About a decade ago, when Professor Li Deying, a friend of mine at Sichuan University, was doing research in the Peking University Library, she found a sociological report on a Paoge family in 1940s Sichuan by Shen Baoyuan, a female student in the Department of Sociology at Yenching University. Deying knew that I was working on materials related to the Paoge, so she made me a photocopy of the report. Shen’s thesis was useful, but at the time I was concentrating on another project—public life and teahouses in twentieth-century Chengdu—so I gave it no immediate thought. It stayed on my shelf for nearly a decade.
Since the 1980s, I have wanted to write a book on the Paoge. In 1989 my research project on the Paoge received a Chinese Studies Fellowship Award from Wang Laboratories, Inc. (USA), but because of many factors—especially the lack of systematic sources—I did not complete the project. I never stopped collecting relevant materials, however. During the spring of 2009, while I taught in the Department of History at the University of California at Berkeley, I read through all “cultural and historical materials” (wenshi ziliao) from Sichuan’s provincial and county levels to district administrations on the shelves of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library. In 2014, after my second teahouse book was nearly completed, I began to give serious thought to the Paoge project. That summer, while reading through the documents I had collected for years, I taught a graduate seminar at East China Normal University in which I used several classic works of microhistory such as those by Natalie Davis and Robert Darnton. These books inspired me to attempt a microhistory of my own based on Shen Baoyuan’s 1940s investigation of the Paoge in Hope Township.
Deciding to use Shen’s fieldwork report as a historical source, I wanted to answer the following questions: (1) What is the true geographical location of Shen’s investigation? (2) What is the real name of Lei Mingyuan, Shen’s main interview subject? (3) Does Shen know Lei Mingyuan’s situation after 1949? If I could find Shen, I thought, these puzzles could easily be solved. In early July 2014, I started to look online for Shen, who would have been at least ninety years old by then, so I felt a sense of urgency. I found out that she was the daughter of the American-educated scholar Shen Zurong (Samuel T. Y. Seng), who is considered the father of library science in China. The Shen family had established a scholarship at Sun Yat-sen University. The latest news on Shen Baoyuan was from 2012 about her attendance at the university’s scholarship award ceremony. From a blog essay by Professor Cheng Huanwen, library director at Sun Yat-sen University and the author of Shen Zurong’s biography, I knew that Cheng had communicated with Shen Baoyuan. I contacted Professor Ma Guoqing, a friend in the Department of Anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University. With his help, I connected with Cheng and ultimately gained Shen’s telephone number. Finally I was able to speak directly with Shen Baoyuan.
The result was disappointing: the entire conversation probably lasted only two or three minutes. After I told her the purpose of my contacting her, Shen said, “I have been suffering from Alzheimer’s and cannot remember anything in the past. I do not want to waste your time.” She did not want to be disturbed with this matter. If I had started to write my book ten years earlier, perhaps the situation would be different. I tried not to feel so disappointed; it was unlikely for anyone, much less a ninety-year-old, to remember what had transpired seventy years earlier. I tried to move on without regret, although I did not completely give up hope. I attempted to obtain some information through Shen’s daughter and asked if her mother had talked about the sociological investigation in 1945. But, again, I was disappointed. She told me that her mother had never mentioned the experience; in fact, Shen’s daughter had only learned about the investigation from me. I was, however, able to confirm that Shen Baoyuan was born in February 1924. Therefore, I knew that when Shen traveled to Hope Township for her fieldwork that summer, she was twenty-one and a junior studying sociology. In 1946 she graduated from Yenching University at twenty-two, the typical age of most college graduates.
I would not be able to check the historical facts with Shen herself—a reality that might not be entirely disadvantageous. Even without the problem of her having lost memory, whatever she could tell me today about events from the 1940s might be a “reproduction” of history. Largely relying on Shen’s fieldwork report—a real record of the original sociological investigation—while digging deeper into other historical sources might therefore be the best outcome. This book explores history in two voices: the first is that of protagonist Lei Mingyuan and his family; the second is that of Shen Baoyuan, who recorded their stories and observable patterns to document Paoge activities and Paoge families from a Western-trained sociological student’s viewpoint. In a third layer of interpretation I seek to understand these two stories joined in the Chengdu plain.
I would like to especially thank Li Deying for providing me with Shen Baoyuan’s 1946 bachelor’s thesis, which is the core source for this book. I am grateful to Howard Goodman, who thoroughly edited the manuscript and helped improve it by asking clarifying questions and offering insightful suggestions. My thanks go to Bill Rowe, Madeleine Zelin, and Cynthia Brokaw for supporting my grant applications for this project. More than twenty years ago, Bill recommended Carol Ginzburg’s work, which simulated my interest in microhistory. Special thanks to Cynthia, who provided photocopies of two versions of Haidi, printed in 1920s and 1930s Chengdu, both of which are very valuable to this book. Thanks to Cui Rong, who helped me type Shen’s entire report into an electronic format as the starting point for this book, and An Shaofan, who helped me check the errors of pinyin in the bibliography and character list as the ending point of the project. For their constructive comments, I thank Huaiyin Li and a anonymous scholar, who served as reviewers for Stanford University Press. For their expert direction throughout the publication process, I would like to express my gratitude to SUP editors Jenny Gavacs, Margo Irvin, and Marcela Maxfield, who successively were in charge of this book, and to independent editor Amy Smith Bell for her meticulous copyediting of the final manuscript.
This project received the following financial support: the College of Liberal Arts Seed Grant of Texas A&M University, the Fulbright Senior Research Scholarship, and the Research and Development Grant for Chair Professor of the University of Macau. My thanks go to the C. V. Starr East Asian Library of University of California at Berkeley, the Sterling C. Evans Library at Texas A&M University, the Sichuan Provincial Archives, the Library of East China Normal University, and the Wu Yee Sun Library of University of Macau. I thank the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University for providing permission to use the photographs taken by Sidney D. Gamble from 1917 through 1919. I also thank the Needham Research Institute at Cambridge University for providing permission to use the photographs taken by Joseph Needham from 1943 through 1946.
During the years when the manuscript was taking shape, several institutions invited me to give talks on Sichuan’s secret societies: the University of California at San Diego, L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS, Paris), the University of Arkansas, Sichuan University, Nanjing University, Central China Normal University, Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and Peking University. I thank the scholars and students who attended my presentations for their stimulating comments and questions. Some material in the introduction as well as in Chapter 11 has been previously published in the journal Frontiers of History in China. I thank the publisher for permission to reuse the material here.
Finally, this book would not have been possible without the support of my family. My deepest gratitude goes to all of them.