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Social Change and Continuity in South China: Overseas Chinese and the Guan Lineage of Kaiping County, 1949–87*

  • Yuen-Fong Woon
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For a variety of reasons, still hotly debated by social anthropologists and social historians, both Guangdong and Fujian have been home to many large tightly-organized lineages since at least the 17th century. For a variety of reasons, overseas Chinese emigration in the pre-1949 period was also more prevalent in Guangdong and Fujian than in other Chinese provinces.

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1. See Freedman, Maurice, Lineage Organization in Southeastern China (London: Athlone Press, 1958), and Chinese Lineage and Society: Fukien and Kwangtung (London: Athlone Press, 1966); Potter, Jack M., “Land and lineage in traditional China,” in Freedman, Maurice (ed.), Family and Kinship in Chinese Society (Stanford: Standford University Press, 1970), pp. 121–38; Watson, James L., “Hereditary tenancy and corporate landlordism in traditional China: a case study,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 11 (1977), pp. 161–82, and Chinese kinship reconsidered: anthropological perspective on historical research,” The China Quarterly (CQ), No. 92 (1982), pp. 589622; Watson, Rubie S., “The creation of a Chinese lineage: the Teng of Ha Tsuen, 1669–1751,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (1982), pp. 60100; Denis Twitchett, “Comment on J. L. Watson's article,” CQ, No. 92 (1982), pp. 623–27; Ebrey, Patricia B., “Types of lineages in Ch'ing China: a re-examination of the Chang lineage of T'ung-ch'eng,” Ch'ing-shih wen-t'i, Vol. 4, No. 9 (1983), pp. 120; Sangren, Steven P., “Traditional Chinese corporations: beyond kinship,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 43, No. 3 (1984), pp. 391415; Rawski, Evelyn S., “The Ma landlords of Yang-chia-kou in late Ch'ing and Republican China,” in Ebery, Patricia E. and Watson, James L. (eds.), Kinship Organization in Late Imperial China 1000–1940 (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 245–73; Susan Naquin, “Two descent groups in North China: the Wangs of Yung-ping prefecture, 1500–1800,” in Ebrey and Watson (eds.), Kinship Organization, pp. 210–244; Robert P. Hymes, “Marriage, descent group, and the localist strategy in Sung and Yuan Fu-chou,” in Ebrey and Watson (eds.), Kinship Organization, pp. 95–136; Keith Hazelton, “Patrilines and the development of localized lineages: the Wu of Hsiu-ning City, Hui-chou, to 1528,” in Ebrey and Watson (eds.), Kinship Organization, pp. 137–169; Faure, David, The Structure of Chinese Rural Society: Lineage and Village in the Eastern New Territories, Hong Kong (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

2. See Ta, Chen, Chinese Migration, with Special Reference to Labour Conditions (Taibei: Ch';eng-wen Publishing Company, 1923, repub. 1967), pp. 421; Zo, K. Y., “Emigrant communities in China, Sze-yap,” Asian Profile, Vol. 5, No. 4 (1977), pp.313–23; Mei, June, “Socioeconomic origins of emigration: Guangdong to California, 1850–1882,” Modern China, Vol. 5, No. 4 (1979), pp. 463501; Wickberg, Edgaret ai, From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982), pp. 512.

3. See Freedman, Lineage Organization, p. 128, and Chinese Lineage, pp. 115–16, 169–70.

4. See Watson, James L., Emigration and the Chinese Lineage: The Mans in Hong Kong and London (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1975).

5. The term “overseas Chinese” (huaqiao), literally means the Chinese who live temporarily outside of China. It is a notoriously ambiguous term, the exact definition of which very often reflects the motives of the user. See Fitzgerald, Stephen S., China and the Overseas Chinese: A Study of Peking's Changing Policy, 1949–1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. x: Gungwu, Wang, Community and Nation: Essays on Southeast Asia and the Chinese (Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd, 1981), pp. 249–60; Suryadinata, Leo, China and the ASEAN States: The Ethnic Chinese Dimension (Singapore: University of Singapore Press, 1985), pp. 14, 84–88. For the purposes of this article the term is used in the widest sense to include all people of Chinese ancestry, irrespective of place of birth and nationality, who live outside of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. Thus, Chinese currently residing in Macao, Hong Kong, South-east Asia, North and South America, and other parts of the world are categorized as “overseas Chinese.”

6. The term “overseas Chinese dependants” (qiaojuan), literally means the family members, still remaining in China, of the overseas Chinese. Since the founding of the People's Republic, official definitions of the term qiaojuan have varied over time, depending on the existing policies towards them. During certain periods qiaojuan only included those who were receiving overseas remittances regularly; at other times the term included everyone with relatives overseas. Sometimes the term qiaojuan excluded dependants and relatives of Hong Kong and Macao residents, who are officially classified under the category tongbao jiashu (family members of compatriots). At other times, however, this latter group is also included in the qiaojuan category, at least in official statistics. Spokesmen for the present Kaiping government, in their attempt to court overseas Chinese donations, investment, and technological and managerial expertise, are currently applying the term in its broadest meaning. They estimate the number of qiaojuan to be anywhere from 58 per cent to 60 per cent of the total Kaiping population. See Nanfang ribao (Southern Daily) (Canton), 30 April 1979, 14 July 1979, 28 October 1982, 13 October 1983, 19 March 1984. In Chikan district, the number of qiaojuan is officially estimated to be 70 per cent of the total population there.

7.Siyi“ is a collective term denoting four counties to the west of the Pearl River delta: viz. Taishan, Enping, Xinhui, and Kaiping. Estimates of the number of overseas Chinese from the siyi area have varied widely. For Kaiping county, for example, scholars such as Feng and Chen calculated that by 1930, one in 10 people in Kaiping had emigrated overseas. See Ho-fa, Feng, Zhongguo nongcun jingji ziliao (Materials on Chinese Village Economy) (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1935), pp. 772–73; Han-Seng, Chen, Landlords and Peasants in China: A Study of Agrarian Crisis in South China (New York: International Publishers, 1936), p. 109. Recent official statistics, however, put the number of overseas Chinese from Kaiping to be over 40 per cent of the total Kaiping population. See Nanfang ribao, 14 July 1979, 28 October 1982, 19 March 1984; Zhongguo xinwen (China News Service) (Beijing), 2 April 1984. This great difference in the estimated number may be due either (a) to the high rate of population increase overseas, both through natural growth and as a result of repeated waves of emigration from Kaiping between 1930 and 1980; or (b) to a deliberate attempt to inflate the numbers, probably by redefining the term “overseas Chinese.” for a variety of purposes.

8. Yuen-fong, Woon, “Social organization and ceremonial life of two multisurname villages in Hoi-p'ing county, South China, 1911–1949,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Hong Kong Branch, Vol. 17 (1977), pp. 101111, “The non-localized descent group in traditional China,” Ethnology, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1979), pp. 17–29,Social Organization in South China 1911–1949: The Case of the Kuan Lineage of K'ai-p'ing County (Ann Arbor: Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1984), and “An emigrant community in the Ssu-yi area, southeastern China 1885–1949,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1984), pp. 273–306.

9. The study of the effects of overseas remittances on the development of various Asian countries, begun in the late 1970s, has been gathering strength in the past few years. See, e.g., Arnold, Fred and Shah, Nasra M. (eds.), Asian Labour Migration: Pipeline to the Middle East (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1986) and its attached bibliography; Stahl, Charles W. and Arnold, Fred, “Overseas workers’ remittances in Asian development,” Asian Migration Review, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1986), pp. 898925; Griffiths, S. H., “Emigration and returned migrants’ investment in a Philippine village,” Americas, Vol. 5 (1978), pp. 4547; Quibria, M. G., “Migrant workers and remit tances,” Asian Development Review, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1986), pp. 7899.

However, as far as I know, there has been no detailed study of the role played by the overseas migrants and overseas remittances in the revival of cultural and religious institutions in the home districts in China or other Asian countries.

10. According to the usage of Freedman, Watson, and Ebrey and Watson, a “localized lineage” denotes a group of agnates who live together in the same geographical area and claim to be descended from a common founder. They usually have an ancestral hall in which they practise ancestor worship together. A “non-localized lineage” (which may be of the “dispersed” or the “:higher-order” lineage variety) denotes two or more groups of agnates with the same surname that are separated geographically, in which one group is considered to be the parent settlement. Members of all the groups practise ancestor worship in the main ancestral hall of the parent settlement. A “clan” is a loose term, denoting people with the same surname who sometimes claim descent from a remote and often fictitious founder. See Freedman, Chinese Lineage, pp. 18–42; Watson, “Chinese kinship reconsidered,” pp. 589–622; Patricia B. Ebrey and James L. Watson, “Introduction,” in Ebrey and Watson (eds.), Kinship Organization, pp. 4–6.

Recently, social historians and social anthropologists have found it difficult to accept these concepts, which they consider to be merely convenient labels invented by social scientists and imposed by them upon patrilineal descent groups being studied, without any concrete meaning for the members of such groups. See, e.g., Faure, The Structure of Rural Chinese Society; and Hsieh Jih-chang and Chuang Ying-chang (eds.), The Chinese Family and Its Ritual Behaviour (Taibei: Academia Sinica, 1985). However, as far as my study of the Guan goes, I find these concepts very closely reflected the social consciousness of the subjects I interviewed in both Kaiping and Canada. These concepts, for example, were used by my subjects to describe the history and settlement pattern of the Guan as they remembered it. In addition, these concepts very aptly described my subjects’ differential claims for the benefits derived from the jointly held corporate property in the pre-1949 era, and had served as actual charters for joint ritual, political, social and economic activities, both among the Guan in different parts of Guangdong and in alliance with other related kin-groups in the pre-1949 period.

11. See Makino, T., “Kanton no Gozokushi to Gozokufu” (“Lineage halls and genealogies in Guangdong”), in Noboru, Niida (ed.), Kindai Chūgoku Kenkyū (Tokyo: Kogakusha, 1948), pp. 89129. In this little-known work Makino points out that large localized lineages in south China that comprised many villages in the same locality had a “lower” as well as an “upper” structure. While each village had one or more ancestral halls built by members of different segments, there was often a central ancestral hall in the nearby market-town that all members in the vicinity attended for annual rites. In matters of daily life, the scope of unity was generally limited to one segment of the village, a single village or at most one or two closely-related villages (i.e. the “lower structure”). However, the “upper structure,” with its extensive corporate property, its elaborate annual rites, its genealogy and set of lineage rules, its control of the market-town, and its power over other minor lineages, did give a sense of identity and security to the lives of all the members in the vicinity. See also Faure, The Structure of Chinese Rural Society, pp. 8–9, on the significance of dividing large localized lineages into the village level and the extra-village level for purposes of analysis.

12. Analysis of the first period-before 1949-is based on in-depth interviews of the senior members of the Guan community in Victoria and Vancouver (Canada) conducted in 1973–74, as well as documentary research. Data for the second and third periods-1949–1978, post 1978-were obtained between 1986–87 by means of the following methods: (a) a detailed survey of the post-1949 Chinese media, as well as local publications in Kaiping county; (b) interviews conducted with a number of local leaders in Kaiping, including cadres of different levels, school principals, representa tives of the Kaiping Returned Overseas Chinese Association, spokesmen of the Kaiping Overseas Chinese Office, and members of the management committee of the Guan Lineage Library; (c) informal talks with individual rural inhabitants who voluntarily visited my hotel room in Kaiping in November of 1986 and July of 1987, and subsequent correspondence with them; (d) systematic observation during escorted visits to four villages in the Chikan district, the Wulong Market, Chikan Zhen, Wulong School, the newly-renovated Guang Yu High School, and all the ancestral halls, clan halls and other focal points of the Guan lineage formerly mentioned by my Canadian subjects; and (e) re-interviews with 10 of my original 14 Guan informants in Vancouver and Victoria in connection with their relationship with their home communities in the post-1949 period and their participation in the meetings of the World Guan Clan Association and the World Longgang Association, held in Hong Kong and Taibei respectively, in October 1984.

13. Before 1949 members of these “servile households” were not allowed to own land or houses in the Guan villages. They performed a number of menial tasks for the Guan, including the cooking and dividing up the ritual pork when the Guan were holding annual communal feasts during the Chinese New Year. For a description of servile households and bond servants in other parts of south China, see Freedman, Chinese Lineage, pp. 9–10; Baker, Hugh D. R., A Chinese Lineage Village: Sheungshui (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968), pp. 155–61; Watson, James L., “Chattel slavery in Chinese peasant society: a comparative analysis,” Ethnology, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1976), pp. 361–75; Mcdermott, Joseph P., “Chartering blank spaces and disputed regions: the problems of Sung land tenure,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1984), pp. 1342.

14. In his recent study of lineages in the New Territories of Hong Kong, David Faure maintains that some forms of folk religious practices, such as the kaideng, the dajiao and the worship of the earth god, were representations of territory instead of lineage loyalty, and that these folk religions probably predated the diffusion of the lineage as a form of social organization in south China. See Faure, The Structure of Chinese Rural Society, pp. 9–13, 71–86, 166. See also J. Brim, “Traditional temples and their social structural basis in the Yuen Long Area of Hong Kong in the New Territories” (unpublished manuscript, 1971); Pasternak, Burton, Kinship and Community in Two Chinese Villages (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), p. 111, for descriptions of the kaideng ceremony as a territorially-based event in Chinese villages in Taiwan and in Yuen Long area of the New Territories.

It is possible that the kaideng ceremony described in this article had been a form of territorially-based religion before. However, the very fact that in the Guan area it was the ancestral hall of each fang in the village which ran its own lattern hut and financed its own annual ceremony shows that the kaideng was a kinship-based event in the pre-1949 period, at least within the living memory of my senior subjects in both Kaiping and Canada.

15. Chinese Immigration Acts, better known as Chinese Exclusion Acts, passed by the United States and the Canadian Governments in 1882 and 1923 respectively, had effectively excluded Chinese immigration-and thus prevented family reunions in North America-until the late 1940s.

16. This temple was the precursor of the Longgang Temple in San Francisco, built in 1876, which is regarded as the site of the first Longgang Association in North America. See Longgang gumiao jianjie (The Longgang Ancient Temple: A Brief Introduction) (Sanfu, Kaiping, 1987), p. 3.

17. See Freedman, Chinese Lineage, pp. 173–84.

18. See Vogel, Ezra, Canton under Communism: Programs and Politics in a Provincial Capital 1949–1968 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969). pp. 2940; Yang, C. K., A Chinese Village in Early Communist Transition (Cambridge, Mass.: Technology Press, 1959), pp. 131–42.

19. See Burns, John P., “Rural Guangdong's second economy 1962–74.CQ, No. 88 (December 1981), pp. 632–34; Ungar, Jonathan, “Remuneration, ideology and personal interests in a Chinese village, 1960–1980,” in Parish, William L. (ed.), Chinese Rural Development: The Great Transformation (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1985), p. 119.

20. This process of fragmentation also affected other parts of Kaiping county, so much so that the 1,851 natural villages in the pre-1949 period have become 3,090 production teams since the early 1960s. See Kaiping wenxi (Cultural History of Kaiping County) (Sanfu, Kaiping), Vol. 3 (1982), pp. 99109.

21. See Parish, William L. and Whyte, Martin K., Village and Family in Contempor ary China (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978), pp. 51, 114, 302–305, 308–312.

22. See Nanfang ribao, 10 August 1959.

23. See Skinner, G. W., “Rural marketing in China: repression and revival,” CQ, No. 103 (September 1985), pp. 393413.

24. See Perry, Elizabeth J., “Rural collective violence: the fruits of recent reforms,” in Perry, Elizabeth J. and Wong, Christine (eds.), Political Economy of Reforms in Post Mao China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 181–12; Goldman, Merle, “Religion in post-Mao China,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, No. 483 (January 1986), pp. 146–56.

25. See Chang, C. Y., “Overseas Chinese in China's policy,” CQ, No. 82 (June 1980), pp. 281303; Zhongguo xinwen, 8 December 1981, 3 August 1983, 11 September 1984, 24 February 1986.

26. The enthusiasm of the overseas Chinese for building schools in Chikan area is remarkable, particularly at a time when funding and enthusiasm for education in other parts of rural China have been waning. See Richard Latham, “The implications of rural reform for grassroot cadres,” in Perry and Wong (eds.), Political Economy of Reform, pp. 159–61; William L. Parish, “Introduction: historical background and current issues,” in Parish (ed.), Chinese Rural Development, pp. 20–23; Victor Nee, “The peasant household economy and decollectivization in China.” Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol. 21, Nos. 3–4 (1986), pp. 196–97; David Zweig, “Prosperity and conflict in post-Mao rural China,” CQ, No. 105 (March 1986). p. 6.

Most of the schools funded by the overseas Chinese in the siyi area, however, are for the benefit of the members of their own lineage. See Jiangmen qiaobao (Newspapers of Jiangmen Emigrants) (Jiangmen municipality, Guangdong). 6 March 1985; Guang Yu Monthly, Vol. 7 (1984), pp. 2728, and Vol. 14 (1986), pp. 32–33.

27. Since its inaugural meeting in October 1984, the World Guan Association is now a permanent association centred in Hong Kong, meeting every three years. It is a conglomerate of 22 Guan clan associations formed throughout the world by the overseas Guan whose place of origin is either in Guangdong or Fujian province. See Shijie guanshi zongqing diyijie kenqingdahui tekan (Special Publication of the First Meeting of the World Guan Clan Assocation) (Hong Kong), 1984.

28. The World Longgang Association is a world-wide association made up of four fictitiously related clans among the overseas Chinese-the Liu, the Guan, the Zhang and the Zhao-who came originally from either Guangdong or Fujian provinces. Estab lished in 1963 in Taibei, it has evolved into a conglomerate of 143 Longgang associations around the world, claiming three million members, or one-seventh of all overseas Chinese in the world. See Guang Yu Monthly (Chikan, Kaiping), Vol. 8 (1984), pp. 3032.

29. Even though inter-lineage feuds have been disallowed, various lineages in the Chikan area are still competing peacefully with one another. For example, in 1983, when the Situ were able to obtain overseas Chinese money for donating a science building and a swimming pool to the First High School of Kaiping, the Guan were trying to match this by collecting money overseas to donate another building to the same school. Nevertheless, the principal of the First High School of Kaiping predicts that this enthusiasm in donating to his school will not last, as it has now become a key-point high school and has to accept students from all over Kaiping instead of just the Guan and Situ students. Peaceful competition between the Guan and the Situ is also apparent in their attempts to re-open their respective lineage libraries. See also Huaxia Quarterly (Canton) (1986), pp. 5455.

30. See statistics in Guang Yu Monthly, Vol. 1 (1983), pp. 7076, and Vol. 5 (1984), pp. 2–4. It is interesting to note that the donation campaign for the endowment fund of the Guan Lineage Library bears remarkable resemblance to the fund-raising methods used during major ancestral hall renovations in the pre-1949 period. The present donation campaign, for example, stipulates that those who donate the most will have their photographs hung on the wall of the second floor of the Guan Lineage Library, below the portrait of the lineage founder. The more one donates, the larger will be the photograph and the more centrally it will be placed. In some cases, as in the pre-1949 period, a donor may show his or her filial piety by making a donation in order to have the photograph of his or her parents placed on the wall of the Guan Lineage Library.

31. Cited in Guang Yu Monthly, Vol.1 (1983), pp. 1012.

32. The intention to include all the Guan in Kaiping as well as in other parts of Guangdong province under the rubric of the Guan at Chikan Zhen is indicated by the fact that the main hall of the Guan Lineage Library displays the portrait of Guan Jingqi, the first Guan who came to Guangdong province, instead of the portrait of Guan Rong, the sixth generation ancestor who was the first one to settle in Dawu village of Chikan district.

33. In the last three months of 1987 the Longgang associations in Canada and the United States succeeded in putting pressure on the Taishan county government and regained their property in Guanghai Zhen and Shangchuan districts (St. John's Island).

34. Perry, Elizabeth, “Rural violence in socialist China,” CQ, No. 103 (September 1985), pp. 414–40, and “Rural collective violence,” pp. 175–92.

35. As far as the Guan lineage is concerned, one can demonstrate a correspondence between the degree of pressure exerted by the overseas Chinese for the revival of certain institutions in their home communities and the leeway lineage-centred villagers were given by the Kaiping government. For example, when relatively mild pressure was exerted on the Kaiping government by a few overseas Chinese to revive the kaideng ceremony in their native village, it was not completely revived in its traditional form. However, when the World Guan Clan Association and the World Longgang Association exerted collective pressure for the revival of the institutions formerly managed by the upper structure of the localized Guan lineage, they were virtually completely restored.

* This research project has been made possible with the support of the International Division, the Research Grants Division, and the Leave Fellowship Division of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to which I am deeply grateful. My thanks also go to the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences in Canton and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in Kaiping, my local hosts, as well as to all the cadres in Chikan district and Lingyuan Xiang and to members of the Guan lineage, both in Kaiping and Canada, who patiently answered all my questions.

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