The Relationship between the Agro-pastoral Line and the Spread of the Catholic Church in the Chahaer Region, Northern China

Nov 12, 2014 | 12:00 PM

Prof. Zhang Xiaohong (Institute of Chinese Historical Geography, Fudan University; HYI Associate)
Chair and Discussant: Prof. Peter Bol (Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

The Great Wall of China is located on a transition belt from a sub-humid region to an arid/semi-arid region, and a boundary between farmland and nomadic areas in northern China has been found there for over 2,000 years. However, in the middle of the 18th century, the farmland area began to reach across the Great Wall and infiltrate into the nomadic region. Along with that process, the agro-pastoral line started moving substantially northwards and westwards, resulting in a changed landscape beyond the Great Wall. The Catholic Church, which had been preaching in Inner Mongolia since 1700, played an important role in this historical process. Since the congregation entered Inner Mongolia, they obtained land from Mongolians and lent land and farm facilities to Han Chinese in order to convert them and to maintain the mission. As a result of the intensive land management by the Catholic mission, the arid/semi-arid landscapes, formerly used as grazing lands, were more intensely used for agriculture. Based on data from local archival, Christian documents and an investigation of the Chahaer Region in Northern China, this talk aims to study how the Catholics influenced the moving of the agro-pastoral line northwards and the relationship between religious missions and environmental change. The talk will show that as soon as the missionaries started preaching to the impoverished Han people coming from within the Great Wall, rather than local Mongols in the Chahaer Region, more and more Han Catholic villages were constructed beyond the Great Wall. What used to be grazing land was cultivated and changed to farmland. On the other hand, to manage the Han people, the administrative system was transformed from a Meng-Banner system into a Banner-county system during that time. The latter, as the name suggests, was based on Mongol-controlled Banners and Han-controlled counties. The boundary between Banner and County serves as a hint for the agro-pastoral line. By reconstructing the distribution of the boundaries between Banners and counties since the late Qing, it can be seen that the agro-pastoral line in Chahaer region did shift northwards. Meanwhile, Catholic villages started to concentrate in the area around the counties, indicating that the Catholic Church played an important role in pushing the agro-pastoral line northwards in the Chahaer region since the late Qing Dynasty.