punished, sending Magistrate Ye to make their case before the British Consul, Mr. Medhurst.[65] Failing to persuade Mr. Medhurst, the magistrate posted notices in the Chinese city and at the city gates proclaiming that the Shenbao had accepted the bribes of Yang's clique and printed lies.[66]

The Yang Yuelou case reveals how, in a city of immigrants like Shanghai where families were fragmented, the tongxiang group (through the institution of the huiguan ) could fulfill the function of a substitute kin network. It also reveals the considerable influence of such an organization on the administration of justice. When the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo acted to prevent a marriage which would stain the reputation of the community, although the virtues of the particular response were hotly debated, the ideas that the matter concerned the huiguan and that the huiguan bore responsibility for its outcome were generally taken for granted. The central role of the huiguan as the organized expression of the native-place community in dealings with the courts was undisputed. Although critics attacked the huiguan for overreacting and exposing a matter better left out of court, they accepted as natural the role of the huiguan in issuing the petition and the efficacy of a petition sent to the court by the huiguan.[67]

Defending the public image of the native-place community was as much an integral aspect of huiguan activity as the public building, religious processions, ostentatious funeral rites, and charitable activities which established the native-place presence and enhanced the group's power and prestige in the Shanghai community. Newcomers to Shanghai, particularly those who had risen swiftly to wealth, like the people from Guangdong, were called on to demonstrate their moral virtue if


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they were to exercise power in the community. If their activities backfired, the case nonetheless suggests the lengths to which the Guangdong community would go in its attempts to save face. In this respect the case provides a notable but not unrepresentative example. In August 1873, for example, the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo repeatedly published advertisements correcting a report which suggested that a Guangdong woman was seen kidnapped and taken to a brothel. According to the "revised supplementary report" published by the huiguan (which had investigated the case), the woman simply went by herself to a temple near the brothel quarter to pray for her sick child.[68]

The Yang Yuelou case, in its urban approximation of the codes of honor and revenge that might be associated with rural clan feuds, involved a process of community definition which—like huiguan charity, drama and religion, bound together elite and non-elite sojourners. The case was not simply about a low-class marriage which threatened an upper-class family. The case must also be understood against the background of a preexisting feud. Prior to contact between Yang and the Wei women, a street brawl had taken place between Chaozhou shop hands and Yang's acting troupe. According to one account, as a consequence of this fight (which engaged several hundred combatants and necessitated the intervention of local officials, soldiers and huiguan directors before the matter was calmed) the Guangdong people had vowed everlasting enmity for Yang.[69] If a huiguan director's family permitted a marriage alliance with an individual identified as an enemy of the Guangdong people, the huiguan would violate community boundaries drawn by a preexisting feud. By punishing Yang, the huiguan performed an act of revenge that endeared it to the broader tongxiang community and maintained the purity of the group against pollution from outsiders.[70]

The Yang Yuelou case reveals, finally, how critical the maintenance of hierarchy was to community definition. The case received as much attention as it did because it involved the conduct of women and raised questions about the correct governance of women. In a Confucian context, in which proper management of the realm was understood to be linked to proper management of the family, the huiguan, as the urban


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equivalent of lineage alders, was responsible not simply for defending the honor of women from its native place but also for enforcing the authority of men over women. Although female family members may have been freer in Shanghai than at home, public commentary on the case suggests that the huiguan (representing the absent head of the household) was expected to step in to circumvent this excessive autonomy. Using reasoning reminiscent of the Confucian classic, "The Great Learning" (Daxue ), one critic argued that the mismanagement of the Wei household and the buiguan 's incorrect decision to bring a lawsuit had caused more universal disharmony. Because the buiguan, rather than quietly removing the women from Yang's household and covering the matter up, exposed family mismanagement, they harmed the reputation of the tongxiang. Moreover, because the case involved officials and the officials made an incorrect decision, it was bad for the country.[71]

This chapter has examined practices which defined and constituted the native-place community, practices without which it would be difficult to speak of community. The creation of a larger native-place community depended heavily on the wealth and status of a sojourning elite which could provide the funding for religious, recreational and charitable practices and could command the respect and influence needed for both successful adjudication of disputes within the native-place community and for maintaining community reputation in the urban area of Shanghai. Because the extent to which a given group of sojourners could constitute community depended on their wealth, native-place identity in the city ranged from the elaborate constructions of native-place culture and community found in the powerful Guangdong and Ningbo communities, to the striking absence (despite their large numbers in the city) of institutionalized community among poor sojourners from northern Jiangsu.

The practices that created native-place community reinforced an internal hierarchy which was centered on the huiguan oligarchs, who as directors filled a position equivalent to the heads of an extended kin network. This ensured that the huiguan worked to define and confirm gender hierarchy as well as economic/occupational hierarchy.

The practices of native-place community were, of course, embedded in larger networks of authority which extended beyond the sojourner group in the city. Huiguan oligarchs also provided a critical link to the


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state, a link which further legitimized their local positions of authority. The next chapter describes the pivotal role of the merchant leaders in positioning the native-place community in relation to the state through the mediating institution of the huiguan, which served the state by assuming quasi-governmental functions. This link, which symbolically corresponded to the link between family head (as subject) and the state, meant that the practice of huiguan leadership could not be limited by exclusive orientation toward the native place or toward the native-place community in Shanghai. In the late nineteenth century, the directors of the major Shanghai huiguan became actors on a national stage.


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