HUMA Seminar - Writing, Slavery, and Indigenous Sovereignty in Southwest China
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Room 4472 (Lift no. 25-26), Academic Building


Imperial China managed its border regions by negotiating power with indigenous chieftains. Hereditary chieftains were allowed sovereignty over indigenous domains in exchange for keeping the peace and lending their militias to imperial campaigns. Ming and Qing colonialism in the Southwest took the form of a long, staggered process of abolishing indigenous chiefly houses. Yet such houses often recreated themselves, seizing partial sovereignty over smaller domains. This talk follows the diary of an aspiring chieftain adopted into a twice-abolished, Yi-ethnicity chiefly house in the late Qing. A stranger to the house, the adopted chieftain used his daily account to probe its relational ecology—relations among the former chieftain’s wives, concubines, and daughters, the eighteen elite enslaved bondsmen who acted as the house’s agents, the forty-odd domestic slaves who attended the house’s elites, the corpse of the former chieftain lying in his chambers waiting for the chiefly succession to be decided. I show how the adopted chieftain used his written diary as a tool for divination: for probing the undercurrents of collective intention among the house’s enslaved residents that would ultimately decide whether the house would make room for him or kill him.  



Erik Mueggler is a cultural anthropologist who works mainly with indigenous peoples in Southwest China. His books include Songs for Dead Parents: Corpse, Text and World in Southwest China (University of Chicago Press, 2017); The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exploration of West China and Tibet (University of California Press, 2011), and The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2001). His current book project is about writing, slavery and sovereignty in an indigenous domain in Qing China. Mueggler’s work has won a number of honors, including the MacArthur and Guggenheim awards. He is currently Katherine Verdery Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Room 4472 (Lift no. 25-26), Academic Building
Speakers / Performers:
University of Michigan
Division of Humanities