2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Presentation and Representation of Local Gazetteers:
The Case of the Gazetteer of Kavalan Subprefecture

Kai-shyh Lin

Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica

As a form of historical text, the Chinese local gazetteer, or fangzhi, has been widely used as a primary source containing various kinds of data waiting to be analyzed. As a literary genre, fangzhi is viewed by many historians as a “progressive” form of history, emerging from the simple accounts of the imperial court to become a comprehensive form of local history. Comparing various forms of content organization in order to establish certain criteria to evaluate gazetteers has become a major concern of many Chinese scholars. Contrary to previous approaches, this article proposes to treat fangzi first of all as a form of knowledge. The fangzhi was the product of certain strategies of knowledge, and it produced certain political-cultural effects. The form of fangzi, especially the standard form sanctioned by the imperial court, reflected a particular scheme of classification derived from the bureaucratic organization of Chinese government, which in turn was based on a cultural anatomy originating in the ancient classics. Through its various strategies of objectification, the fangzhi was able to convey the orthodox ideology and impose an imperial order by presenting objects and events as if they were mere facts. Through naming and classification, it shaped social-cultural reality by both imitating and modifying social phenomena in textual forms. In the case of the Kavalan Gazetteer, a nineteenth century subprefecture fangzhi compiled in the outmost periphery of Taiwan, we find that the compiler disregarded the wide gap between the prescribed form of fangzhi and the realities of this newly acquired frontier, and produced a standard gazetteer with a comprehensive structure just like any other in the empire.  For those differences that could not be glossed over, the compiler created a few new categories to supplement, accommodate, and then domesticate the unusual through textual studies of historical records and comparisons with similar phenomena in other parts of the empire. We can thus conclude that fangzhi are best understood as a ruling technology that produced and naturalized the unequal relationship between the center and the periphery.


Keywords: local gazetteer, historical writing, Taiwan, Yilan, local history, form of knowledge