China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
During the uncertain and turbulent late Qing and Republican periods, Han Chinese immigrants and merchants to Batang, a predominately ethnic Tibetan region located in southwestern Sichuan Province, were afforded opportunities to carve out a unique space in the local cultural nexus of power. In Batang, a permeable "zone of contact" where traders, migrants and indigenous people participated in fluid interaction and exchanges, Han Chinese immigrants, especially merchants, had always tried to maintain a balance between their survival and prosperity by being integrated into the local society and maintaining their separate identity as "Han" in the borderland. This paper aims to explore how Han immigrants in the high borderlands negotiated with locals while making great effort to maintain their own identity. As most Han migrants were merchants, they incorporated themselves into the local community by the process of their indigenization, adopting local customs, language and religion as well as inter-marrying with the local people. However, to keep their own identity, they strictly adhered to patrilineal descent and provided Confucian education for their descendants. For those Han Chinese immigrants who had lived in Batang for a long time, their regional identity was probably more important than their ethnic identity. The fluidity of merchant identities is also evident in the fact some elite Tibetan political activists and their local supporters in Batang, who launched local self-government movements in the 1930s, were the descendants of early Han Chinese immigrants.