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In Session: Capture, Slavery, Bondage, and Forced Relocation in Asia (1400-1900), Part 2
2: The Crossing: Captivity, Slavery, and Migration in the 16th century Ming-Chinese Maritime Frontier
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Pennsylvania, United States
Sixteenth-century Chinese frontiers saw an increase in the flow of cross-border population movement. Some of this movement was voluntary, but in many instances it was compulsory. Rather than expand into the uncivilized land of barbarians and bring them into the fold of Chinese civilization, instead, Chinese people left the Middle Kingdom. Put in terms of the trope of sinicization, they "suddenly lapsed into the state of dogs and sheep and lost all sense of shame." In other words, they became de-sinicized. Some de-sinicized Ming subjects became the victims of forced migration, abducted as captives during frontier raids, a significant number of whom later found barbarian life acceptable, if not more desirable. Many left voluntarily to escape the onerous burden of taxes and corvée labor, becoming migrant settlers on the other side of the border. Some even joined the forces of frontier raiders and became enemies of the Ming state.
In this paper, I look at the coastal region—long plagued by pirate raids—and examine how frontier residents responded to massive captivity by creatively redefining trafficking, enslavement, and migration. In extreme cases, individuals turned captivity into a venue for kinship formation and used self-enslavement as a form of "naturalization." A long overdue focus on capture and bound labor will allow us to trace new social relations and practices that emerged at this particular historical juncture across Ming frontiers.