China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The paper offers an in-depth understanding of the social consequences of the privatization of banner land in Jilin and its implication to the international order in Manchuria. Beginning in the 1880s, as a measure to increase revenue and to strengthen the borders against the encroachment of Russia, the Qing started to transfer the ownership of banner land, which accounted for the majority of land in Jilin, from the state to private hands. Contrary to the image of weak Chinese state presented by previous scholarship on this reform, the paper reveals that this state-making effort on the frontier was quite successful in arousing a national identity among the former Qing subjects.
By analyzing several hundred cases of land disputes filed between the 1890s and 1931 in Shuangcheng County, the paper provides a close-look at the social and ideational changes in this period. The Qing’s reform marked the onset of the reconfiguration of a whole set of relationships: that between the state, land, and the Qing subjects. This process continued under the Republican Chinese state’s effort to introduce the concept of exclusive property rights through legal reforms. Local people aptly coped up with these changes, using any available resources from customary and official laws to defend their property rights. Moreover, through interactions with official laws, local people’s discourse of property rights presented a unique understanding of ‘public’ and ‘private’, which is associated with the concept of equal entitlement, a sign of China’s transition from an empire to a nation state.