China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Slavery and the transactions that powered it (“human trafficking”) were ubiquitous in the pre-modern Chinese world and the broader Qing Empire with which it overlapped. We might translate the terms as manservant, or maid, or attendant, but the relationship was really that of one person’s ownership over another. Slavery formed an important part of virtually every aspect of the late imperial economy, and it colored nearly every family dynamic. Either members had been bought or sold, or they had the capacity to be. But because much of the textual record was produced by people whose own odds of being trafficked were vanishingly low, who largely identified as the traffickers and not the trafficked, and to whom this economic and social order was naturalized, we modern scholars have largely identified with their perspective. This panel attempts to redress that balance, while recognizing that—just as we moderns hover on the margins of the premodern world trying to understand it from outside—many of the best sources for understanding the Qing world are also in some sense marginal. Within the Qing order certain things simply could not be said. We are interested in the way in which Manchu, Mongol, and Chinese customs and legal codes and norms interacted, in the status of formerly unfree persons in legal cases, and in the ways in which trafficking could be emplotted.