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Title"Tied to a Boat by the Sound of a Gong". World, Work and Society Seen through the Work Songs of Sichuan Boatmen (1880s - 1930s)
AuthorChabrowski, Igor Iwo
UniversityEuropean University Institute
Thesis typePh.D
PlaceChina, Sichuan
Number of pages305

This thesis, based on Eastern Sichuan boatmen’s work songs, haozi, analyzes the way river workers understood and interpreted the world, work and society that they lived in. Spanning the period between 1880s and 1930s, it explains how such professional groups dealt with the dissolving social and economic order of the late-Qing China and the chaotic republican decades. The thesis is divided into two parts. The first part reconstructs the social history of Sichuan boatmen, discusses the methodological issues connected with working on popular song traditions, and explains the importance of work songs as tools of boatmen’s work. The second part is devoted to reading, analysis and discussion of these traditions. Three fundamental topics are analyzed in this section: boatmen’s understanding of the social world they lived in; the way they perceived their work and the manner in which they comprehended their social position. The thesis demonstrates that boatmen created representations of the Sichuan river towns to claim their own social, cultural and physical spaces. Boatmen largely refused elite aesthetics and shaped their own ones, corresponding to their tastes, habits and forms of socialization. Analyzing the issue of work and labor relations, the thesis demonstrates that boatmen resisted exploitation by stating their moral superiority enshrined in the ideal of brotherhood; and by bemoaning their harrowing labor, cruelty of the bosses and lack of family life. Finally, by examining boatmen’s imagination of death, the thesis unveils how culturally potent representations were exploited in order to protest against the social injustice, at the same time expressing vulnerability, weakness and lack of control over one’s destiny. The thesis provides us with deeper understanding of the way early twentieth century non-industrial Chinese workers conceptualized their social standing, interpreted surrounding reality and struggled to adjust to oppressive social conditions.

Keywords (en)China;Sichuan;song;river;worker;culture;profession;boatman;city;town;imaginary;society
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