5. The Revival of Tradition in Northern Anhui: A Response to Social and Economic Change

Han Min


Thirteen years have passed since the responsibility system was adopted in rural China. Family enterprise and the market economy were restored, and communes were disbanded, so peasants achieved more freedom in economy and polity. One of the most manifest results of the decollectivization was the enthusiasm for the revival of traditional customs, ritual and religion. Why did this happen and what conclusions can we draw from these changes? All these questions become important when we assess the effects of the socialist revolution, including collectivization and decollectivization, and when we analyze the relations between peasants and the state.
Recently some anthropological scholars and students have begun to pay attention to the revival of the traditional institutions. For instance, the Potters (1990) have pointed out the revival of household ancestor cults in Guangdong and suggested it is a symbolic statement of the social and economic importance of the household. Kim Kwang-ok (1991) from South Korea analyzed the revival of popular culture in Shandong in the context of tension between the state and people around its ownership and control. Jing Jun (1992) reported on the rebuilding of the Confucian Temple by the Kongs in Gansu, and pointed out that beneath it lies a hidden memory, a burden of regret, fear and shame. These authors to a certain extent have described the same phenomenon of a resurgence, but they share a similarity in that each of them adopts a one-side focus: on the economic importance of the household in the case of the Potters, on the competition between the Party and people around the reconstruction of the past in the case of Kim, and the social memory in the case of Jing. Therefore the overall picture of the way in which this revival happened still remains unclear. To overcome this, an intensive and full-length study from a number of different angles is necessary.


This paper presents a detailed account of the resurgence of ancestor worship and ritual presentation between agnates and affines on the occasion of rites of passage and festivals in the lunar calendar in a northern Anhui village. It focuses mainly on three aspects: the constraints and possibilities of the local economy and political system, people's group identity, and, especially important, the efforts of the elite inside the descent group and the influence of the overseas Chinese who come back to visit their homes.

Xiao County, Lijialou and Li lineage

This paper is based on my fieldwork conducted in the village which I will call "Lijialou" in Xiao County, Anhui Province between October 1989 and April 1991. Xiao County is located in the northern part of the Huaibei Plain, bordering Jiangsu Province and Henan Province, with cultural traditions and history tracing back to the Xia Dynasty (c. 21st - c. 16th century BC). During the Xia Dynasty, the Xiao Kingdom was established here, but during the time of the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC - 476 BC), the kingdom was destroyed, and the area became part of the Song Kingdom. In the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC), the First Qin Emperor abolished principalities and established prefectures and counties. During this period, Xiao County was established for the first time and has continued as an administrative unit till now. Xiao County belonged to Jiangsu Province until 1955, and since then it has been part of Anhui Province. Until 1985 it included ten districts, three zhen and seventy-four xiang.[1] Its total area is 1,861,119 square kilometers and its population in 1980 was 987,000. Of this, the population registered as living in agricultural areas was 95.1% of the total.
Lijialou is located about twenty-two kilometers northwest of the headquarters of Xiao County. It has a population of 301 people, divided between seventy-eight households. Like most of the villages in the county, the core of the village population consists of members of the same patrilineal descent group. About 300 years ago, a group of lineage members moved to the present site of Lijialou. At present the village is divided into five segments, the members of each of which previously lived together in the same "big yard". The five segments are called: East Yard, Back Yard, Front Yard, West Yard and Northeast Yard. Each of the five segments or five yards occupies a separate area of the village. As with the other villages in the area, agriculture has continued to dominate the economy of Lijialou, and the villagers produce wheat, beans, sweet potatoes and cotton. The average size of responsibility land holding per person in the village is 2.3-2.5 mu, well above the national average of 1.4 mu.
About 600 years ago, at the beginning of Ming Dynasty, on the orders of the emperor Zhu Yuan-zhang, large-scale immigration took place throughout northern China. For fifty years people were sent from Shanxi to areas including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Jiangsu and Anhui. It was as a result of this that the founders of Li lineage moved from Hongdong County in Shanxi Province to Laozhuangzi Village, Tongshan County in Jiangsu Province. During the six centuries, twenty generations passed, and the Li lineage developed to over 50,000 people, and from one village to dozens of villages concentrating in one local area. As Figure 1 shows, A1 Li Qing had six sons B1, B2, B3, B4, B5 and B6.[2] These six sons founded six fang which were later called lao liu fang, the "six senior segments". One of the descendants of B6, J2 Li Yao-ba had seven sons who later founded seven segments, which Li call, xiao qi fang, "the seven junior" segments. The Li of Lijialou belong to the sixth junior segment. Now Li lineage has a depth of twenty-three generations.
Li as a lineage provides an example of the Lower Yangzi River type of lineage from the area of the Yellow River (Beattie, 1979; Ebrey, 1983 and Hazelton, 1986). Li lineage as a whole had their genealogy, corporate graveyards, ancestor halls and a generational naming system. Before Liberation, during the Qingming festival, all the segments got together in Laozhuangzi, the village where the founding ancestor had settled, to worship their ancestors. In the northern corner of Laozhuangzi village are located the tombs of the first ancestor A1 Li Qing, his five sons and ten grandsons. The tombs are arranged from southwest to northeast, a style that people call xie zi shang chao, "leading the children in procession to court". The tomb of Li Qing is located to the southwest, with those of his five children following behind to the northeast, and the ten grandsons following Li Qing to the south of their fathers. B3 died young without descendants, so he was not buried there. This pattern of arranging burial reflects the descent and seniority principles. At the same time, by showing the process of its segmentation, this pattern also stresses the unity of the group and its common origin, and helps reinforce group identity. In 1772, the 36th year of Qian Long's reign, Li Qing's descendants established a stone monument, a stone table, an incense burner, two vases, two door pillars and four prism pillars in front of the tombs.
About 200 meters to the north of the tombs of Li Qing and his sons and grandsons, there used to be an ancestral hall which was called in local terms jia tang miao. It began to be used as local government school after the land reform. Till then, the tablets and genealogies were displayed there. Each year, the Li gathered in Laozhuangzi once a year to worship their ancestors and consult other lineages affairs during the Qingming Festival. When I visited Laozhuangzi, many old and middle-aged men told me, "Before the revolution, a large gathering called zuo zhuang hui would be held in Laozhuangzi each year. All the lineage segments, whether near or far, sent their representatives to Laozhuangzi to worship our ancestors". An informant in Laozhuangzi aged over 60 told me, "The representatives carried offerings in sedans decorated with flags from far away. In a vast space covering several mu, dozens of pigs and sheep were sacrificed to the ancestors. People stood in rows with the senior generations in front and the junior generations behind. Usually actors would come to put on a show. It was wonderful." After the annual ritual, they had a group feast. On this kind of occasion, the representatives from each of the villages were males who were degree holders, influential and of high social status. In the case of Lijialou, people usually sent Qa3 Li Xiang-dong, a xiu cai, a scholar who had passed the imperial examination, to the meeting as their representative.
In order to meet these expenses of the group's annual cycle of rituals, ancestral halls and grave sites, Li lineage set up 104 mu of land as their corporately held property. The local term for it is lin di - graveyard. The people who took care of the tombs were members of other surname groups, as was common in the case of the tombs of rich lineages in this area. In regard to corporate property, the Li lineage differ from lineages in Guangdong. In the case of northern Anhui, most of the property was concentrated in the hands of each of the households or segments rather than the whole lineage. Each time segmentation happened, the property was divided accordingly. However, property in the form of land was not the basic factor in the continuity of the lineage. It was through residential concentration, ancestor worship, maintaining their genealogy and their generational naming system that they kept emphasizing order inside the lineage, its unity and identity, and therefore maintained its existence. The lineage integration created through joint rituals and a common genealogy provided members with a useful network. On the other hand, the bureaucratic and literate elite played an important roles in the lineage. Between the early seventeenth and the nineteenth century, a number of degree holders and officials came out of Li lineage. These officials and their immediate descendants bore almost sole responsibility for preparing various editions of lineage and branch genealogies, and for carrying out the annual rite of ancestor worship. The prestige and protection given by the lineage, because of these degree and office holders, provided motivation for people to strengthen their lineage ties. In addition, these elite members formed affinal relationships with other lineages of the same status, and became an influential group in the local area. In turn, making ties with higher level elites became one of the main motives for maintaining the descent group as a united lineage.

Recompiling the genealogy: a boom at its height

This section gives a detailed case study of the recompilation of the genealogy of Li lineage in the 1980s. Soon after the adoption of the responsibility system and the breakup of the people's communes, rewriting genealogies and rebuilding ancestral halls experienced a boom in Xiao County. Lineages, especially those that have produced famous people such as a party secretaries of Xiao County or county magistrates all began to rewrite their genealogies. Examples are the Ma lineage (Ma Xin-guang was the county magistrate), the Zhang lineage (Zhang Duo was the county magistrate in the 1980s), Shan lineage (Shan Jing-zhi is the secretary of the CCP committee of Xiao County) and so on. Most of the genealogies in this region had not been rewritten for 60 years or more after the invasion by the Japanese. Here it is worth mentioning that it is lineages which have produced influential officials during the Mao and post-Mao periods which are more active in recompiling genealogies. By appealing to a tradition of descent, people are attempting to reclaim the prestige of their groups and to enhance their image in the local area as people of distinction. Compilation of the genealogy does not appear to have resulted from the simultaneous creation of any new property. Their main concerns are relationships and status which can be turned into material and business resources under the new responsibility system.
It was against this background that the genealogy of Li lineage was recompiled. In 1983, three men of the fifth senior segment, came to Lijialou from Laozhuangzi where the first ancestor A1 Li Qing settled in 1369. Their purpose was to collect contributions from all of the six senior segments to rewrite the general genealogy and rebuild the ancestors' tombs and ancestral hall. For the three purposes, each Li male had to pay 5 jiao. All the villagers eagerly paid the money, and even those who had no sons wanted to pay for their daughters. During the land reform in 1950, the ancestral hall, like most of the ancestral halls in China, began to be used as a school and it has survived till now. The old general genealogy in Laozhuangzi was not damaged during the Cultural Revolution. When I interviewed them in 1990, they told me. "In the previous days, especially during the socialist education campaign, the authorities forced us, sometimes by violence, to hand over our genealogy. How could we hand over our genealogy which is more important than our lives? People of the old generation decided to divide the genealogy into several parts among several households. We hid the genealogy in jars and buried them into the ground. All these were kept secret even from our own sons, because we were afraid they would be active and tell the workteam the truth." Through their efforts, the genealogy, which was written in the early 1930s, survives.
Two years later in 1985, the new genealogy was finished. The villagers used their contacts, and had the genealogy printed in a factory in Xuzhou. Then they loaded the new genealogy and copies in six trucks, brought them back and delivered them to each village of the six senior segments. Now each village keeps at least one copy. It was said that 50,000 male members born between 1930 and 1983 were registered in the new genealogy. The genealogy compilation committee also decided on another 20 generation words for the next generations. The present generation words were decided in about 1772, and there are still seven characters left for the next seven generations. However, four members of the committee considered the matter for a whole week, and finally composed another wujue poem, a four-line poem with five characters to a line.
Each of these 20 characters is the name taken by one generation. The new generation poem is: Gen shen zhi ye mao, yuan yuan quan mai chang. Qin jian wei jia ben, shi dai yong rong chang. "The root is deep, and the branches and leaves are massive; the stream has a distant source and is endlessly long; thrift is the foundation on which we can build; hundreds of thousands of generations will be prosperous." Compared with the old poem, the new one is much easier to understand, so many Li, both old and young, can recite it very well. These new naming words suggest a degree of corporate consciousness and some sense of common identity.
At the same time, people of the same surnames but from different provinces such as Shandong, Henan, Jiangsu and Anhui began to visit each other to find groups with the same surname. If the genealogies or the generation poems of both sides were the same, then they would consider that the two surname groups were of the same lineage, and they would merge into one. At present, the range of private economic activity has been enlarged, and therefore a reliable network based on consanguinity is necessary for business. So people hope that they will have a strong network not only within their own commune, county and provinces, but also across provinces. With the genealogy boom, some small lineages attempted to join big influential lineages. However, as for the big influential lineages, though they hope that they will have more and more agnates in different counties and provinces, they still try to preserve the purity of the lineage as before the revolution in order to prevent other people from sharing their prestige and influence. The Li lineage provides a good example. One man of Laozhuangzi, who is in charge of lineage affairs and keeps the genealogy in his home, told me that, "One day a group of people came to Laozhuangzi with fish and pork. They claimed that they were Li and hoped to join our genealogy. I asked them some questions about the Li's history. They could not answer. I realized that they were not really our people. I asked them to take the gifts back, and refused their request."
In this region, many lineages have rewritten their genealogies, but some of them have not yet. The difference between the two is that in the case of the former, they have an elite who are educated, influential and enthusiastic about lineage affairs in their groups. Li lineage was lucky to have such a man. He was Li Xian-zhi. Before the revolution, he was the administrator of a district and a township in both the CCP government and the nationalist government. His prestige was high among the masses. After the revolution, he began to be a fortune teller, geomancer, and doctor of acupuncture and moxibustion, and he travelled around. He once went to the northeast to live with his son, and he took the genealogy with him. Coming back from the northeast, he opened a private clinic. People said that he had taken part in rewriting the genealogy twice, the second time being in 1983. The new generation poem was mainly composed by him. It was sad that after the new genealogy was finished, he had hemiplegia and died in 1989 at the age of seventy-five. For this reason, the ancestral hall remains unfinished.
The repeated updating of their genealogy is evidence of a strong sense of group identity among the peasants, especially among their educated members, and perhaps even of an ongoing organization. Recompilation of the genealogy does not appear to have resulted from other forms of common interest such as collective property. People's main concerns are not material resources, but relationships and status in the descent group which are considered to be useful in the new situation of household production and the market economy.

Rebuilding a 300-year old ancestral monument

With the genealogy boom at its height, building or rebuilding stone monuments and restarting the ancestor cult are also experiencing a boom. During the collective period, nearly all the stone monuments in Xiao County were moved to be used as material for building houses, wells or bridges, and many of the tombs were flattened. Recently, under the open door policy, more and more Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong or America, most of whom left Xiao County in 1949 with the nationalists, have come back to visit their ancestor's graveyards, build cement tombs, and rebuild stone monuments. For instance, in a village in the neighbourhood of Lijialou, the first three cement tombs were all set up by those who came back to visit their home from Taiwan. The state has not restricted this kind of activity by overseas Chinese or tai bao, "compatriots", in Taiwan, and this has influenced and encouraged the local people to do the same. Some of them are rebuilding tombs on the previous sites or enlarging tombs by adding more earth, and some are building cement tombs or setting up marble monuments for their ancestors. As the tombs and stone monuments are being revived, ancestor worship in the graveyards is becoming popular and its scale is becoming bigger. In the case of Lijialou, during the collective period, peasants only visited the tombs of their parents, or at most their grandparents, on the occasion of Qingming. But now, people from each yard also visit graveyards to worship their own common ancestors who founded their yards. Besides Qingming, some of them also visit tombs on July 15 and October 1, the two dates which are called locally gui jie. Although July 15 is the Buddhist All Soul's Feast and October 1 is the Buddhist stove lighting festival, they are never considered as Buddhist celebrations. Here I will present a case study of how the seven junior segments rebuilt a stone monument and held a magnificent ceremony to worship their joint ancestor, J2 Li Yao-ba.
Once when I asked the villagers if there were any historical materials or records left, they told me they used to have four stone monuments in their graveyard. Besides these stones, there were other two stone tables, two stone lions and two stone horses. In 1958, in order to construct the collectives, all these were moved to distant villages and used to build bridges, wells and so on. They told me that one of the monuments might be in a village called Zulou, two kilometers away. One day in February of 1990, I asked two young people to take me to Zulou. We soon found a monument belonging to the Li. It had been used as part of a stone bridge, four meters wide and ten meters long. The characters on the monument were not so clear. I wrote down those that I could recognize in my notes. Back to Lijialou, I asked the villagers and they told me that it was their stone monument which was lost in 1958, and they said the monument was perhaps for their ancestor J2, who founded the seven junior segments. Since Lijialou had no old genealogy but only the new genealogy which was delivered in 1985, I went to Laozhuangzi again to look it up in the old general genealogy. I was able to confirm that the owner of the monument was J2 Li Yao-ba who probably settled in Lijialou in about 1630 in the late Ming dynasty. According to the genealogy, J2 Yao-ba was a xiang sheng, a student at an official local school ran by the prefecture or county during the period of the imperial examination system. The stone monument recorded that J2 Yao-ba used to be shao ci shi, a deputy governor of a prefecture and he died in the early Qing Dynasty.
Knowing the relationship between the owner of the monument and themselves, the villagers, both the cadres and the people, wanted to move it back as soon as possible. They said that although the communist wind had blown the tombstone away, how could they leave their ancestor alone in another village? They would invite him back home. However nobody wanted to take charge of the project. Somebody suggested that my landlord Sb12 Li Qian-xiang should be in charge of it, because of his reputation in the area. My landlord said that he was just a retired man and had no authority to negotiate with other villages. So Sc37 Li Han-xiang, a member of the party branch and the accountant of the administrative village, Sc34 Xiang-ge, the village head and Ta8 Ling-chao, the four men who are most influential in this area, went to Zulou together to negotiate with the cadres there to exchange the tombstone for cement and planks on the morning of August 18 1990. The cadres of Zulou agreed.
In the afternoon of that day, more than 20 men led by the village head went to Zulou. People immediately removed the stone monument from the bridge and repaired the bridge with the wooden planks and cement. After loading the stone monument into a truck, they set off firecrackers to invite their ancestor to come back home. To my surprise, even the young people were very enthusiastic about taking part in the event. However, some of the women seemed to be uninterested, asking what use it was. The young men wanted to set up the tombstone again that day, but my landlord said that there was no hurry and that they should consult the old people first. They stored the stone monument in a threshing yard temporarily rather than putting it up immediately, for two reasons. First, it is the custom to set up stone monuments either on Qingming or October 1. Second, since J2 was the ancestor of all the seven junior segments, the villagers decided that they should get in touch with other six junior segments immediately.
In order to do all this, it was necessary to establish a preparatory committee. One day, Rc26 Fan-jie and Rc20 Fan-mu came to my landlord Sb12, to talk about who should be on the committee. Rc26 Fan-jie and Rc20 Fan-mu are wen shi de in Lijialou. Shi means rituals, including weddings, funerals and other rites, so wen shi de means people in charge of rituals. In northern Anhui, every village will have one or two wen shi de who are usually senior and enjoy high prestige. That evening, more than ten men who were enthusiastic about lineage affairs gathered in Rc26 Fan-jie's home. They took some decisions: (i) to establish a preparatory committee; (ii) to get in touch with the six other junior segments immediately; and (iii) that on the next Qingming, they would celebrate the re-establishment of the monument, present offerings to the ancestor and invite local players to play for three days in order to mark the event. Then, after re-establishing the monument, representatives from the seven junior segments would have a banquet. Five men were selected as members of the preparatory committee: Rc26 Fan-jie, Rc20 Fan-mu, my landlord, Sc34 Xiang-ge, the present village head and Fan-en, who is a member of the fifth junior segment and lives in another village near the ancestor's tomb.
When the news spread the next day, only one man felt unsatisfied with the preparatory committee. He was Ta8 Ling-chao who was in his early forties and used to be team head for more than ten years. He had been enthusiastic about lineage affairs. Seeing that Ta8 Ling-chao had been busy with his transporting business, my landlord, Rc26 Fan-jie and Rc20 Fan-mu did not select him as a member in order not to affect his business. Ta8 Ling-chao got very angry at it, and complained: "I would be happy to be engaged in re-establishing the monument, even if I make a loss on my business. It is worthwhile, because the younger generations will remember the people who have contributed to their lineage." Ta8 Ling-chao regarded re-establishing the monument as much more important and worthwhile than his business, so finally the committee accepted him.
Just at this time the socialist education campaign in the rural areas began in Xiao County. On the morning of December 26, 1990, a mobilization meeting was held in the yard of the xiang headquarters. All the cadres of the xiang, administrative villages and natural villages, together with party members, Youth League members and teachers were called to attend the meeting and asked to be active in the newly-launched campaign. The purpose of this campaign was to eliminate capitalist and feudal influence. The villagers became nervous because it reminded them of the socialist education campaigns in the collective period, so they decided to wait for a while and watch in which direction this political wind would blow. After two months had passed, they found that there were no big changes. Based on their experience of political campaigns over the last 40 years, they foresaw that there would no major changes this time, so after the spring festival, the preparatory committee began to send Sc34, the village head, and my landlord around to get in touch with the other junior segments.
Representatives of the seven junior segments gathered in Lijialou twice. They agreed unanimously to re-establish the monument at the Qingming festival, to carry out a grand ceremony, to present offerings to the ancestor, and to have a banquet afterwards. Li Ling-rong who is from the eldest junior segment was invited onto the six-member preparatory committee and was selected as the head of this committee. Li Ling-rong is a party member who used to be PLA officer and later became a high-level cadre of the public security bureau of Fujian Province. He retired and came back to Xiao County in recent years. This preparatory committee had some interesting features and was very well organized. It consisted of three kinds of people: old peasant representatives of the senior generation who have high prestige among agnates and local people; retired state cadres such as Ling-rong and my landlord who have accumulated a wealth of experience in responding to the policy from central government; and local cadres in active service. These different people took different responsibility according to their status and career. The old peasants representatives were required to bear formal responsibility for the whole event. They said: "we are not cadres but no more than common peasants, and we are old; even if the xiang or county government punishes us, what else can they take from us besides our lives?" The retired state cadres and local cadres in active service were responsible for the actual arrangements such as making decisions, getting in touch with the seven junior segments from 24 villages other villages, and financial affairs. They said that, "having the old generation take responsibility for us, we can carry out our plan without worry".
The first thing the preparatory committee decided to do was to ask a stonemason to engrave the inscription on the old monument. Before that, it was necessary to make sure what the inscription was and write it down. One day, when some of the Li were writing down the inscription on an old monument, a cadre from another xiang who passed by joked to the Li, "the wind of socialist education is coming and you will all be punished." A stonemason soon came and stayed in my landlord's house. It took him two months to finish engraving the inscription. In addition to restoring the old inscription, the seven members of the preparatory committee decided to add their own names on the stone monument. They said that when their grandsons or grand-grandsons saw their names on this stone monument, they would be proud of their ancestors. This may be seen as another kind of invisible property which they are able to hand down to the next generations, and it certainly provided one of the motivations for these six men to take the risk of being in charge of the event.
The next job was to set up the stone monument on the Qingming festival. On April 4, 1991, the villagers of Lijialou moved the monument to its previous site in order to get it ready for the ceremony the next day. In the evening, representatives from Laozhuangzi arrived. In fact, J2 Yao-ba was not their direct ancestor, but since they lived in the first ancestor's village, they represented the highest authority in Li lineage. Their attendance symbolized the authority of the higher level of the lineage over the lower level of the segments.
On April 5, eighty-one representatives from twenty-four villages of the seven junior segments and about ten representatives from the first ancestor's village gradually arrived at Lijialou in the morning. They gathered in my landlord's and landlord's brother's yard. Before leaving Lijialou, Ta8 Ling-chao told the people: "Let's walk in good order with five people in each row. During the ceremony, please do be serious. We should let people of other lineages know about our family [i.e. lineage] discipline." A long line started to move to the northwest. It consisted of men with the women carrying their babies following it. Children ran around in front or behind. Firecrackers sounded all the way, and attracted people from villages around. They put aside their tools and ran up to see what was happening, as did the school children leaving school.
Representatives of the seven junior segments and Laozhuangzi, all together more than a hundred people, stood in front of J2 Yao-ba's monument and grave in order of seniority, with the senior ones in front and the junior ones behind. Wreaths, a narrow flag and a mourning shelter made of stalks of sorghum were put in front of the tomb. Inside the shed, pork, fish, chickens, liquor and other offerings were ready. On the two sides of the shelter, scrolls in memory of the dead were hung. The two lines of the couplet on the vertical scroll read: Le bei ke ming hou dai jing ying ji qian qiu. Zheng bei qing yuan xian zu gong de chui bai shi. "Carving inscription on a stone tablet, distinguished descendants will continue for thousands of years. The merits and virtues of ancestors will be reordered for hundreds of generations." The text of the horizontal scroll read: Longxi shi jia, "an old and well-known family of Longxi".[3]
Ta8 Ling-chao declared the ceremony open through a microphone. First, firecrackers were set off. Second, the man who belonged to the highest generation from Laozhuangzi gave a speech about the history of Li lineage. Third, three of the representatives of Laozhuangzi, one of whom was over seventy and the other two over forty, performed er shi si bai, the "twenty-four prostrations" in front of the monument. These were very complicated prostrations to the music of the suo na, a local woodwind instrument, which involved them changing positions frequently. It took them about forty minutes to finish. Throughout their performance, all the other members had been kneeling with a serious expression (Plate I). When the performance was finished, some of the older representatives could hardly stand up by themselves.
Fourth, Li Ling-rong, a member of the eldest segment and the head of the preparatory committee for the rebuilding monument, made a speech on behalf of all the seven junior segments. In his speech, Li reminded the audience that the grand ceremony was in memory of their common ancestor J2 Li Yao-ba, and he spoke of the Li lineage with its long history, a glorious tradition, strict family discipline and massive size, of which they were still proud. He called on all the members of the seven junior segments to carry on the great tradition of their lineage, keep the order of seniority, and maintain harmony from generation to generation. He also stressed the Li should unite as one under the leadership of the central party committee and said "Let this old lineage make a new contribution to the present socialist construction of spiritual and material civilization." When he finished the speech, he himself performed the "twenty-four prostrations" for forty minutes. Then Ta8 Ling-chao declared the ceremony closed. The final business was for anyone who wanted to do so to pay their respects to the monument and take photographs in front of it. When the ceremony was over, the people came back to Lijialou to have a banquet in the yards of my landlord and his brother. Though many of them had not known each other before, they seemed to have become acquainted with each other after the ceremony. At the banquet, representatives from the twenty-four villages exchanged information about their own agricultural production, their businesses, and so forth. After the banquet, after shaking hands, they gradually began to leave Lijialou. Most of them said that they were glad to attend the rite, because they had got to know so many agnates from so many villages, and they would keep up these new links which they might find useful later on.
It is worth mentioning how the money for re-establishing the monument was raised. Each segment was asked to collect 150 yuan for the rite. Then the leaders of each segment divided the 150 yuan between the villages of their segments, and the villages divided their contribution between the individual male members. On the day when monument was established, all the villages had paid their money, except one village in the third segment. The reason was that the relations between cadres in that village were not good, so they had not got themselves organized. Nobody had been put in charge of collecting money and no representative was sent to the ceremony. Four members of the preparatory committee went to that village the next day, and told the cadres that if they did not pay within three days, the name of their village would be removed from the monument. The following day, the party secretary and village head came to Lijialou and paid the money.
As a result of the ceremony, the members of the seven junior segments seemed to have strengthened their group identity. First, they decided to gather in Lijialou to worship J2 Yao-ba once a year on Qingming. Second, they decided to compile a new genealogy for just the seven segments. Li Ling-rong asked to be in charge of this work. One year later in 1992, the first genealogy of the seven junior segments was finished. However, on the Qingming of 1992, ancestor worship was not carried out by all of the seven segments. People from the fifth segment and Lijialou, which were near to each other, went to J2's tomb to worship him on their own. The ceremony was not carried out for two reasons. First, the direct reason was that main organizer Li Ling-rong left Xiao County for Fujian province for his own private business. A second reason was that since there was no fund for the annual ritual, it would be a heavy burden for the people of Lijialou to give hold a feast for so many people. Before Liberation, the lineage and segments had their own grave fields in order to meet the expenses of the group's annual cycle of rituals. Now the socialist revolution has changed the previous economic conditions. However it does not mean that without corporate land, ancestor worship will be stopped. As had been tried on this occasion, people can collect cash from male lineage members. There are two possibilities for the future of ancestor worship of the seven junior segments. One is that people will just stop this corporate worship, and the other is that they will work out a new method to continue. All of this depends on two factors: whether they have an elite which is enthusiastic about lineage affairs, and whether the link between agnates still has a meaning in the future.

Ritual presentation between agnates and affines

Household production has not only strengthened the links within the patrilineal group, but has also strengthened affinal links. In this section, I will deal with the increasing size and frequency of ritual presentations between villagers, and especially among affines.
Li shang wang lai is a very old maxim in the Analects of Confucius which means that courtesy demands reciprocity. The great tradition of li shang wang lai has infiltrated the rural areas and become an important part of local tradition. In northern Anhui, people call the practice of gift giving xing lai wang, "having contact". By presenting gifts people maintain contact with others outside. There is a popular saying that, "the relationship between relatives is like a saw; you come, and I go". Here relatives means only affines, it does not include patrilineal kinsmen, whom are called zi jia ren, "members of their own family". Since villages in this area consist of one lineage or one localized segment of a lineage, "having contact" means to have relations of reciprocity with affines outside the village. In fact, as I have observed, gift giving can be seen not only between affines but also agnates; however the presentation between agnates is not called xing lai wang. Relations between agnates depends on consanguinity, and it will not be ended by stopping presentations, but the affinal relation is temporary one, so it has to be kept up by constant presentations. In other words, affinal relations will be stopped, if there is no xing lai wang. First of all, let us see what kinds of ritual presentation are carried out between agnates and affines on the occasions of rites of passage and festivals of the lunar calendar in northern Anhui.

Hui men: "Going back to the natal home"

In the past, after the fourth day of a wedding, the bride and groom should go back to the bride's natal home to visit her parents and close relatives by presenting chickens, carp and sticks of bean jelly. This rite is called hui men "going back to the natal home". It is the first ritual visit after a wedding, so they will present gifts such as fish, steamed bread and so on to the bride's parents. At this time, to the parents of the bride, their daughter is no longer a member of their patrilineal household but an affine. The bride's parents and close agnates within the wu fu, the five mourning grades, will give a banquet for the new couple. When they leave, the parents will present the couple with a large quantity of steamed bread and cooking utensils.
The five mourning grades not only provide the limits for mourning but also for other ceremonies. The closer the grade is, the more gifts should be presented. As Freedman has pointed out, "The wu fu is in principle a category drawn up in regard to a given ego; it could not, therefore, be a discrete segment of a lineage. But, while the term was used to define the range of agnatic kinsmen to whom a given individual was supposed to hold himself closely related and with whom he should co-operate in a number of ways, in another sense it marked out different classes of relatives, both agnatic and otherwise, for the specification of types and durations of mourning due to them; whence the literal meaning of the expression" (Freedman, 1958: 41). In the case of Xiao County, as shown in Figure 2, the wu fu also includes the sisters of the men within the wu fu..

Bao xi: "Announcing good news"

When the first baby is born, the rite of "announcing good news" should be carried out. The husband will go to his wife's natal home with a bai he "visiting box" and red dyed eggs. The ritual box is red and is made of feathers. It is used for visits to affines. Until Liberation, a ritual box could be bought in every shop. After Liberation, it has been seldom found. Now there are only two ritual boxes in Lijialou which used to belong to women's trousseaux, and people borrow the boxes from each other. On the occasion of bao xi, if a boy is born, a cong, "onion" and a book are put inside the box, or a flower if it is a girl. Arriving at the village, the husband will open the box to show what is inside instead of a spoken announcement. Cong is a homophone of "wisdom" in Chinese, and the book symbolizes that the boy will become an official in the future, because in the old days, people became officials through school and civil examinations. When the husband leaves, the wife's natal home will present him with sugar and eggs.

Jie nuo wo: "Transferring"

On the 28th day after a birth, the rite of "transferring" is carried out. The woman and her baby will be transferred by her brother from her marital home to her natal home, and will stay there for only one day. It is said that, due to this transferring, the baby will grow up quickly without becoming ill. The next day, her husband will take them back. Before leaving, the natal home will present cocks and clothes. The cock here has two meanings: firstly it is a homophone of "good luck" in Chinese; secondly it symbolizes good health.

Song zhu mi: "Sending blessing rice"

On the thirtieth day after a birth, the bride's parents and her patrilineal kinsmen within the five grades, together with her husband's father's sister or her mother's brother and sister, will come to her marital home with "blessing rice". Though it is called "rice", in fact this is not a rice-planting area, so instead of rice, people send wheat. In addition, sugar, eggs, cotton, clothes, and gift money are presented as well. Among the gift givers, affines, the bride's parents and her patrilineal kinsmen present the most gifts. All the gifts in Plate II are from the bride's natal home. Each of the wicker baskets is from one household. Inside the wicker basket there are about 15 kilograms of wheat, dozens of eggs, and sugar. The big four-layered box on the right of the photo is from the bride's mother's brother who provides the largest gift of all the affines. In return, the groom's family will give a banquet for these affines. During the banquet, a woman will show the new born baby to the affines. Then the affines will give the baby gift money for the first meeting. The average money given is 10 yuan. In addition to the bride's affines and groom's affines, the groom's patrilineal kinsmen will present wheat, sugar, eggs and gift money as well.

Qiao hua: "Expressing sympathy to a vaccinated baby"

Several months after the birth, the family will ask a doctor to vaccinate the baby against smallpox. In the past, this was a big event for the family and its affines. The mother's brothers and sisters, and father's sisters will come to express their sympathy by presenting streamed bread, pancakes, cakes and sugar. Among the gifts, those presented by the mother's brother and sister are the largest.


On the day of the wedding, before the bride is transferred from her natal home, her father will give a feast to his agnates and his affines in the morning (Han and Eades, 1992). Agnates will come presenting cash, wheat or cloth according to their status in the genealogy. The closer the grade is, the more the gifts will be. The affines do likewise. Among the affines, the bride's mother's brother will present the largest amount of gifts and gift money to the bride. When the bride has a baby, the mother's brother will continue presentations such as "sending blessing rice", "expressing sympathy to the niece's baby", and so on. In this way, presentations between affines keep going for three generations in this area. His gifts usually include sets of bedclothes, clothes and tools for the future baby and so on. When the bride is transferred to the groom's home in the afternoon, the groom's father will also give a feast for his agnates and affines who will present gifts and cash accordingly.


In this area, the tradition of burying the body in the ground still remains. On the day of funeral, the family members of the deceased will twice hold feasts for their agnates and affines, once in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Agnates will present cash and provide labour for the family of the deceased, such as helping cooking, digging the hole for the coffin, carrying the coffin to the graveyard and burying it. Affines will present cash and cloth. The Chinese funeral is famous for its complexity. However a funeral for a father is easier than that of mother. There is a popular saying that "a father's funeral is easy, a mother's funeral is difficult". The mother's brother or his son is given the most important role in a mother's funeral. If the mother's brother and his kinsmen are absent, then the funeral will be not be carried out, or even if they are present, if they do not allow the coffin to be moved out, then her son and his kinsmen will not go to the funeral either. In the funeral, the mother's brother or his son should present the largest gifts among the affines present. The mother's brother has special authority over his nephew and his kinsmen. This is because he is the guardian of the interests of his married sister on behalf of his lineage. If his sister is mistreated in her marital home, he and his kinsmen will express protests at her funeral, because her mistreatment is an insult to his lineage. The mother's brother and his kinsmen not only provide a woman to give birth to descendants for the husband lineage, but they also give them a lot of help through presentations in rites of passage from birth to death, and this gives them authority over their nephew and his kinsmen.

New Year's greetings

It is traditional practice to greet agnates and affines on the two most famous festivals: the New Year and the mid-autumn festival. On January 1, people greet their agnates in the village. In Lijialou, men of the same yard first exchange greetings. There is a snowball effect as first one man visits another, and then the two of them visit a third, and so on. The order is from junior to the senior, so finally at the most senior man's home there will be a crowd of people. Women also exchange greetings among each other. On the following day, people greet their mother's mother or brother with wine, cakes, tobacco and son on. On the third day, people greet all their affines such as the mother's sister, father's sister and so on. It usually take ten days to finish the main New Year greetings.

Mid-autumn greeting

August 15 of the lunar calendar, the mid-autumn festival, is another important festival like the New Year. However, it differs in that people exchange greeting and gifts only among affines. The gifts presented include wine, hens or cocks, and autumn cakes. For ordinary affines only autumn cakes are sufficient, but to greet their mother's brother, people should bring at least four bottles of wine and two chickens in addition to the cakes. At the time of the festival, the highways and paths are full of people with many gifts on their bicycles.
All the practices described above are a continuation of traditional ones. Compared with those before Liberation and the Mao period, the present rituals have become more magnificent: feasts are bigger, the amount of both cash and gifts is increasing, and the boundary within which gifts are exchanged has been enlarged, especially in the case of affines. Before Liberation, between the 1930s and 1940s, weddings and funerals were the most popular practices in this area. Funerals were the most expensive, being the one that many affines and agnates within the wu fu would attend. Villagers told me that: if somebody died, the family would not hold a funeral for him immediately. Sometimes, it would take years to save enough money to organize a funeral, because the expense was so great. A funeral usually was carried out over several days, and during these days, the family of the deceased had to provide steamed bread for all the people in the village and the guests who came to offer their condolences. To give a magnificent funeral was considered as an act of filial piety. Agnates and affines only presented small amounts of cash and gifts. In the case of marriage, only very wealthy families invited their agnates and affines within the wu fu to the feast: usually people only gave a feast to those within the third grade including their FB, FZ, MB, MZ, and their children, i.e. first cousins. The other ritual presentations such as song zhu mi, were less stressed. The decreased popularity of presentations may have resulted from the chaos of the Japanese invasion and the three years' civil war which followed.
During the thirty years of the collective period, even though people still carried on presentations, there occurred two big changes. Firstly, the boundary of presentations became narrower. For instance, in an ordinary funeral, only close affines within the third grade including one's FS, MB, MS and their children attended. Therefore the scale of banquets was also greatly reduced. In the pre-revolution period the average marriage banquet had about thirty tables of guests, whereas the average during the collective period was reduced to about ten tables.[4] The reasons for the reduction in scale were that: (i) The state encouraged people to change the old customs in order to save money and in the name of "constructing socialism". In most parts of China, burial in the ground has been prohibited as a result of state policy: in northern Anhui it remained popular, but was carried out in a very simple way. (ii) During the 1960s and 1970s, people were poor and few of them had surplus cash and grain. This was particularly so in the period between 1950 and 1962, when nobody conducted wedding or funeral rites. (iii) The collective economy and the commune welfare system to a certain extent reduced the importance of the network of affines. Since the adoption of the responsibility system, the boundary of presenting gifts on the occasions of wedding, funeral, and song zhu mi has become wider so that all of them are carried out within the wu fu on both sides. In the case of weddings and funerals, sometimes the range of kin attending has gone even beyond this traditional limit. A funeral is a way to provide affines with a chance to meet and to strengthen their links, rather than the expression of filial piety. Therefore the scale of banquets on these occasions has become larger. The average number for one banquet is about thirty tables, or 240 people. On the other hand, guests who attend the feasts present much more in cash and gifts than ever before. For instance, in a wedding in 1978, the amount of cash given by an agnate of the fourth grade was two yuan, while in 1990 this had risen to about ten yuan.
Why do the traditional practices continue, and what functions do they have in the new situation? Generally presentation between agnates and affines has three meanings. Firstly, it is an ritual expression of blessing. Secondly, it can provide economic aid for the family. Thirdly, by fulfilling duties through presentation, affines are constantly able to keep in touch and strengthen their ties. At present the last factor is the most important. Since the village here is composed of one lineage or one localized segment of a lineage, the resources available within the village are limited. Presentation is a good way to exploit new resources outside the village. In other word inside the village the agnatic tie is the most reliable, while outside the village the affinal tie is the most reliable.
After the adoption of the responsibility system, household production has not only strengthened the links within the patrilineal group, but in the case of Xiao County, has also strengthened affinal links. Because of the comparatively large amount of land available in this region, the peasants spend the equivalent of ten months working on their land. The mechanization of farm work is not yet widespread, so the shortage of labor is a serious problem. Besides, most of the villages consist of the same patrilineal groups, so that in the peak farming periods, all the households in the village will be equally busy, so people usually ask their affines from other villages for help. In addition to help with farm labor, villagers also regularly look to affines for financial help on occasions such as arranging marriages, building houses, and purchasing machines. Asking for loans from agnates inside the village is uncommon, because it is believed that other lineage members who have not been given them will complain, so obtaining loans outside the village from affines avoids this problem. As a result, the present affinal links have become more important than ever before. Therefore people of northern Anhui attach great importance to these presentations. In order to fulfil their duty correctly, each household keeps a written record of presentations. If at A's wedding B presented a certain amount of money or other gifts, then when B holds a wedding, A will present the same amount. If B's brother's son gets married, then A will vary the amount presented accordingly.
According to my investigation in Lijialou (Han, 1991), people between twenty and thirty years old usually spend thirty to forty days a year on presenting gifts on occasions such as rites of passage or lunar festivals. The total expenditure on presenting gifts is between 300 and 500 yuan. The middle aged people with a wider network of relatives usually spend thirty to fifty days a year with a total expenditure of between 500 and 700 yuan. The older the people get, the wider their networks become. The old people, over fifty years old, generally spend fifty to sixty days in presenting gifts which will cost them 600 or 700 yuan a year. On the average, the cost of presentations between affines accounted for 20-25% of the annual income. They villagers spare no expense in order to fulfil their duty in presentation. If a man fails, he or his family will lose status within the patrilineal and affinal network. It means they will be kept outside of the structure of reciprocity, and therefore will not get help in times of need. In a society which lacks a public welfare system, losing ties with relatives can be dangerous and almost suicidal. On the other hand, if a man fulfils his duty correctly, then he can get help at any time from his agnates and affines. Thus presentations are like the payment of insurance premiums.


Through the detailed account of the resurgence of traditional practice, we can suggest the following conclusions.
(1) Under the responsibility system, the economic and social importance of the household, and of links between agnates and affines, is increasing. Therefore people invest in rituals which keep up their links with the outside, believing that the investment will bring them more benefits. In fact, the links between agnates and affines have become more important than before Liberation. This is because before Liberation, when people were short of labor, they could easily find tenants or hired hands to work for them rather than agnates and affines. On the other hand, as the market economy has developed, it has enlarged the range of economic activity among the peasants. During the commune period, any kind of economic activity was controlled by the commune or brigade. Private economic activity was limited in scope and this was narrower than before the revolution. At present, for their enlarged businesses, a reliable network based on consanguinity and affinal relations is necessary. In other word, to renew the lineage organization and traditional ritual is a creative response by the peasants to the economic and social change and a kind of strategy that peasants utilize to adapt themselves to the new situation.
(2) Despite collectivization over a period of 30 years, the socialist state was unable to transform the traditional institutions and people's group identity completely. Loyalty to the family is not changed by loyalty to the party. Many elderly villagers still have strong emotional ties to the past, and many young people also have some emotional ties to their prosperous history or prestige, because of legends pass down by their fathers. For many people, old and young, the lineage and the ancestors are still as important as their own lives. They say that nobody, whenever and wherever they are, should forget their roots. Party members, and local or state cadres are representatives of the state and party, on the one hand, and leaders of their kinsmen on the other hand. This is shown by the evidence of the efforts of the elite inside the descent group.
(3) Under the open door policy, more and more Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong or America, most of whom left Xiao County in 1949 with the nationalists, have come back to visit their ancestor's tombs and build stone monuments. However, the state has not restricted this kind of activity by overseas Chinese, and this has encouraged the local people to do the same.
Here I want to stress that, even though the revival of tradition does not mean that peasants want to go back to the old days, thirty years of collectivization have not changed traditional institutions completely and many people still maintain their group identity. Helen F. Siu (1989) who did fieldwork in Guangdong argues in quite a different way. "It is incorrect to conclude that the socialist state was unable to transform society as much as it hoped to from the evidence that traditional kinship, community, and religious functions have re-emerged in the 1980s... One cannot expect the rural population as a whole to look back on the prerevolutionary period with nostalgia and hope for a return of the good old days. Except for elderly villagers who have some emotional ties to the past, the majority of the peasants have neither the experience nor the memory of those times... The land reform destroyed the economic foundation of the lineage organizations; collectivization turned rural communities into component cells within the state sector. The communication movement incorporated the rural cadres into a tight bureaucratic network... These cadres, acting more as state agents than political brokers... established the power of the party-state on the daily lives of the villagers" (Siu, 1989:291-292).
The Anhui data which I gathered suggests that in the new economic, political and international conditions, lineage and traditional rituals are reviving, and there has been a continuity in social structure and culture during the late imperial period, republican period, Mao period and post-Mao period. Peasants and village cadres are not completely passive. They are actually very rational and pragmatic, and able to turn a situation to their own advantage. Also people have long memories, much longer than the life-span of most government policies. During their lives they experience many changes of government policy, and develop different strategies to deal with them. The process of how the peasants and local cadres in Anhui adopted the responsibility system secretly in the 1970s shows this. Also what in one way seems to be a re-establishment of tradition is in another way a creative response to changing political and economic conditions. With increased wealth in rural China under the responsibility system, the peasants are likely to even be more capable of resisting government pressures to conform with their policies.


1. Though both zhen and xiang are translated as "township" in English, people living in zhen have urban registration, while those in xiang have agrarian registration.
2. The first capital letter before a name indicates generation, the second little letter means yard, and the number refers to the seniority in the same generation. This notation refers to the genealogy shown in Figure 1.
3. Longxi is the tang hao, the "name of the hall" of Li lineage. Longxi was the name of an old prefecture and it is currently the name of a county in Gansu Province, in the west, about 1,200 kilometers from Xiao county. The genealogy records that Li lineage originated in Longxi, and later moved to Xian in Shaanxi Province, and then to Shanxi province. In China lineages usually have their tang hao. In some large lineages in Xiao County, every segment has their own tang hao. People having the same tang hao must share the same surname, but they are not necessarily of the same lineages. The tang hao group is a wider category than the lineage, but is a narrower category than the surname group. At present people in Xiao County still use their tang hao on the occasions of ancestor worship or a wedding. For instance, they stick on a strip of paper on the surface of every piece of furniture for the dowry, on which they write inscriptions such as Ji nian ji yue ji ri longxi tang feng which means "Sealed by Longxi tang on the lucky day, lucky month and lucky year".
4. "Table" is used as a classifier in northern Anhui to count the number of participants in a banquet. One table seats eight people.

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Updated 4 June 2020