Forgotten Heroes: San On County and its Magistrates in the Late Ming and Early Qing

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This book is an attempt to clarify the history of San On County — the broader Hong Kong area — centring on the troubled years of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is based on an in-depth study of the San On County Gazetteer, which allows for a detailed discussion of the role, attitudes, and personalities of the San On magistrates, who were the heads of the county administration during this period. Particular focus is given to Zhou Xiyao (magistrate 1640–1644) and Li Kecheng (magistrate 1670–1675). The study finds that they, and at least some of the other magistrates of this period, were genuinely concerned about the county and its people, and tried as best they could to provide good and effective government for them.
Pub. Date
Jul 1, 2017
388 pages
152 x 229 mm
The counties (縣, yuen, xian) were the lowest level of the Chinese imperial state structure, and the county magistrates, the heads of the county administration, were in a very real sense the foundation which supported the whole of the rest of the administration. Study of the counties and their administrators is, therefore, of great importance, as well as being a study of great fascination. During 40 years of studying the local history of the New Territories of Hong Kong, the relationship between the villagers and the magistracy has frequently caught my attention, and, my interest thus excited, in due course led to the production of this book.

The central role played by the county magistrates in imperial China has inspired a number of English-language books in recent decades. Among others, T’ung-tsu Chu mostly used handbooks for magistrates, prepared by distinguished Qing scholars, to illustrate his work. John R. Watt produced a masterly work on the magistrates, as seen from the centre, relying particularly on the Qing law code and regulations, but also employing some local material to illuminate such questions as tenure, appointment, and dismissal. Philip C.C. Huang has written two books on the activities of the magistrates as judicial officers in the field of inter-personal, “civil”, legal disputes. There is also a fine study by Linxia Liang on the magistrates as judicial officers in the field of inter-personal legal disputes.

These studies provide an excellent overview of the magistrates and their work. They do not, however, look primarily at the magistrates from the local viewpoint, and so they do not study in detail the magistrates as they functioned within their counties. Several use those local archives that survive (mostly very late nineteenth-century archives from Ba county, 巴縣, that is, the city of Chongqing, 重興, in Sichuan Province; and from Baodi County, 寶抵縣, in Hebei Province, half-way between Tianjin and Peking), as well as central government archives, and some other local sources here and there. However the main aim of all these works is to illuminate the magistrates as a national administrative and judicial institution, taking China as a whole, and not primarily to look at the work of the magistrates within their counties, nor to clarify how they saw and reacted to local problems in those counties.

1 Introduction: The Origins and Early Years of the County of San On
2 The San On Gazetteer: The Magistrates and the County Community
3 The Work of the County Magistrates and Their Magistracies
4 The Ming Magistrates: Zhou Xiyao and His Predecessors
5 Li Kecheng and the Early Qing Magistrates
6 Salt and Fish
7 Corruption
8 Conclusions
Patrick H. Hase is a researcher into local history. He is the author of The Six-Day War of 1899: Hong Kong in the Age of Imperialism (2008), Custom Land and Livelihood in Rural South China: The Traditional Land Law of Hong Kong’s New Territories, 1750–1950 (2013) and other books and articles on the history and ethnography of the New Territories area. He is a past president and honorary fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, Hong Kong, and serves as an honorary advisor to museums in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Kaiping. He currently lectures part time at Lingnan University History Department.