China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

(35) Slaves and/or Servants: Human Bondage in China’s States and Societies over the Longue Durée

3/22/2018
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 2, Exhibit Level

This panel examines the role of slavery in Chinese history, a generally neglected topic. Lack of scholarship on human bondage, as Robin Yates has noted previously, has led China to be overlooked in the burgeoning field of slavery in world history. Yates begins the panel by considering recently unearthed legal and administrative documents of the Qin and Han dynasties. His paper grapples with challenges of definition, particularly distinguishing between slaves, servants, and other low-status individuals in private households and state service. Jonathan Skaff also utilizes excavated sources, Tang Dynasty slave contracts and travel permits. The latter mention slaves, servants, and other Silk Road travelers. He finds that slaves of foreign and domestic origin supplied the majority of labor to elite Tang households and supplemented the profits of Inner Asian merchants. Like Skaff, Don Wyatt’s paper reveals that slavery in China was entangled with practices of greater Eurasia. The victorious Jurchen Jin army profited from the enslavement of the defeated Northern Song populace in 1127. Moreover, during the Mongol Empire, Turk warriors and Korean females were trafficked over long distances. Johanna Ransmeier’s paper on the late Qing and early Republican periods argues that lines between slaves, servants and wives—all outsiders who were integrated into households contractually—were unclear. This underlying problem, together with Marxist approaches to Chinese history, served to obscure the persistence of slavery and need for emancipation into the twentieth-century. Finally, the discussant, Pamela Crossley, who also has engaged in research on slavery, will offer her insights.

Presentations:

Jonathan K. Skaff

Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania

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Pamela Crossley

Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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    Robin D.S. Yates

    McGill University, Quebec, Canada

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    Jonathan K. Skaff

    Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania

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    Don Wyatt

    Middlebury College, Vermont

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    Johanna S. Ransmeier

    University of Chicago, Illinois

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    Pamela Crossley

    Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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