On the way to All under Heaven Cosmology: The Zhaozhou Bazi Society in West Yunnan


Ma Jianxiong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

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Abstract: Based on local inscriptions and from the perspective of a micro study of local communities, this research explores the historical dynamics of the social extension of a Bazi (坝子) society, which colluded with the state to maintain transportation systems between Yunnan and Burma. Some social networks overlapped on the transportation routes between the basins, because these routes had since the early Ming guaranteed the successful delivery of tributaries from exterior chieftains to different capitals, which confirmed the state’s all under heaven cosmology (天下). For instance, the significance of the transportation of copper from western Yunnan mines to the Yangtze River ports had guaranteed the safety of the state financial system in the Qing dynasty. Thus, in history, the Zhaozhou Bazi has been regarded as sustaining the support of a geopolitical network by states. On the other hand, local elites such as religious masters and scholars also gradually changed their roles from nobles at the political center of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms to government officials or Confucian scholars from the Ming to the Qing. In this process, reforms of state policy on land tax, and its bound corvee for transport services, increased the burdens of local communities. As a response, pushed by the local elite, communities reorganized their common property to deal with changes in state policies, and extended their networks to search for alternative opportunities over the routes. In sum, social changes created opportunities for local agents to reform their religious beliefs, as well as extend their community-based mule caravan business. Dynamic local agency performed an active role in reconstructing a Bazi society, and projected a changed center-periphery relationship in the historical context of western Yunnan.

Key words: the Bazi society, tributary system, All under Heaven cosmology, common property, Southwest China, Yunnan

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