Qiang - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The mountain corridor has been associated with matriarchy since the time of the Zhou. Before 1949 the area did have a high percentage of female rulers, at least partly because of the expendability of male elites. However, the classical pattern involves the sharing of power between male and female rulers, with women managing internal affairs while men took care of "foreign relations." In some areas, power was sometimes passed from mother to daughter. This power was, however, always shared with sons and consorts. QLB society has strongly egalitarian undercurrents, lacking native terms relating to government and class. Even under the tusi system, which was characterized by a hierarchy of strictly endogamous classes (including serfs and slaves), over 90 percent of the people were free farmers, owing, besides taxes for land use, only occasional military service and corvée. There was, however, a tendency to form unequal, binary relationships between communities (e.g., in some Qiang villages "black" villages are subservient to "white" villages, and among the Boluozu in Songpan Xian, "goat-head" villages are subservient to "yak-head" villages).

Political Organization. Prior to Liberation three types of organization were found: (1) autonomous Tibetanized states headed by tusi, (2) local areas ruled by less powerful headmen under the tusi system, and (3) the baojia system. The baojia system, found in areas under the direct control of the Chinese government, was designed for defense and extraction of taxes; other functions of government were often left to the people.

Social Control. In areas under the control of tusi or strong headmen, labor was allocated and disputes were settled by a resident elite who represented the lowest level of a hierarchy of nobility. In other areas, disputes were mediated by groups of kin or de facto headmen. In all areas fear of the blood feud was an important factor in social control. Parties to disputes often left the community to seek refuge elsewhere; this constrained the behavior of rulers who had to be concerned with recruiting and maintaining personnel. Today's system replicates some aspects of the tusi system, although the lowest levels of the party and state hierarchy are chosen democratically. A tradition of public debate seems to have been revived under the new system.

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