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Accommodation and Conflict: The Incorporation of Miao Territory and Construction of Cultural Difference during the High Qing Era

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Past studies of southwest Guizhou during the Qing dynasty tend to focus on the policy of “abolishment of the native chieftainships and extension of direct bureaucratic control” (gaitu guiliu) pursued under the Yongzheng emperor, and also to emphasize the correlation between state expansion and Miao revolts as a political process of institution building. Based on personal memoirs and ethnographic accounts of the Qing dynasty, this study focuses on the Qing incorporation of Miao territory (Miaojiang) in southeast Guizhou, where there were not even native chieftainships but only unorganized, or “raw,” Miao indigenes; it also examines the incorporation as an interactive process of cultural understanding and construction among the Yongzheng emperor, Governor-General Ortai, a group of local officials, represented by Zhang Guangsi and Fang Xian, and local Miao people, who had already interacted with Han migrants and started to seek the protection of the central government. The paper calls attention to the contribution of lower level Qing officials made in the decision-making process, the formation of knowledge by the Chinese about the long-ignored Miao territory, and the significance of mutual understanding of cultures. It argues that the tragic confrontation between the Miao people and the Qing state building was not necessarily inevitable, but contingent on the officials’ perception of the minority people’s culture and the handling of the relationship between the state and local indigenes.


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