In 1939, residents of a rural village near Chengdu watched as Lei Mingyuan, a member of a violent secret society known as the Gowned Brothers, executed his teenage daughter. Six years later, Shen Baoyuan, a sociology student at Yenching University, arrived in the town to conduct fieldwork on the society that once held sway over local matters. She got to know Lei Mingyuan and his family, recording many rare insights about the murder and the Gowned Brothers' inner workings.
Using the filicide as a starting point to examine the history, culture, and organization of the Gowned Brothers, Di Wang offers nuanced insights into the structures of local power in 1940s rural Sichuan. Moreover, he examines the influence of Western sociology and anthropology on the way intellectuals in the Republic of China perceived rural communities. By studying the complex relationship between the Gowned Brothers and the Chinese Communist Party, he offers a unique perspective on China's transition to socialism. In so doing, Wang persuasively connects a family in a rural community, with little overt influence on national destiny, to the movements and ideologies that helped shape contemporary China.
About the authors
Di Wang is Professor of History at the University of Macau. He is the author of The Teahouse: Small Business, Everyday Culture, and Public Politics in Chengdu, 1900–1950 (Stanford, 2008).
"Di Wang's rich volume on the Sichuan Paoge offers a major contribution to the history of Chinese secret societies. Based in part on the fascinating thesis of a sociology student at Yenching University, the study brilliantly illuminates the complex linkages between rural society and culture, the limits of local government, and Western-inspired intellectual efforts to arrive at a new understanding of peasant life."
—David Ownby, author of Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in Early and Mid-Qing China
"Violence and Order on the Chengdu Plain is the first monograph in English that is solely dedicated to the study of paoge, one of the most influential secret societies in the upper- and middle-Yangzi regions in pre-1949 China. An elegant microhistory, this work weaves an intimate study with larger social and political contexts involving rebellions, revolutions, foreign invasion, state penetration, and peasant resistance that characterized twentieth-century China."
—Huaiyin Li, University of Texas at Austin