Manufacturing History: Local County Gazetteers in Communist China

Fei Yan, Tsinghua University
Tongtian Xiao, University of Washington

Many scholars have used local Chinese county gazetteers for historical and socio-economic analyses, yet little research has examined their completeness of coverage or the biases in reporting that characterize their compilation. In this paper, we provide a novel source for studying Chinese political movements and local history under the communist regime after 1949: the internal discussion drafts of county gazetteers (xianzhi pingyigao). Our findings constitute the first study to use internal review drafts to examine the authenticity and credibility of county gazetteers. Prior to their publication, gazetteer drafts are compiled by a team of editors and typically receive at least three rounds of rigorous internal review. These internal discussion drafts are subject to a prolonged and strict process of self and external censorship. Our analysis engages in a close comparison of text samples extracted from two versions of local gazetteers collected from four counties of Guangxi Province. Compared to the draft versions, we find evidence of serious data manipulation and a tendency to underreport historical events in the published editions. Our research evidently demonstrates the process of historiography editing and reveals how local history is presented through the lens of government public documents in China. We thus encourage more scholarly efforts examining the historiography and intellectual history of local gazetteer writing after 1978 through both archives and oral histories.

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 Presented in Session 142. Political Economy in China