Uprooted referents : an ethnography of historical consciousness among the Bai nationality of the Dali Plain, Yunnan Province, the People's Republic of China

Schmitt, Jeffrey Howard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Shepherd, John, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Khare, Ravindra, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the popular religious practices of Bai nationality residents of the Dali plain, located in China's southwestern province of Yunnan. Many of these contemporary practices are informed by popular understandings of the area's historical and legendary past. Other scholars of Chinese Han communities (Sangren, 1987a, 2000; Siu, 1990; Jing, 1996; Chau, 2006) have examined how popular understandings of '"the Past" are used in religious and ritual contexts. The present study examines similar practices among contemporary members ofa Chinese minority nationality (shaoshu minzu in Mandarin) community that attributes its "golden age" to an independent kingdom centered on the Dali plain prior to the region's thirteenth century conquest and eventual integration into the Chinese empire. References to the area's legendary past are invoked during contemporary ritual practices observed on the Dali plain, revealing ways in which popular understandings ofthe area's history are culturally appropriated as charters for religious festivals and other ritual activities, and used to inform social relations within contemporary agrarian Bai society.

I will argue that local uses of Dali's past in ritual contexts reflect what Sangren (1987a, 2000) and others referred to as a "native historical consciousness." I contend that legendary vignettes used as inspirational charters for contemporary festivals and associated ritual activities reveal a moral discourse about the area's history. Throughout my examination of villagers' ritual contexts, I will explore what popular representations of the past reveal about Bai popular religious practices, as well as what the content of these historical ruminations reveal about contemporary Dali society. I will argue that this contemporary, historically inspired moral discourse provides us with a means to understand agrarian Bai villagers' native historical consciousness. In so doing, I will draw preliminary conclusions about the ways in which local uses of the past of an area currently inhabited by members of the Chinese Bai minority community tell us about the society of a particular minority community that inhabits the southwestern frontier of modem China.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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