Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Native Place and Ethnic Relations in
Lunan Yi Autonomous County, Yunnan
Margaret Byrne Swain

Belonging to a native place is an important piece of a person's identity in China. The intersections of this identity with other ways of categorizing people, specifically ethnicity, family, class, and gender, create hierarchies of resource claims and behavioral expectations within regional systems. Nativeplace identity and associations in Chinese urban environments are well-documented sojourners' phenomena (Skinner 1976, 1977; Honig 1992; Goodman 1995), but native place is also a factor within rural areas. This essay looks to the less-studied periphery, exploring issues of rural native-place identity (bendiren, bencun, laojia, guxiang) and ethnicity or nationality (minzu) between Han Chinese and Sani Yi now settled in Lunan Yi Autonomous County in eastern Yunnan (see Map 11.1).1

My goal is to show how native-place and ethnic identities interact in local rural resource competition through time. Throughout China there exist ethnically distinct populations with claims to the same rural place. In rural China, migration over time is a significant factor in identity formation. Two types of population movements can be distinguished: those undertaken by migrants (for resources, in the wake of devastation or for colonization), who perhaps re-create their native-place identity, and those by emigrants, sojourners to urban centers (individuals expected to return to their abode) who maintain their native-place identity (Skinner 1976, 335–36).2 Throughout China, histories of antagonistic relations between immigrant and native

____________________
1
Han Chinese and Sani Yi are respectively the two largest groups, approximately 67 percent and 30 percent, of a total 201,215 population in 1990. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China for field and archive research in Yunnan during 1993.
2
With reference to Lunan, in the past migration and sojourning were present in the rural local system, which used to be in the periphery of Kunming (Shih 1944). In the 1990s Lunan is officially located in the Kunming urban metropolitan district, and its resources are incorporated directly into the regional center. The location has been redefined due to transportation, communication, and population shifts.

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