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In Session: The Collision of the State, the Local, and Space/Place: Historical Lessons from Southwest China and Northern Vietnam
1: Local Institutions and Imperial Space in Fourteenth- to Sixteenth-century Heqing, Yunnan
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Michigan, United States
Although Yunnan today is accepted as southern Chinese territory, for more than six centuries it was ruled by independent states, the Nanzhao Kingdom (738-937) and its successors. After conquest by Qubilai Qan in 1253, Yunnan became part of political entities based in East Asia, the Mongol Yuan and Chinese Ming dynasties. To better understand the process by which Yunnan was naturalized as Chinese imperial space, this paper examines state-sponsored stele inscriptions from Heqing prefecture in northwest Yunnan. At the northern end of core Nanzhao territory, Heqing was a prefectural seat until the eighteenth century, when it was demoted and incorporated alternately under the adjacent administrative units, Dali and Lijiang. Steles erected in imperial institutions, schools and government offices, made visible the state’s power to rule the local society. But approaching these textual artifacts as communicative events foregrounds the complex interplay of writers and audiences surrounding objects that were both physically bound to the local and integrally connected to translocal personnel networks. The audience for steles in government schools and offices comprised both circulating officials and Heqing residents; the men who composed, copied, and engraved these texts included members of the local elite as well as circulating officials. These texts constructed Heqing both as a governed and governable locality and as a distant periphery in need of governance. Moreover, they invoked histories of Nanzhao rule of the area to justify their construction of Ming administrative units. In so doing, these texts refracted existing meaningful places within an imperial spatial framework.