Summary of Social organization in South China, 1911-1949 :The case of the Kuan lineage of K'ai-p'ing County

by Dr. Yuen-fong Woon

Dr. Yuen-fong Woon was kind enough to give me permission to post a summary of his dissertation Social organization in South China, 1911-1949 : the case of the Kuan lineage of K'ai-p'ing County. Unless your local public library has an outrageously huge budget, your best bet of finding a copy is to go to an university library.

Since Dr. Woon did not use Chinese characters in his paper and I'm not sure what romanization system he used, therefore there are some places and people mentioned in the paper that I can't identify.

Social organization in South China, 1911-1949 : the case of the Kuan lineage of K'ai-p'ing County by Yuen-fong Woon, Michigan monographs in Chinese studies. no. 48 , published by Ann Arbor : Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1984. 158 pages.

Relationship between Various Local Kwan (Guan) 關 Lineages

Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 localized lineage

Kwan (Guan) 關 lineages have four major segments in Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 region of Hoiping (Kaiping) county 開平, each corresponding to one of the four hsiang: Wujung, Chungmiao, Luyang, and Lingyuan. These four hsiang were known locally as the Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 area, consisting of some 40 villages. The ritual center was the Kuangyu tang at Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎. Because of the importance of the market town Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎, the Kwans from Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 attracted the allegiance of Kwans in other parts of Hoiping (Kaiping) county 開平.

Koupichung localized lineage

There were 7 villages in Koupichung. The ancestral hall at Koupichung market that honored the lineage founder Kwan Jyun-Luk (Guan Yuan-Liu) 關 元 六 was a sign that the Koupichung lineage considered themselves separate from the Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 lineage.

Two facts demonstrate that Koupichung clan had subordinate relationship to Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 clan (1)Elders from Koupichung went to Luyang hsiang and Kuangyu tang in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎 to perform Spring and Autumn Rites, but did not have right to receive ritual meat or have any claim to corporate property in Luyang hsiang or Kuangyu tang. (2)No one from Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 went to Koupichung for rites.

Sunglang localized lineage

The Kwans from Sunglang had close ritual connection with Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙. None of the seven villages at Sunglang had an ancestral hall. They went to Kuangyu tang in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎 for Spring and Autumn Rites and share the ritual meat.

Yanglu localized lineage

The two villages in Yanglu had no ancestral hall. They went to Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 for rites, but had no right to claim ancestral meat in Lingyuan hsiang or Kuangyu tang.


Overseas Immigration

During 1880's Kwans start moving overseas because of land shortage ( according to a 1934 census 70% of the land in Hoiping was barren) and civil disorder (Red Turban uprising, Hakka-Punti War, and White Terror.) Most of the immigrants were young males looking for better job opportunities. Seventy percent of the Kwan immigrants moved to North America(U.S., Canada, Cuba, Mexico), and 30% moved to southeast Asia.

Fellow villagers and overseas patrilineal kin helped pay for the trip, served as sponsors, and found jobs for these immigrants. Many of the overseas Kwans who owned their own stores and businesses, sponsored other kinsman from their home village and gave them jobs in their workplace, even if they were only distantly related. Since the Kwan immigrants usually were employed by or formed partnerships with other Kwans from the same village, the Kwans formed closely knit communities, and rarely entered the life of the foreign community.

Most overseas immigrants kept in close contact with their home village. They would send part of their income to their families left behind in China and every once in a while come back home to visit them. One reason for maintaining the close ties was because some immigrants intended on returning or retiring to their home village after working overseas for a few years. Second reason was that the overseas immigrants knew that they would need to return to their home village in times of racial discrimination, anti-Chinese policies in North America, war, or economic hardship. Third reason was that Canada and the U.S. passed Chinese Exclusion laws in the 1920's that banned further Chinese immigration, which meant that the Chinese immigrants could no longer bring over their family to the U.S. or Canada, therefore the only way for them to see their family was to return to their home village.

On the other hand, many of the more successful Kwans immigrants did not visit or want to retire to their home village. They were too busy with business, feared robbery, kidnappings, and extortion, and had gotten used to the better and more modernized living conditions of their new country. But even the more successful Kwans did not completely abandon all their ties to their home village and risk censure form their kinsmen. They would send money back home and return home in time of crises.


Rise of New Gentry Class

Because of racial discrimination and Chinese exclusion acts, the North American Chinese immigrants had very little incentive to establish long term roots in these countries. Since there was very little opportunity to increase their status in these foreign countries, many overseas Kwans invested their money back into Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎 businesses in order to increase the power and prestige of the Kwan lineage.

Merchants and emigrants vigorously tried to revive trade in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎. They used their government connections and their own money to fund municipal improvements such as new roads, electrical and telephone lines, buses and steamboat services. With all of the improvements and investments, Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎 became known as "Little Canton." It became a modern town with lots of luxury and imported goods, movie theatres, restaurants and opera houses. The development of trade in western Gwongdung (Guangdong) 廣東, lead to increase prosperity in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎, and the rise of the importance and wealth of the merchant class and returned emigrants.

The newly rich emigrants invested in shop spaces in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎, bought land and became landlords, loaned money to lineage members, and built modern schools. The emigrants and newly rich merchants showed off their wealth with an elaborate lifestyle. They competed with each other with modern multi-story homes, jewelry, furniture, western style clothing, elaborate weddings, and spoken English phrases.

Starting in 1920's, the returned emigrants founded new villages adjacent to their home villages in Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙. Emigrants, rich merchants, scholars lived in these new villages, while the poor farmers and laborers and unsuccessful emigrants continued to live in old villages. These new villages did not have ancestral halls; residents of the new villages went to the old villages to perform rituals.

In order to enhance their and their son's social and economic status within the lineage, the new emigrants and the rich merchants built modern schools so their sons would become members of the new gentry-scholar class. Nine out of 10 the modern schools in Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 were funded by overseas Chinese emigrants.


Results of the Growth and Prosperity of Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎

1) The Kwans from Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙, Koupichung, Yanglu and Sunglang were drawn closer together since the economic development and increase trade in the area benefited all of them. The trade routes physically and economically connected the Kwans of these various areas together. They worked together to build road and develop the markets.

2)Starting in the 20th century, many young men used their lineage connection to leave their farming villages, and went Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎 or overseas for better paying, non farm jobs. Women, old men, and hired long term laborers were now left in charge of taking care of the family farm.

3)The wealth, power and prestige of the new gentry class increased.

4)The increase in non-farm activities resulted in improvement in the lively hood of the peasants. The new wealth of the gentry increased the demand for locally produced handicrafts and goods. Rural peasants use their lineage connections to get non-farm jobs in Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎.

5)The power and prestige of Kwan lineage also increased since Kwans controlled a large portion of Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎.


Misc Info

During the Ching dynasty the Kwans was one of the most powerful and wealthiest lineages in Hoiping (Kaiping) 開平 because they controlled the northern half of Cekham (Chikan) 赤坎, one of the most important and prosperous trading and communication center in western Gwongdung (Guangdong) 廣東.

Kwans owned almost all the land in Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙. Most of the permanent residents of Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 were Kwans. The land was considered sacred and people were strongly discouraged from selling their land to non-Kwans. Since there were so many Kwans in the area, people who were forced to sell their land usually had no problems finding a Kwan buyer.

In 1930 there were 20,000 Kwans in Tofu (Tuofu) 駝駙 area and 3-4 thousand Kwans in Koupichung. The Kwans was one of the largest lineages in Hoiping (Kaiping) 開平 and South China.

Kwan (Guan) 關 and Sitou (Situ) 司徒 lineage had a history of feuding and cooperation since at least the 14th century. They were among the largest , most powerful lineages in the area. There was a marriage ban between the two clans from around 1890's to 1920's.

Despite the bans of marriage that extend to allied lineages, the Kwan (Guan) 關, Lau (Liu) 劉, Zoeng (Zhang) 張, and Ziu (Zhao) 趙 families (the four families of the Four Blood Brothers from the Three Kingdom period) of Hoiping (Kaiping) 開平 were allowed to intermarry, because the Kwans of Hoiping (Kaiping) 開平 were NOT direct descendants of Kwan Gung (Guan Gong) 關公, one of the Four Blood Brothers.