Friday, July 04, 2008

Thoughts on a Shrinking World, Mass Migration, and Changing Customs

Under the Mongol dynasty in China, the Yuan, unprecedented numbers of Westerners -- Uyghurs, Tibetans, Turkestanis, Persian, Arabs, Russians, Ossetians, Armenians, and even the odd Frank, like Marco Polo -- migrated to the country. Once they migrated there, receiving high position in the Mongol-run administration, many, if not most, stayed, and their sons and grandsons began adopting Chinese customs.

The attitude of Chinese to this differed. Leaving aside a small cranky minority in South China who still maintained loyalty to the defunct Song dynasty, most Chinese scholars were proud that people were coming from all over the world and converting to Chinese ways. But what about those who changed their surnames and customs to adopt those of China? Was that a good thing? Some thought that truly filial and Confucian Westerners would not change their family name and hence insult their ancestry as something to be gotten over. Others thought it was natural for people to change their name and customs when entering a new world.

Here is a sample of viewpoints on this phenomenon drawn from Chinese-language essays of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The source is Chen Yuan's Western and Central Asian in China Under the Mongols, translated by Qian Xinghai/Ch'ien Hsing-hai and L. Carrington Goodrich. (I have modernized the spelling, but I haven't necessarily referred to the original Chinese to check, so I cannot vouch for the correctness of each phrase or terminology.)

Wang Li in his Linyuan ji, thought it showed how the Mongol Yuan dynasty has expanded the brotherhood of man.

The language and tastes of the people of the Western Regions differ from those of the Chinese. Although since the days of Han and Tang intermarriage has occurred, still each retained his own racial allegiance and could not live permanently in the other's domain. How could those born in the lands of the West be interred in Jiangnan [the lower Yangtze area]. Now under our imperial house of the Yuan, when the foundation of the empire was being laid, the people of the Western Regions rendered valuable service. By the time of the Renovating Founder [that is, Qubilai/Kubla Khan], the land with the Four Seas had become the territory of one family, civilization had spread everywhere, and no more barriers existed. For people in search of fame and wealth in north and south, a journey of a thousand li was like a trip next door, while a journey of ten thousand li constituted just a neighborly jaunt. Hence among Western people who served at court, or who studied in our south-land, many forgot the region of their birth, and took delight in living among our rivers and lakes. As they settled down in China for a long time, some became advanced in years, their families grew, and being far from home, they had no desire to be buried in their fatherland. Brotherhood among peoples has certainly reached a new plane (p. 252).

Liu Yin in his Jingxiu wenji thought the custom of changing one's surnames to fit Chinese models a sign of bad morals. The Guli family of the Jurchen (a people of Manchuria, ancestors of the later Manchus) had taken on the Wu surname, and Liu Yin comments:

When I heard this, I said that this was a great mistake. The family surname had been received by the clan's forefathers and handed down to posterity, and the lineage should not be confused in the slightest degree. . . . They have of their own volition cut off their own roots, and allied themselves with another family. This is indolence and drifting with the current (p. 236).

Other critics like Wu Hai in his Wengaozhai ji, blamed this on careerism. Officials would receive surnames from the government and would not refuse them, lest doing so impede their careers:

The idea was that the new family name, bestowed by the Son of Heaven, could not be refused; while the old name had been handed down by his ancestors and should not be discarded. [A friend of his had showed him his genealogy, where he had listed both family names, old and new, side by side]. Hence both were retained. The moral sense of the people at present is enfeebled. People are bent on acquiring official position and wealth. Some have willingly sacrificed their ancestral heritage and adopted that of this country in order thereby to gain promotion in their careers. Is there one who has accepted a surname bestowed on him and yet is reluctant to give up the old one? On glancing over this genealogical record I could not but feel regretful. One may hope that people who have given up their forefathers may take a look at this record, be moved by it, and change their course of action (p. 237).

Others, like Song Lian in his eulogy of Pu Bo, a Muslim whose family settled in S. China, argued that when situations change, culture should change too:

The people in countries of the Western Regions had no family names; they were known rather by the tribes to which they belonged. They were unsophisticated and their affairs simple; as a consequence, it was easy for them to get along in this way. As to Master Pu [Pu Bo, a man of the Muslim Arghun people of Inner Mongolia], his family lived for three generations in regions of China known for their culture [i.e. in the Lower Yangtze]. He equipped himself with understanding of the History and the Odes [books in the classical Chinese canon] and put into practice the principles of our rites and rules of propriety. His old name he kept, however, which is not as it should be. On consultation with fellow officials and scholars he adopted Pu as his surname. In former times when the people of rank of northern Dai [northern Shanxi, on the northern edge of China proper] followed the rulers of the Northern Wei [a early Mongolic dynasty of the fifth-sixth century AD] and pushed down into Henan, they all followed Chinese customs, changing their three and four syllable names to those of one syllable, and in other respects adopting Chinese ways. The step taken now by Mr. Pu coincides with ancient principles and current practice. Were he not a man of unusual insight, he would not have seen this. Those who abide by ordinary practice might say that their forefathers did not introduce the change. That is because they are unqualified to talk about accommodation [or changing to conform]
(p. 240).

Wu Chen praised Shadi, with the courtesy name Xingzhe, for the adoption of the Chinese system of given names (ming) and courtesy names (zi), the later bestowed by respected colleagues or teachers. He was a member of a sayyid (descendant of Muhammad) family from Central Asia which settled in Yuan China and achieved high position, :

In remote antiquity, people had given names, but no courtesy names -- a sign of their simplicity. In ancient times people had both given names and courtesy names -- a sign of their culture. Within the nine provinces [of China], civilization was emphasized, as it was in medieval times and thereafter. Outside the nine provinces simplicity was stressed, just as it had been in remote antiquity. This difference in practice has existed throughout the ages. The domain of the reigning [Mongol Yuan] dynasty is the most extensive one of all times. All countries, both those within and without the nine provinces are in this domain and form one household. Each having its own customs, it has not been possible to unify them . . . . [Wu Chen then describes how he was given a courtesy name by his fellow officials] What is commendable in this Chinese custom is that the rules of what is right and proper, as laid down by the Duke of Zhou and Confucius, are admirable. Whoever esteems the rules of the Duke of Zhou and Confucius should follow them. Those who think highly of them but fail to follow them are untrue to civilization; they esteem culture, but are false to it. This is not like the genuineness of esteeming simplicity . . . (p. 228).

For others, the answer was to adopt a surname that had some connection with one's ancestry, thus preserving both a justifiable loyalty to one's ancestry and a fitting appreciation of culture. The Xie family of Uyghurs, for example, chose a rare form of this name due to its use in the Chinese transcription of Selengge, the river in Mongolia where his ancestors had come from centuries earlier. Xie Chaowu's name was based on the Mongolian cha'ur "warrior." So Wang Deyuan wrote about him in a eulogy thus:

Xie Chaowu, courtesy name Angfu, was a Uyghur. His given name was Mongol and his courtesy name Chinese. Men spend their life in different regions. As he continued to use the name of his tribe and did not forget his ancestor, he was filial. As he served in a glorious period of the house of Yuan and continued to use his given name not forgetting his country, he was loyal. In studying the standard literature of the Chinese, he freed himself from the charge of illiteracy. In continuing to use his courtesy name he did not forget his teacher, which indicates his sensibility. Being dutiful, loyal, and wise, his moral foundation was laid (p. 143).

For some adaption was a difficult process in which they had to try to find some common moral principles between their ancestral principles and their adopted country's mores and ethics. Xu Youren records the ambivalence of Heshu, another Muslim migrant to China -- and also reminds us that many immigrants made no effort to adapt:

When our house of Yuan launched expeditions against the countries of the northwest, the Western Regions were the first to become part of our realm. Accordingly, many more natives of the West were accorded high positions than those of other lands. Great merchants monopolized advantages in operating profitable enterprises on land and sea. They occupy key places in well-known cities and regions throughout the empire, and enjoy their large incomes, but few are successful in adapting themselves. They live in this country, are clothed and fed here, but they still cling to the customs of their own countries. Heshu, however, declared: 'I do not dare to alter our customs, and thereby become estranged from my own people. I wish only to change what is contrary to moral principles. I have lived in this country, been clothed and fed here, and shared the life of its people. I take no pleasure in altering our ways in order to conform to the customs of this area. But when I reach a decision about them, I wish to conform to that which is right. One of my ancestors came to China as an ambassador and his bones lie buried here. Can I afford to ignore the Odes, History, Rites and Music? [These are books in the Chinese classical canon.] When customs are dissimilar due to differences in underlying principles, should I follow them?' Ah! Heshu was certainly good at adapting himself in the way Mencius proposed [a reference to where Mencius tells the story of people who reformed non-burial of the dead simply by natural feeling, without ever being taught to conduct burials]. According to their mores [that is, Muslim ones], they did not erect monuments at the tombs of their ancestors, but he did so (p. 243).

These are the cultural options still today, in a shrinking world of mass migrations. Perhaps the most distinctive element is the sense of attachment to a particular land, in which the migrants are "fed" and "clothed" by the land, and hence owe something to it.

Labels: , , , , ,