2016 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


Ethnic Politics and Population Movements in a Mountain Border
Region: Native Officials and Civilians in Northwest Yunnan between
the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Rui-zhi Lian

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Chiao Tung University

Despite immense geographic complexity, China’s southwest has historically been a dynamic area connected by social exchanges, trading, and politics. This article focuses on two ethnic groups along the border of Tibet and Yunnan who were living under two different political policies from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries; the Moso under the native official system, and the Bai under direct rule of the Ming state. This article traces how the leading families of these two groups were both connected by traditional alliances and came to be embedded in Ming dynasty political institutions which changed their social networks. Restricted by Ming native official (tusi) policy, some of the native clans were encouraged to set up strong marriage alliances. Through this strategy, the Lijiang Mu clan gradually became a leading family among native officials. As the Mu clan gained control over mountain resources, they established a strong native political group that incorporated ethnically diverse peoples and covered extensive territory along the upper reaches of the Yangzi. As civilians of the Ming Empire, Bai people were granted permits to establish salt households and migrated to mountain areas where they cultivated mountain fields and established salt selling routes extending to the borderland of the Mu clan’s territory. These two groups embody parallel social networks in tension with each other; the former achieved a wider political integration while creating a system of social stratification in native mountain society through marriage restriction, while the latter set up a flexible territorial consolidation by controlling the salt networks. In sum, the Tibet-Yunnan border region displayed the dynamic development of social networks involving ethnically diverse populations which became interwoven with each other during the Ming. This process occurred at the local level even as political institutions shaped the character of these ethnic relationships.


Keywords: native official (tusi), civilian, Northwest Yunnan, marriage alliance, border society