As regular readers know, I am interested in the question of how people are defined as Chinese. One nice bit of data comes from Hans Kuhner. He is looking at a pair of families in the early Ming and trying to figure out what, for them, is Chinese behavior. Although today the Yuan-Ming transition is sometimes presented as an uprising of native Chinese against their Mongol rulers and a restoration of Han rule, in fact the ethnic transition was a lot more complex, as shown in the case of two families.
One of the families is the Ding lineage of Quanzhou, once a major port for international trade. The Dings won their first jinshi degree in 1501. In their genealogies the first ancestor is Jiezhai, and all the early ancestors have Chinese names and are presented as wholly Chinese. It is only much later that it comes out that the first ancestor was also called Sayyid Ajall, a Bokharan who served as a governor under the Yuan. Sayyid stayed on in China after the fall of the Yuan, changing his name and attempting to deflect the considerable hostility towards semu people in the early Ming. This hostility was entirely popular. The state did not order purges of non-Chinese and in fact went to some length to avoid ethnic trouble. The Dings, however, got in a good deal of trouble over the years, as political opponents accused them of false registration, largely, it seems as a way of getting even with the Dings, not because people were so concerned with ethnicity. A later descendent, Ding Yanxia, described the family’s background this way.
We cannot know in detail where our family (jia) has come from before the time of Jiezhai. As far as religion (jiao) is concerned, in former times they seem to have followed customs that were not yet civilized. For example, they did not change the clothes [of the dead person] before it was put into the coffin, and they did not use wood for the coffin. The burial took place already on the third day after death, and [the corpse] was only covered with a very thin layer. The mourning attire was made of cotton, and when praying, there were no soul tablets for the ancestors, and no sacrificial offerings. On meetings, people bowed to the west at the time of sunset. Every first month [of the year] there was a period of fasting and one was allowed to eat only after sunset, while during the day, people were hungry. God (shen) was revered only with aromatic herbs, there were no sacrifices of wine and fruit and no paper money [as sacrifice] was burned. When reciting the holy book (qing jing) one imitated the traditional sound of the barbarian (yi) language, without understanding its meaning and not even trying to understand it. This was done on both happy and unhappy occasions. It was only allowed to eat meat that was slaughtered at home, and pork was forbidden. One regularly had to take a bath, and without bathing one was nor allowed to attend worship. As for clothing, cotton was preferred to silk, and on all occasions, cleanliness was desirable. When I was young, I still could see these customs personally. … Today, we burn paper money in the sacrifices for the ancestors, cattle has not to be slaughtered at home, all wear hemp as mourning attire, no more cotton. Sometimes, people wait as long as ten years before the burial. On both happy and unhappy occasions, Daoist and Buddhist monks are invited. Pork is eaten, and there is increasing conformity with [Chinese] ritual. However, there still are some who are proud of not following the [Chinese] ritual. With regard to the desirability of cleanliness, I have seen no reduction. Alas, as far as the teachings of the Noble Man on ritual are concerned, some maintain that it should be based on the traditions of one’s country and should be adhered to without the slightest change, Others maintain that some [aspects of] ritual can be different while others should be adhered to, with their practicality as criterion. What does “practicality” mean? It should conform to the principle of heaven and to human emotions. If they do not harm these two, why should we change them just in order to conform to the views of society?
Very enlightened. Of course he is defending his own family. The quote as a whole reflects the long debate about how strictly one needs to follow the forms of ritual. It is also typical in that it focuses almost entirely on ritual and especially funerary ritual as the most important aspect of proper behavior. While the family did largely conform to Chinese ritual, they also kept some non-standard behaviors, perhaps as a way of distinguishing themselves from others. Besides the emphasis on cleanliness, the family also continued to not offer pork to the ancestors, although they were offered wine. Not offering wine would be a pretty serious violation of Chinese ritual. Offering other foods but not pork would be fine I suppose.
Not all families were as accepting. The Lin/Li lineage of Quanzhou split over the issue of Islam. The issue, according to Kuhner, was that a member of the lineage, married a Persian woman in Hormuz and converted to Islam. This led to a split in the lineage. The reasons for this were explained in a 1426 text that is “one of the earliest explicit refutations of foreign beliefs in Ming times.”
“When the Yuan lost power, there were many semu people, and in our Quanzhou, they were the most numerous. Their families expanded, they ran amok and oppressed our people. Till today, although they were entered in the household registers, there are among them real semu, false semu, and also those who followed their wives to become semu, or who followed their mothers in practicing divergent customs. They thus brought disorder into our race (zulei), they despise our rules and do not respect our morality. Why is that so? As far as the sacrifices to Heaven are concerned, the Chinese (zhong xia) after the Yuan erected a mound in the south of the capital. They used sacrificial utensils made of porcelain and also animals for sacrifice, and nobody under the rank of Prince (gonghou) dared to overstep his place. Now, even the commoners among the semu are allowed to keep images of [their] god (tian) at their homes and pray to them.” When we [Chinese] are in mourning, we beat our breasts and cry and wail, put gems in the mouth [of the corpse], cover it with a shroud, and enclose it in a wooden coffin. Our mourning attire is made of hemp, and from morning to evening libations are offered. We prepare feathers to adorn the coffin, build a wall and select a burial site to bury it there. We erect soul tablets in the shrine in order to make regular sacrifices. The semu, however, sing and beat drums, embalm [the corpse] with mercury and adorn it with flowers, They wear no mourning attire, they have coffins of tong wood without lids, they bury [their dead] in the wilderness, and prepare neither tablets nor sacrifices. We adorn ourselves with orderly clothing, correct boots and belts, and jade pendants. But the semu wear turbans and coarse woolen cloth and go barefoot. We observe the seven proscriptions and three abstentions. What we call abstinence consists in not drinking alcohol and not eating [impure] food. The abstinence of the semu consists in not eating during the day, but only at night, not eating what is bought on the market, but eating only what one killed oneself, not eating pork, but only cattle feeding on hay. Our body, skin and hair were bequeathed on us by our parents, and we do not dare to violate them. This is filial piety. Among the semu, however, only those who were incised are regarded as adults, Their writing is like worms, and their speech is like the [howling] of owls. We Chinese can neither decipher [their texts] nor understand [their speech]. Alas! The ways of the semu are identical with the customs of the Yi and Di. The Shying says: “The Man and Yi are bringing disorder into our vast land/’63 The Shijing says: “He resisted the Rong and Di.” This is even more so in our Quanzhou. Although it is part of the Minhai region, everybody knew the way of the former kings, adhered to the Mean and sincerity and practiced them without failing. Recently, however, your great-uncle, although descended from scholars, was seduced by the customs of the semu and did not attain to enlightenment. He did not revere his ancestors, but those of others, he practiced the customs of the Yi and Di, and caused his descendants to become barbarians. Why is this so? It is because he was deluded by his sympathy for the strange and exotic. Alas, Han Yu has said: “[Confucius] accepted those Yi and Di who followed the customs of the Middle States as Chinese, while he regarded those Chinese who followed the customs of the Yi and Di as barbarians.”” Today, I, Guangqi, when compiling this genealogy, record his name and his deeds, but have to refute his mistakes, in fear that the descendants might follow his bad example. [I am writing this] in order to warn you seriously.”
One of the things I found most interesting about this is how much more explicitly political it is. As with the earlier text ritual, and especially funerary ritual, is crucial. In this critical reading, however, the author also points out that Muslims overstep their place by worshiping Heaven directly and also that they can be analogized directly to the ancient enemies of the central states. I mostly find these interesting because they are great passages, and the differences between them can probably be explained by the fact that one is hostile to foreign customs and one is not. Still, I find it interesting that the critical writer casts it as what might be called a “national” issue. Maybe the anti-foreign religion thing works better in that context.
Hans Kuhner “The Barbarians writing is like Worms, and their Speech is like the Screeching of Owls” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 2001 151:2 pp. 407-429