The Hui Culture refers to a civilization that originated in southern Anhui and centered on the ancient Huizhou Prefecture. It later spread to other parts of China. the Hui Culture combines the local ethos, clanism, Confucian school of idealistic philosphy, and commercialism. It is a precious source for the study of chinese culture.
The Rising and Thriving of the Hui Culture
The rise of the Hui Culture can be attributed to an influx of migrants. These immigrants are of two categories: the first were people who fled the Central Plains during perennial wars at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty and Tang Dynasty. They found refuge in Huizhou in the recess of the mountains where they settled down. The second were officials who remained in the region after their tenure expired. Many of these are the ancestors of eminent families in Huizhou.
These immigtants brought with them Confucianism and a better civilization, which was gradually incorporated into the local mountainous culture. At last a new regional culture came into being that was based on Confucianism.
In contrast to the clashes and blending between different cultures and thoughts in the plains areas, Confucianism in mountain-encircled Huizhou remained intact for long periods. With the proliferation of immigrats in the region, clanism was strengthened. Based on blood ties, clanism was a product of Confucianism and consolidated Confucian rule.
In 1127 the forces of the state of Jin broke into Bianliang to end the rule of Northern Song Dynasty. The succeeding Southern Song regime established its capital in Hangzhou in southern China, not far from Huizhou. The Hui Culture afterward began to thrive. Many Huizhou people entered the government by passing the imperial civil service examinations, and local scholars built their fame in the nation's literary circles. During the Song Dynasty more than six hundred Huizhou people excelled in the imperial civil service exams, and more than one hundred and twenty scholars composed poems and essays that have been passed down through history. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) the Mongolian rulers discriminated against the Hans and other ethnic groups. And the imperial civil service examination, no longer deemed the primary way to select candidates for official posts, was often suuspended. Many scholars felt indignant about this and retreated to Huizhou. During this time the School of Principle founded by Zhu Xi, a Confucian school of idealist philosophy, thrived in the region. Advocates, such as Zheng Yu (1295-1358), Chen Li(1252-1334) and Zhu Sheng (1299-1370), carried forward its theories, and preached its doctrines in public. As a result, Lixue, or the School of Principle became a key part of Hui Culture.
The Hui Culture underwent further development after the middle of the Ming Dynasty, when local farmlands could no longer sustain the growing population. Many people had to leave the region to do business. With fair schooling and thanks to the supportive policy of government, they soon made large fortunes and grew into an influential faction. They used part of their profits to expand business, and they sent the rest home to buy land, build houses, and pay for children's education, which futher advanced the Hui Culture.
The Huizhou businesspeople grew stronger in the following decades. They traveled across the nation and returned to introduce various cultures into their hometown. Meanwhile people outside of Huizhou began to pay greater attention to it. Many scholars and artists, including Shen Shixing, Wang Shizhen, Zhu Zhishan, She Zhou, Chen Jiru, Dong Qichang, and Xu Wei of the Ming Dynasty and Qian Qianyi and Yuan Mei of the Qing Dyansty visited there, and created writings or paintings about to Huizhou, Tang Xianzu, a famous Ming playwright, declared it to be the palce he dreamed of. A booming economy significantly contributed to the prosperity of the Hui Culture.
Components of the Hui Culture
1. Clanist Concept
Old China was a patriarchal aociety, whose nasic cells of blood relationship were paternal family clans. Clanism is stressed in Confucianism. And the clanist concept was strong in Huizhou.
Many big families in Huizhou were started by immigrants. According to the Records of Famous Families in Xin'an of the late Ming Dynasty, there were more than eight family names in the region, with Wang, Cheng, Wu, Hu, Bao, Li, Fang, Xu, Jiang, etc. being the most populous. Each name started with one ancestor but branched into thousands of families over the centuries.
Many failies were from ohter parts of China. For example, the Fang family originaly lived in Henan Province. During the coup led by Wang Mang in the late Han Dynasty, Fang Xian, a senior offcial of military affairs, led his family in Huizhou started with Wang Wenhe. Wang Wenhe fled to the region in 197 to escape riots in the Central Plains and was appointed governor of Kuaiji Prefecture by warlord Sun Ce, who ruled southeastern China at that time. Wang then settle down in Shexian. There are at least two sources of Wu family. During the farmers' rebellion headed by Huang Chao at the end of the Tang Dynasty a woman in Boyanghu, Jiangxi Province, brought her son Wu Yi to Jiantan, Xiuning County, Also during the same rebellion another Wu family from Raozhou, Jiangxi Province, moved to Changfeng in the county.
Some familes are the decendants of officials who remained in the region after leaving their posts. For instance, Cheng Yuantan was governor of Xin'an during the Western Jin Dynasty (317-420), an offivial, Huang Ji, followed the exiled empeoro Yuandi (276-322) to Jiankang (today's Nanjing) and was then appointed governor of Xin'an. After his death he was buried at Yaojiandun, Shexian County. His son Huang Xun guarded his tomb in the perfomance of filial duties and therefore eatablished his family there. The Ren Family in Huizhou can be traced back to Ren Fang, governor of Xin'an during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581). He loved local landscapes and lived in fuzi in Shexian County after his retirement. The village where he resided was later renamed Rengongcun (Ren's Village) and the river nearby was called the Rengong River.
The fame of a family depended on its financial and political weight. And having members in the government could signifivantly contribute to this. In the Hu Family of Longchuan, Jixi county, for instance ,Hu Fu of the thirtieth generation was the Minister of Revenue; Hu Zonghua ,Hu Zongming, and Hu Zongxian of the thirty- fourth generation all held senior posts at the imperial court after passing the imprial civil service examinations. The Hus therefore became an eminent family after the region of Ming Emperor Jiajing.
The Huizhou people's strong conception of clanism is also expressed in their zest for genealogy. At least one thousand five hundred genealogies have been found in the region, and are still being continued. The tradition of keeping a family tree can be dated back to the Song Dynasty and thrived in the middle Ming Dynasty when many Huizhou people accumulated wealth through doing business. These finely printed genealogies, with prefaces written by celebrities, include potrayals and biographies of ancestors, family trees, important documents of the clan, and records of memorial temples and family assets. Many also elaborate the clan rules in a bid to maintain clan cohesion and offer guidance in dealing with clan affairs. Each clan had detailed stipulations on how to keep the genealogies free from pests and moisture and what procedures to go through before allowing anyone to consult such records. Though most of these writings glorified the clan forefaters and claimed connections with big names, each of them tells the history of an extended family and gives minute information about its members, such as dates of birth and death and size of family. Some cover the natural conditions, important buildings, and events of the region where the clan was located, offering precious information for historical studies.
The most important function of clanism was to take care of its memnbers and keep them close together. Many clans built charity rooms and barns and keep them close together. Many clans built charity rooms and barns at their memorial temples for needy members of their family. When one household had diffculty, all relatives offerd help. Such attachments between each unit of the extended family built a sense of belonging and common interest, and consequently fortified the family unity.
Another duty of the clan was to handle affairs and disputes among its members, such as weddings, funerals, celebrations for birthdays, birthdays, birth celebrations, and moving into new houses. For example, a wedding would be held in the memorial temple of a clan. The newly wed couple then revisited the temple on the third day of their marriage to pay respect to the ancestors, and the groom was required to donate a sum of money to the temple. Some clans stored wedding sedans, lanterns, and dresses at their memorial temples.
Clans had greater influence and grew into complete institutions after the middle of the Ming Dynasty. Many controlled the jurisdiction in their villages. When a dispute occurred, the involved parties could bring it to the government or settle it themselves, but they went to the clan heard for judgment. Construction of infrastructures, such as roads, bridges, and irrigation facilities also were planned and carried out at the disposal of clans. No individual or family could accomplish projects on their own, so the clans played the role of organizers and coordinators.
2. Lixue, or School of Principle
Xin'an Lixue (School of Principle) was at the core of Huizhou Culture, and explains the Confucian dominance over it. At the same time, Xin'an Lixue had palpable feudalistic traits.
A school of thought of far-reaching influence, Xin'an Lixue was founded by Zhu Xi, whose ancestral home was in Wuyuan, Huizhou. Zhu called Huizhou the land of ancestors, and he went there twice to visit his family cemetery. During his second stay, which spanned three months, Zhu met a gouup of local students and scholars who adnired him and advocated histhinking. Xin'an Lixue gradually came into being after that. And Zhuxi was respectfully called Zhu Zi, or Master Zhu.
Xin'an Lixue underwent four stages in its history. The first was the formation stage. Acording to historical records, Zhu Xi had eighteen disciples and many more admirers in Huizhou who believed in and studied Zhu's ideas and wrote books about them. A new school of Confucianism consequently emerged, Xin'an Lixue.
This philosophy was in its development stage from the end of the Song Dynasty and throughout the succeeding Yuan Dynasty. During this time other thoughts that defied those held by Zhu Xi became rampant in China. In response, the followers of Lixue in Huizhou dedicated their efforts in defending their ideology and combating such heresies. These people vowed never to take official posts, and dedicated their lives to teaching Lixue. Many of their students became renowned Lixue scholars.
Xin'an Lixue reached its zenith and then declined from the late Yuan and into the Ming Dynasty. During the early Ming Dynasty some scholars in Huizhou, including Zheng Yu, Zhu Sheng, and Zhao Pang, criticized Lixue for getting into a rut, and raised the idea of seeking a "ture principle" and "ture knowledge." they carried Lixue forward in two ways, by annotating the philosophical classics and by combining the merits of the thinking of Zhu Xi and Lu Jia, who had founded another school of Confucianism.
After the middle of Ming Dynasty, partly due to the influence of School of Mind, one that disagreed with Lixue scholars didn't defend their theories effectively, their school of thought gradually declined.
Xin'an Lixue died out during the Qing Dynasty. At the beginning of the dynasty a group of Huizhou scholars, headed by Jiang Yong (1681-1762), Dai Zhen (1723-1777), and Cheng Yaotian (1725-1814), established Jingxue, or the study of Confucian classics. As a result, Xin'an Lixue was replaced by Huizhou Puxue, an empirical research school.
Lixue argued that people should maintain heavenly principles and eradicate human desires, which endorsed rule and fettered personal freedom. Women suffered the most under the Lixue ideology. When huizhou busineddmen were away from home for years, the vwives were obliged to piously serve their parents-in-law and raise their children, and what's more important, maintain chastity. Once a woman's honor was threatened, she had to flight to her death to save it. There are monuments for such women all over Huizhou. And stories about them can be found in many genealogies or regional annals. Usually addressed as somebody's wife instead of by their full names, these women had a space in the history but at the cost of their lives. In this aspect, the vice of Lixue must be recognized.
3. Mercantile More
Mercantile mores are a key aspect of the Hui culture. The Hui Culture could not have thrived without the economic support from local merchants.
Starting in the middle of the Ming Dynasty, about seventy percent of Huizhou men did business outside of the region. They usually stayed close to those of the same clan or town. The most experienced and successful member was selected as head, and others were at his command to guard the interest of thw whole group.
When the trend of doing business gained momentum, Huizhou merchants sought a higher social status. In old China, which lived on agriculture, merchants ranked lower than officials, farmers, and craftsman in the caste structure. This conception slowly changed after commerce made greater contributions to national prosperity.
Public opinion regarding the Huizhou merchants rose after they donated considerable sums to build roads and bridges in their hometowns or to fund public welfare projects in the places of their businesses. As an ancient couplet in Huizhou reads:"It is good to be a scholar, it is goodo to be a merchant as wee; All's well that ends well; It is difficult to start an undertaking, it is diffcult to carry on the undertaking as well; It is not diffcult unless the diffculties are predetermined" But owing to the old tradition and conceptions, most Huizhou people, including the businesspeople, still aspired to be officials by way of the imperial examinations.
Huizhou was known nationwide during the Ming Dynasty because of the large number of businesspeople in its population. As the Ming novel Amazing Tales put it:"It is a popular phenomena in Huizhou that doing business is deemed the first choice of living, and preparing for the imperial examination is only next." Huizhou merchants received hearty support from their spouses. During the Chenghua reign (1465-1487) of Ming Emperor Xianzong, a man from Shexian County named Jiang Cai was anguished that he had neither enough land to farm nor sufficient money to start a business. His wife then scratched up a sum for him by selling her clothes and jewelry. A few years later Jiang became a successful merchant.
Merchants were respected in their families. The extant genealogies in Huizhou include many detailed records on family members' business activities, and make positive remarks on this. Though these people were not esteemed as highly as those with academic and political titles, they enjoyed a fair status in their families, and their contributions to their families were well recognized.
Nexus Between the Hui Culture and the Chinese Culture
Ancient Huizhou in today's southern Anhui province was adjacent to several big cities, yt remained a land of peace behind ranges of mountains. This location enabled to remain involved in the social and economic progress of china and still to preserve its own culture and customs.
A Unique Regional Culture
The Hui Culture is distinguished from other cultures, such as the Jin (Shanxi) and Lu (Shangdong) cultures, for being the only one that integrates clanism, Confucianism, and mercantilism. It is manifested in the rich cultural heritage of the region, such as ancient buildings, historical documents, paintings, and carvings that have been saved to date thanks to the region's out-of-way location and the local people's passion for literature and art.
Epitome of the Chinese Culture
The Hui Culture is an indispensable part of the Chinese Culture. The large number of Huizhou people who engaged in business travels or took official posts around China introduced the hui culture to other parts of the nation, and at the same time imported elements of other regional cultures into their hometowns. Huizhou was the ancestral home of Zhu Xi and is a stronghold of his philosophy, Lixue, a key school of Confucianism that gained predominance in China after the Song Dynasty. Lixue is at the core of local culture. Since the middle of Ming Dynasty, dynamix commercial activites bred the first buds of capitalism in China. And Huizhou merchants were the trail blazers. The economic prosperity they achieved boosted the educational, cultural, and scientific development in the region. The large number of files, annals, and records of huizhou portray the process of the local life in ancient times, and what's more,reflet the situation of the whole nation in those times. Studying the Huizhou Culture therefore helps to provide a better understanding of the Chinese Culture.
The Hui Culture is still alive today. It can be seen in the ancient architecture across the region, the ancestors' memorial tablets kept by local households, the centuriees-old villages whose members are mostly of the same forefaters, as well as in the local customs and ethos that have been passed down over many generations. Huizhou is a historical museum without walls and a specimen of life in China's mountainous area during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Now that the Chinese Culture is rawing more and more attention from around the world, the charm of the Hui Culture will likely be noticed and recognized by many more people.