Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Searching for the Heroic Age
of the Yi People of Liangshan
Liu Yu

Liangshan before the revolution of 1956 was a contradictory society full of the spirit of the Heroic Age. Competition and development, conservatism and stagnation, slave levies and exploitation: all were interwoven here. Of course, most of those able to take part in competition were nuoho (Black Yi) of noble rank, and after them qunuo (commoners). As for the slaves—gaxy, people of other nationalities who had been captured—they were deprived of all rights. For them there was no equality on which they could depend, only exploitative enslavement. It is a common element of class societies that the freedom of some people is sacrificed in order to bring about other people's development; in Liangshan society this circumstance was more nakedly displayed. In discussing the Heroic Age, Qian Mingzi has stated: “This is an age of rebellion, and also an age of hope; it is an age in which boundless evil is brought about by private desires between people; and it is an age in which the human race has, from the barbarous state, entered a stage of civilization. In these times, the standard of justice and wickedness is whether or not something benefits one's own tribe. People depend on courage and force of arms to protect themselves, and warfare is an important means of increasing the wealth of oneself and one's own group. Martial prowess is seen as the highest virtue” (1982, 91).

If we ignore Toynbee's criticism of the Heroic Age from the standard of civilization, then his characterization of the Heroic Age matches Qian's. Toynbee wrote, “The sociological explanation is to be found in the fact that the Heroic Age is a social interregnum in which the traditional habits of primi-

The author is grateful for the kind help and guidance of Professor Stevan Harrell of the University of Washington, and Professor Wang Qingren and Associate Professor Leng Fuxiang of Central University of Nationality. The manuscript draft was translated by David Prager Banner.

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