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The Blang ethnic minority (3)

(People's Daily)

17:31, August 26, 2011

Past Social Conditions

Before liberation in 1950, social development was uneven in different Blang localities. The Blang communities in the Lincang and Simao prefectures were fairly developed socially and economically, as their members lived together with Hans and other more socially advanced peoples. Except for cemeteries and forests, which remained common property, land had become privately owned. A landlord economy had long been established, with landlords and rich peasants taking possession of the best land through exorbitant interest rates, mortgages, pawning and political privileges. Poor Blang peasants, aside from being at the mercy of landlords and rich peasants of Blang origin, were exploited by propertied classes of Han and other ethnic minorities. The Bao-Jia system (an administrative system organized on the basis of households, instituted by the Kuomintang government in 1932) tightened political control over all the Blang areas. The Kuomintang government, in collaboration with local landlords and tyrants, caused great suffering to the Blang people by excessive levying of taxes and forced conscription.

The Blang communities in Xishuangbanna's Mt. Blang, Xiding and Bada areas were less socially developed and more poverty-stricken. The Blangs had long been subjected to the rule of Dai feudal lords, who exacted from them an annual tribute of money and farm produce. The Dai landlords appointed a number of hereditary headmen called "Ba" from among the Blangs. Each "Ba" had several Blang villages under his rule and collected tributes for the Dai masters.

Blang society in Xishuangbanna retained varying degrees of public ownership of land by the clan or the village, aside from private ownership. A small number of villages had retained characteristics of the primitive commune, which was composed of 20-30 small families who had a common ancestor. Commune farmland, forests and pastures belonged to all the members. Families and individuals had the right to utilize this kind of land, but could not buy or sell it. As productivity developed, however, the patriarchs took advantage of their positions to gradually grab property for themselves, and began to exploit clan members.

Most Blang villages in Xishuangbanna had primitive commune features. Each village consisted of some 100 households belonging to several or a dozen clans of different blood relationships. While farm implements, houses and farm animals belonged to individual households, land, forests and water sources were the village's common property. The different clans took permanent possession of different parts of the public land and allocated their share to small families under them on a regular basis to enable farming on a household basis. The households were entitled to the harvest. Just as each small family depended on its clan membership for the use of land, each clan relied on its affiliation to the village for its right to use the village land. Once a clan moved elsewhere, its land reverted to the village. When a newcomer applied for land, a meeting of headmen would decide how much to allocate.

Members of a village commune were engaged in the same kind of political and religious activities. Public officials of the commune, namely the headmen, were elected.

Gradually, however, private ownership of land emerged. Many village commune members lost their land, becoming tenants of headmen or rich households. Their land henceforth assumed a completely private nature: it could be sold or bought, mortgaged or rented. Patriarchs or the elected headman of a village commune, taking advantage of their position, often took permanent possession of large amounts of good land.

Production was at an extremely low level before liberation in Xishuangbanna's Blang area. Agriculture was the economic mainstay of Blang society, with dry rice as the dominant crop, followed by tea and cotton. At the beginning of the spring ploughing season, patriarchs would organize clan members to clear forest land and allocate it among individual households for farming. Harvests were poor. The Blangs' low income contrasted sharply with their heavy economic burden, which included tribute, high interest to money lenders, different kinds of taxes and corvee.

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