From the late fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century over 6,000 ancestral halls (祠堂) were constructed in Huizhou 徽州, a prefecture at the southern end of Anhui province. Usually understood to represent the growing attachment of families to the establishment of lineage authority in their villages, Huizhou’s ancestral halls soon acquired a variety of functions mentioned neither in classical Confucian nor neo-Confucian texts. In exploring how these ancestral halls were built Dr. McDermott’s talk will investigate how their newly acquired functions helped attract kinsmen to the growing number and activities of these halls, and how these halls’ hold over successive generations of lineages was linked to the rise and growth of the Huizhou merchants, south China’s most successful regional group of merchants from the fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. The talk will end with a consideration of how the long-term institutional changes in Huizhou villages from the early Ming to the Qing, that culminated in the rise of these ancestral halls, might provide us with a more agent-based set of categories for understanding how major institutional changes in village life from the fourteenth to twentieth century were perceived by ordinary Chinese themselves as the outgrowth of options arising from their villages’ institutional changes.
Speaker: Joseph McDermott, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge. After a BA (Eng.Lit.) at Yale, Joseph McDermott 周紹明 embarked on another BA and then a Ph.D. in Chinese Studies in the UK. Drawn initially to the study of modern China, his struggles with pre-modern Chinese literature very quickly drew him into the study of pre-modern Chinese history, a decision he has never regretted. His studies of the Song and then the Ming dynasties have had him undertake research and enjoy long overseas stays in Japan and China, before ending up at St John’s College, U. of Cambridge, where he has taught since 1990. An interest in China’s cultural history prompted him to write A Social History of the Chinese Book (2006) and edit State and Court Ritual in China (1999), but his overriding interest since his undergraduate days has been the changes in how ordinary Chinese people lived from the Tang dynasty up to the late Qing. Hence, his recent studies include the Song economy for the recent The Cambridge History of China, Volume 5 Part II, Song China as well as his two volumes on Huizhou lineages and merchants (The Making of a New Rural Order in South China, Volume I: Village, Land, Lineage in Huizhou, 900-1600, Cambridge University Press, 2014; Volume II to appear later this year).