Several recent studies of historical local society in China have drawn attention to the wealth of documentation available on Ji’an prefecture in Jiangxi province. Much of that relates to the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
The abundance of documents on that period in Ji’an can help to fill an important gap in the history of local society in China. Studies conducted in the Pearl River delta in Guangdong have demonstrated that a shift in village structure occurred in the middle years of the Ming dynasty, during which time lineage sacrifice in an ancestral hall came to be the focus of much village organisation. In contrast, in Putian, Fujian province, it was the territorial temple which remained the dominant village establishment. It is unlikely that the Pearl River delta Ming dynasty pattern had evolved from the Putian model of territorial temples. Current research, and my own brief experience in Ji’an, indicates that the Ji’an pattern was closer to the Pearl River delta’s, but lineages had evolved there from much earlier.
In other words, not only did local institutions change over time, but they did according to identifiable patterns. In order to trace the successive patterns of village organisation, this project proposes to
|1.||locate villages in Ji’an in which during the Ming significant changes had been brought about in village organization,|
|2.||to collect available data on all major institutions in the village (including but not necessarily restricted to schools, shrines, temples, and ancestral halls),|
|3.||to collate documents available on the village institutions to compile chronologies of their development for individual villages; and|
|4.||to compare the chronologies prepared for individual villages to reach generalisations that might apply to the entire Ji’an region.|
Previous research on the Ji’an region has concentrated on studying local institutions in isolation. This project is rooted firmly in the study of social institutions as they evolved, and will seek to explain how, through the Yuan and Ming periods, local society as a whole had changed. I hypothesize that the Ji’an documentation will demonstrate how the Pearl River delta’s emphasis on the lineage goes back to the Southern Song and Yuan, that the neo-Confucian efforts in building academies was more closely tied to ancestral sacrifice in designated halls in this area, unlike Putian, where state recognition of local temple cults gave the temples more prominence than the lineages.