China and Inner Asia
University of Geneva, United States
When the Manchu forces conquered the Miao territories and practiced the gaitu guiliu policy, they faced the challenge of selecting the Miao people’s own rules for the imperial enterprises and using the imperial laws to government the local population. Generally speaking, the Qing developed the “customary rules of the Miao" (Miaoli) within the overall architecture of the laws promulgated by the Manchu State to ensure the control of the “non-civilized populations.” The Miaoli illustrated a tension between the need for a tolerance and a limited recognition of indigenous practices and the desire to gradually reduce them to the common regime of imperial law. This can be seen specifically in the war against internal and cross-border human trafficking in Guizhou province under the Yongzheng emperor. In fact, to impose its monopoly on violence within these new territories, the imperial state launched successive military campaigns over a century. In fighting against the crime of human trafficking, central rulers had to face a double dilemma: to maintain the privilege for the bannermen of owning slaves while allowing the limited possession of people in servile conditions by Chinese commoners; to criminalize large-scale human trafficking organized by traffickers while tolerating their participation in the “legalized trade” of Miao populations captured by the Imperial Army. Such a pragmatic practice led not only to deep changes in the Qing legislation on nubi system as well as the sale of human beings, but also to a gradual loss of effective control over the matters in southern China.