马健雄 (Ma Jianxiong) and Christian Daniels : Introduction: The agency of local elites in the transformation of western Yunnan during the Ming dynasty

Abstract:

By investigating Southwest China within the framework of the traditional centre–local dichotomy, previous scholarship has categorised it as a borderland. Scholars have interpreted the expansion of the Chinese state to the periphery as a civilisation project, which coupled with state-encouraged assimilation and acculturation ultimately aimed to turn ethnic populations into subjects of the emperor. Adopting the approach of historical anthropology and selecting local society as the focus of analysis instead of the state, this volume demonstrates the agency of local elites in reconstructing their own communities to adapt to Ming state institutions and ideologies. By emphasizing local agency, the authors show how shifts in state policies created fluidity between social boundaries and ethnic identities which in turn provided local elites with the leeward to manoeuvre and manipulate institutions to their own advantage. Daniels and Ma outline the new military and civilian institutions introduced by the Ming that formed the backdrop to the transformation of pre-1382 Yunnan society into an imperial province. They elucidate how protraction of the Dali kingdom’s socio-political-religious culture until 1382 arose out of peculiar historical circumstances during the Mongol-Yuan period, and discuss recent scholarship on the role of Buddhism and political power in the Dali kingdom period.