Becoming and Unbecoming Manchu: Revisiting the Role of the State in Manchu Identity Formation During and After the Qing
1: Only A Temporary Home: Runaway Manchu Bondservants in the Early Qing Period
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Washington University in St Louis, United States
My paper tackles the abandonment of bondservants from the Eight Banners in the early Qing despite the state's attempt to coalesce bondservants with their Manchu lords. By looking at the choices these runaways made and strategies they used on the road, my research argues that the state’s role was not paramount in shaping bondservants’ social belonging. Rather, those bondservants made up their own minds and journeyed to the homes they self-identified with. Before the 1644 conquest, bondservants were incorporated into banner households through warfare between the Manchus and their rivals, chiefly the Ming state, Oirat Mongols, and Choson Korea. Though they were endowed with legal and political protections and enjoyed limited social mobility within the Banners, a staggering number of bondservants chose to flee from the banner settlements and to return to their original home after Qing forces had defeated Ming China. The runaways represent a difficult element for the Qing rulers, who tried to maintain rigorous standards for conduct within banner society. This paper analyzes how deserters used carts and pack animals, changed clothes and accent, even appropriated the opposite gender as part of their escape tactics. All of these strategies aided them in escaping unfavorable situations and in reaching their places of refuge. Focusing on an overlooked side of Manchu desertion, my research reveals the challenge of Manchu identity-making from within and highlights the individual choice of social belonging among bondservants during the turmoil of Ming-Qing transition.