4: Travelers Exempted: Legal Responses to the Changing Realities of Travel in Eighteenth-Century China
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Illinois Chicago, United States
In eighteenth-century China, a marked increase in traffic on roads and highways throughout the country gave rise to new social norms and values. Increased travel bred more job opportunities, nurtured different cultural norms, and created new challenges for society. This paper explores the handling of one such challenge: a state-wide debate among provincial governors in 1738 over conflicting priorities that arose between farming life and life on the road.
Specifically, this debate focused on the practice of Nongmang zhisong: "during the busy season of farming, litigation suspended." Through its policy discussions and decisions, the Qianlong court recognized the inherent problems and contradictions of maintaining a social structure that prioritized sedentary livelihoods and agriculture. The Qianlong emperor and certain officials revealed a collective understanding of the unique needs of the new and emerging class of travelers and itinerant merchants whose activities were not dictated by the weather and not confined to a fixed locality. When this different way of life was challenged by crime, the state recognized that government protections were required for both farmers and stranded travelers.
Speaking to this panel’s theme, this paper ultimately details how various stakeholders in this transitional process negotiated compromises that prompted the system to accommodate change in order to continue to function effectively. In this constant flux of give and take, the state and its local officials sought to find common ground with individual travelers and travel service providers in an effort to maintain society's integrity and coherence and meet everyone’s needs.