UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Voluntary associations in traditional Chinese cities with special reference to the hui-kuan Mossop, Charles Gordon


This thesis is an attempt to present certain aspects of Chinese social history in the light of current anthropological theory. It deals with non-kin associations, primarily in the traditional Chinese city, with a view to classifying them. Working with English source materials, I have collected together the available first-hand observations of these voluntary associations. The first major portion of the study deals with mutual aid clubs, clubs for the elite and commercial guilds, and this is followed by a treatment of the hui-kuan, or locality association, in the cities and countryside. It has been suggested that mutual aid clubs and clubs for the elite served many of the functions of the hui-kuan groups, and may have been formed by those individuals in a city who were not eligible to join such groups. The commercial guilds, on the other hand, were significant not only from the point of view of their control over trade and commerce, but also because of the system of indirect rule practiced by officialdom whereby the guilds were left in almost complete charge of the business management of the city. The hui-kuan associations must be considered as separate from the guilds because their basic criterion for recruitment was not common occupation but common geographical origin. The urban social hui-kuan were often clubs for the elite, while the commercial hui-kuan in the cities were mainly for merchants of the same occupation sharing common geographical origins. In general, the urban groups were the result of interregional trade, while the rural associations were the result of interregional migrations. The concentration of both kinds of hui-kuan groups in the central and upper Yangtze provinces can be directly related to the depopulation of that area and the subsequent migration of millions of peasants and merchants in the early Ch'ing period. My basic suggestion is that the hui-kuan associations met the needs of their members that would ordinarily have been satisfied by the kin group at home. In the case of south China in particular, the adaptive and integrative function is clear, as is the similarity between the services offered by the hui-kuan and the lineage, or tsu. Both the urban and rural groups helped the newcomer to adapt to his new surroundings and solve the particular problems he faced. Furthermore, they served as substitute kin groups and provided the means of preserving an individual’s ties with his home lineage. The concentration of hui-kuan groups in the once-depopulated areas of the central and upper Yangtze regions lends support to the argument of Pasternak, who, as opposed to Freedman, believes that in such "frontier" situations immigrants would form associations that cut across surnames and that lineages would not begin to form until conditions stabilized over several generations. Finally, a comparison with certain voluntary associations in modern Africa indicates the unique features of the Chinese non-kin associations: the disdain of officialdom and the system of indirect rule in the case of the guilds, and the preservation of membership in the home kin group in the case of the hui-kuan.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.