Han Jie (1894-1960): a Christian and intellectual Miao

by Jili Zhu

Working Papers WP 17-07
June 2017
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

This paper examines Miao identity and Miao ethnic relations through the biography of Han Jie (韩杰), a native missionary who was instrumental in setting up educational institutions for the Miao minority during the period of the Republic of China. Han Jie belonged to the Flower Miao, a sub-group of the Miao in southwest China. Flower Miao identity arose through a history of migrations whereby the Miao fled from oppression and problematic relations with their feudal overlords. When foreign missionaries began to evangelize among the Miao in the early twentieth century, they emphasized education and set up numerous schools to teach literacy. Learning literacy was not just an educational achievement, it allowed the Miao to imagine that they could have a better future and be more than just poor farmers. Han Jie belonged to the first generation of graduates of Miao Christian schools, and he went on to set up more schools in remote areas, thus spreading literacy among poor Miao. Han Jie’s insight was that the Miao people needed an independent, self-reliant church. Accordingly he poured his energy into increasing the sense of autonomy among the Flower Miao through evangelization and education. I argue that the history of religious proselytization transformed the Miao, their relations with their church ultimately determining their relations with the Chinese state as well. Thus Christian evangelization played a pivotal role in shaping Miao identity under the Nationalist regime of the Republic of China.

Keywords: flower Miao, missionary, identity.

Jili Zhu (朱佶丽) is Assistant Researcher, Institute of Ethnology, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity from 2014 to 2016. She is currently working on Miao Christian studies of China and cross-border Miao studies. Her previous publications include a work in the Yunnan Miao Culture Series: Miao Ancestors from the Stone Gateway, My father Zhu Huanzhang, as well as a Centennial Video Documentary of the Stone Gateway (Yunnan Nationalities Publishing House, 2012) and A Brief History of the Flower Miao (Minzu University Publishing House, 2013).