Reconstruction of Local History in China Ancient History

Author: Lan Yong (Professor, School of History and Culture, Southwest University)

In ancient China, there were two kinds of history, one as science and the other as culture. The former is carried out under the basic norms of traditional history for the purpose of restoring objective history. As a culture, history mainly comes from cultural demands. Under the background of the principle of "big things are not empty, small things are not limited", we should enrich and reconstruct some historical details according to our own subjective imagination. In the history of China, the reconstruction of local history played a great role in the historical gestation of culture.

The concept of "reconstruction of local history"

The recording of historical documents is often a process of "historical reconstruction", and the author records history according to his own identification of historical facts and evaluation of its nature, which is itself a reconstruction of history. In the traditional period, historical research mainly focused on grand historical narrative, and the reconstruction content of the main narrative of traditional historical research was mostly the merits and demerits of emperors and generals far away from the bottom of society and the right and wrong of upper-level institutional policies, which appeared through the face of official history and official history books. Official history and official history books often only provide a grand historical narrative or historical space construction, without paying attention to the historical details of local China. Therefore, the study of local China needs to supplement and enrich the grand historical narrative and historical space construction in the local history. In this process, the local China not only supplements and enriches the main narrative with objective historical facts, but also often realizes this reconstruction by fiction and speculation. In other words, the "reconstruction" here is also a kind of "fiction" and "fabrication". This is the connotation of "reconstruction of local history" discussed in this paper.

The author finds that "reconstruction of local history" is the most important in the historical manufacturing process as a culture, and it often becomes a cultural event in local China. In 2019, the author first put forward the discourse of "reconstruction of local history" in the article "Elegance of place names or Miscall of place names —— Reflections on the evolution of the names of two pieces of river stones in Chongqing in history", and later, through the two articles "Reconstruction of China’s traditional local history from the perspective of Jinniu Road", "The phenomenon of sages everywhere in China history" and the reconstruction of traditional local history, Here, we can further analyze the types, paths, reasons and influences of China’s "reconstruction of local history" in history, which is not only the need of historical research cognition, but also the need of cognitive reality of "reconstruction of local history".

Types of "Reconstruction of Local History"

"Reconstruction of local history" can be divided into four types: reconstruction of deeds of former sages, refinement of historical events and systems, attachment of historical place names and repositioning of mountains and rivers.

The reconstruction of the deeds of former sages is often to refine the deeds of former sages in their native land or in their native land, especially through the evolution of "landscape manufacturing" and "regional generalization", so that details become an important part of local history. For example, there are many dishes named "Dongpo" and "Zhuge" and a lot of food stories about the stories and relics of the sages such as Dayu, Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu and Su Dongpo, which are not credible, but they exist as cultural history. Similarly, the story of Zhuge Liang preparing a post is a typical case of "landscape making" in the belief of the sages in the Tang and Song Dynasties. In the fourth year of Song Jiayou (1059), Su Dongpo and Huang Tingjian met in Sibo Township, Yibin, which is a typical case of "Guan Gong fighting Qin Qiong". There are similar cases in Guizhou. In history, there are many relics of Yelang Wang in Guizhou, but most of them are attached by later generations. For example, the Yelang King Town in Changshun County is actually a wasteland site in the Ming Dynasty, which is not directly related to Yelang King.

The refinement of historical events and systems is often reconstructed under the principle of "big things are not empty, small things are not limited". "No matter what the big events are, no matter what the small ones are" is the principle of historical novel creation, but it often becomes the principle of "reconstruction of local history". For example, regarding Zhuge Liang’s expedition to the south of China, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms reconstructs Meng Huo, the most famous Han Chinese in the south of China, and not only reshapes Meng Huo into a leader of ethnic minorities, but also makes the story of Meng Huo’s seven escapes and seven runs widely circulated among the people. Up to now, there are many Menghuo City and Menghuo Temple in Southwest China. During the Xianfeng period of Qing Dynasty, the uprisings of Li Yonghe and Lan Chaoding had a great influence on Sichuan, with many records in historical documents and vivid folk stories, but most of them lacked historical science. For example, it is said that after Li Yonghe arrived in Niuzhai from Tunshang, he immediately made an alliance by burning incense in Niuzhai and chose 10 concubines. This may not be true history, but many local people believe in it.

The attachment of historical place names is also an important part of the reconstruction of local history. In the history of China, place names not only have the basic function of orientation, but also have powerful cultural functions. Speculation in the textual research of place names often reflects traditional cultural demands. Looking at the naming hypothesis of Chongqing for 500 years, we can see that the process of "reconstruction of local history" continued until modern times. Imagination and speculation are often mixed with scientific history. Fictional local history not only appears in some traditional "rustic Confucianism", but also some literary and historical experts have become practitioners of speculation on the meaning of place names in "reconstruction of local history". For example, the elegant evolution of geographical names from Wugui Stone, Tortoise Stone to Fugui Stone, Marble Stone to Birthday Stone in history is also the result of the reconstruction of many local literati in past dynasties.

In the reconstruction of local history, the repositioning of mountains and rivers is also an important type. In ancient China, the cognition of geographical space was mostly a kind of "virtual space cognition", such as the positioning expression "How many miles is a certain mountain (river) in the north (east, west, north and south)" in the traditional geographical cognition of China. If the mountains and rivers do not have obvious and special humanistic and natural signs, it is often difficult for future generations and outsiders to re-use this positioning expression to accurately recognize specific geographical points. In the period of social unrest, there is often a "geographical name inheritance fault", which leads to more cognitive errors if there is no guidance from predecessors who can locate it, and many passes, mountains and post stations in the previous generation are relocated, but their previous positions are forgotten by history and cannot be found. The author calls this phenomenon of collective displacement of place names "geographical cognitive translocation", which can also be called "overall drift of place names" From the methodological point of view, it can also be called "the reconstruction of mountains and rivers". For example, through the study of some important place names in southwest China in recent years, the author found that Shimen, Wupanguan, Tandu Mountain (Guan), Big and Small Mantianling, Chubiyi, Chijiashan, Baiyanshan, Twelve Peaks of Wushan, Guyunshan and Liangjiao Mountain all lost their location in the Tang and Song Dynasties, and the reconstructed location was completely different from that in the Tang and Song Dynasties.

The Path of "Reconstruction of Local History"

In the "reconstruction of local history" in China’s ancient history, the general principle is "big things are not empty, small things are not limited", and the reconstructed history is often supported by a grand real historical background, but the specific path can be divided into three levels: oral legend manufacturing, oral legend text, oral legend and text legend landscape.

The first level is oral legend making, which is the lowest level of historical reconstruction. Historically, almost all the historical narratives of the early subjects were passed down orally. For example, the descriptions of the Three Emperors and Five Emperors in the early days were mostly passed down from generation to generation orally. In rural areas, there are many oral histories, and there are still a lot of oral historical legends. For example, in history, there was an oral legend of Zhuge Liang who captured Meng Huo seven times, but later in Yunnan, there was an oral legend of Zhuge Liang who captured Meng Huo seven times, and none of them were recorded in the text. In the research on the acquisition of imperial wood in Ming and Qing Dynasties, the author found that the history of the Ye family’s wood acquisition was only spread among the local people, and it was not recorded in the text.

The second level is the textual legend, which is more common in the later period of traditional society. Many local histories that have been passed down for a long time are often recorded in local chronicles, genealogy, documents and inscriptions. In people’s general cognition, records in black and white are often more likely to convince people of their authenticity. For example, since the Qing Dynasty, the folk song "Shi Niu vs. Shigu", which is related to the legend of Zhang Xianzhong Jiangkou’s sinking silver, has been circulated in the oral records of Chengdu, Zigong, Jianyang, Pengshan, Nanchong, Hejiang, Dianjiang, Zhongjiang and Yibin, and has entered various texts. The phenomenon of "Xiaogan in Macheng" everywhere in the migration movement of "Huguang filling Sichuan" was originally a phenomenon of "impersonation", and many of them were recorded in genealogical texts.

The third level is the landscape of oral legends and text legends. The landscape of historical memory is the most important path in the reconstruction of local history, but it is also the most deceptive path. In people’s cognition, landscape testimony is often more convincing than written records, especially after historical precipitation of landscape manufacturing, people are more convinced of its authenticity. Therefore, all kinds of landscape relics such as Zhuge Tai, Dongpo Well and Valley Slope, as well as the names of places and things containing historical allusions (such as Zhuge Cai and Dongpo Meat) in the reconstruction of local history have an empirical effect like historical evidence for the general public.

Discrimination of "Reconstruction of Local History"

In the ancient history of China, the reasons that influenced the "reconstruction of local history" were quite complicated, which made the authenticity and scientificity of "reconstruction of local history" different. Generally speaking, fiction in "reconstruction of local history" can be divided into two categories: objective speculation reconstruction and subjective fiction reconstruction. In terms of subdivision, the objective speculative reconstruction in the "reconstruction of local history" mainly means that the reconstructor is subjectively unaware of his own cognitive deviation or error due to the limitation of knowledge background and technical conditions, such as the location reconstruction of many historical place names. However, the reconstruction of subjective fiction in "reconstruction of local history" is often subjectively made up for the political demands of ancient countries, the Chinese identity of local society and the utilitarian achievements of the people.

From the perspective of political demands of ancient countries, for the purpose of maintaining the order of the country, the rulers abolished many local "obscenities" and conferred a large number of officially recognized idols of worship, such as Guan Gong, Zhuge Liang, Jiang Shui, Minshan Mountain and Mount Tai, which were conferred by the government in history. The most important cultural orientation of native China is to integrate into China. Therefore, the fictional reconstruction of many native sages’ deeds in history is an important way to bring Chinese historical celebrities into their hometown to seek Chinese identity. Therefore, the ancient local literati in China often enjoyed the reconstruction of local history.

However, in the history of China, many legends and stories handed down from generation to generation are often true historical scenes. Due to the lack of historical documents, they can only be circulated in the form of legends and stories, which are often mixed with many fictions and speculations of "reconstruction of local history", making it difficult for people to distinguish them. For example, the legend of sinking silver in the mouth of Zhang Xianzhong River, the legend of logging by the Ye family in Hanyuan, etc., although no documentary records have been found, they have been proved to be true scenes in history through on-the-spot excavation.

Then, how to distinguish the fictional scene in the "reconstruction of local history" from the real scene spread in the form of legends and stories because of the lack of historical documents has become a great responsibility of historians. In China’s "reconstruction of local history", once the oral fictional legend has the process of "landscape manufacturing", especially after two stages of "regional generalization" and "time precipitation", the fictional legend will often gradually become "faithful history", that is to say, after hundreds of years of precipitation, the fictional historical scene will make the history as a culture and the history as a science intertwined and difficult to distinguish between true and false, thus affecting the current social and historical cognition and misleading people. In today’s rural society, many fictional legends, especially those supported by historical landscapes, are often not marked by "legend" or "legend" in language expression, but are already convinced from the subconscious mind.

As a historian, we first shoulder the responsibility of distinguishing the nature of history as a science and historical remains as a culture in the reconstruction of local history, and then improve the reliability of historical research as a science. Therefore, first of all, it is necessary to strip those parts of the reconstruction of local history from the chaotic historical phenomena and find the original and true historical scenes as much as possible. Secondly, in the real society, historians can’t completely ignore the historical remains that have been precipitated by history as culture, because such remains are often historical witnesses of various cultural backgrounds in historical periods and important historical and cultural resources, which need to be respected. Finally, historians also need to guide and standardize all kinds of practitioners who are carrying out "reconstruction of local history" and mark many fictions and fabrications, so that history as a culture and history as a science are naturally different.

Source: China Social Sciences Network-China Social Sciences News