New Publication: Wesley Chaney, “Threats to Gong: Environmental Change and Social Transformation in Northwest China”

“Threats to Gong: Environmental Change and Social Transformation in Northwest China”

Wesley Chaney, Bates College

Late Imperial China
Volume 41, Number 2, December 2020
pp. 45-94

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Article Abstract

This article examines legal cases centering on the management of communal resources along the Tao River watershed during the Qing dynasty. Local commons, or gong holdings, had lasted for generations, but frayed when faced with subsistence pressures, demographic changes, and market penetration. Lineages could not maintain pastures if members’ own shrinking holdings made it difficult to put food on the table. Villages could not enforce regulations if outsiders were not bound by communal norms. And groups could not set aside forests if commercialization displaced local cultural values for prices, communally-held woodlands for units of timber. Focusing on village-level practices, this article argues that gong regimes were, above all, a matter of social relationships. Beginning in the eighteenth century, these relationships became strained as material conflicts were inflected by increasingly violent articulations of intercommunal, and often ethnic, difference. Behind the ethnicized brutality of the 1860s lay these long-term conflicts between different modes of production.

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