And even then you’d still have space for the other seven


Wikipedia is cool and I like like having open access to it again, but there are some pretty huge, glaring wholes in it. Take this section from the article on Shanxi for example:

 The Mongol Yuan Dynasty divided China into provinces but did not establish Shanxi as a province. Shanxi was formally established with its present name and approximate borders by the Ming Dynasty (13681644). During the Qing Dynasty (16441911), Shanxi was extended northwards beyond the Great Wall to include parts of Inner Mongolia, including what is now the city of Hohhot, and overlapped with the jurisdiction of the Eight Banners and the Guihua Tümed banner in that area.

Now, that one little paragraph covers the period from 1271 to 1911, or 640 years, with only the scantiest of details. Normally that would be ok, I guess, I mean, it is only Wikipedia and it is an article about Shanxi as a whole. To cover all of Shanxi’s history in even merely adequate detail would take several large volumes, so much paper that it would consume all the forest left in Shanxi and then go to its neighbouring provinces looking for more if you were cruel enough to insist on a dead tree version. But the end of the Yuan Dynasty saw continual war, flood and famine in the Yellow and Huai River basins, which sent vast hordes of refugees into Shanxi, which had somehow managed to remain stable and prosperous, attract favourable weather, and generally be a nice place to live. And the early Ming Dynasty saw what was quite possibly the largest series of organised mass migrations in China’s history. The Ming government, in order to consolidate its rule, and probably for a few other reasons, organised to send vast hordes of migrants out of Shanxi to virtually every province of China. And those provinces which didn’t get any migrants directly from Shanxi tended to get them indirectly via the other provinces. These migrants settled every where from Dongbei to Xinjiang to Yunnan. Today, literally millions of Chinese right across the country can trace their ancestors to the Great Scholar Tree of Hongtong (thanks John for the correction) County in Linfen, where the Ming government established an office to organise these mass migrations. Here are some excerpts with my really awful translations from that article about the Great Scholar Tree:


 When the Ming Dynasty overthrew the Yuan Dynasty, in order to consolidate its political power and develop the economy, in a period of over 50 years from the early years of Hongwu to the fifteenth year of Yongle, organised eight large-scale migration movements.

晋�是山西人�稠密之处,而洪洞�是当时晋�最大,人�最多的 县。�记载,明�时在洪洞城北二�里的贾�西侧有一座广济寺,寺院�大,殿宇�峨,僧众很多,香客��。寺�有一棵“树身数围,��数亩’�的汉�,车马 大�从树�下通过。汾河滩上的�鹞在树上构�筑巢,星罗棋布,甚为壮观。明�政府在广济寺设局驻员集中办�移民,大�树下就�了移民集�之地。

The south is a densely populated part of Shanxi, and at that time Hongdong was the largest and most populous county. According to records, 2 li (1 km) north of Hongdong Town on the west side of Jia Village was Guangji Temple, a grand temple, lofty-eaved halls, many monks, and many worshippers. Next to the temple was a “thick trunked, shading a large area� Chinese scholar tree. The road passed under its shadow. The sparrow hawks on the banks of the Fen River built their nests all over the tree, an extrememly magnificent sight. The Ming government set up an office and stationed officials at Guangji Temple to  centralise the management of migrants. Under the Great Scholar Tree became the place where the migrants assembled.

晚秋时节,æ§?å?¶å‡‹è?½ï¼Œè€?鸦çª?显得å??分醒目。移民们临行之时,å‡? 眸高大的å?¤æ§?,栖æ?¯åœ¨æ ‘æ?ˆé—´çš„è€?鹞ä¸?断地å?‘出声声哀鸣,令别离故土的移民潸然泪下,频频回首,ä¸?å¿?离去,最å?Žå?ªèƒ½çœ‹è§?大æ§?树上的è€?鹤çª?。为此,大æ§?æ ‘å’Œè€? 鹤çª?å°±æˆ?为移民惜别家乡的标志。“问我祖先何处æ?¥ï¼Œå±±è¥¿æ´ªæ´žå¤§æ§?树。祖先故里å?«ä»€ä¹ˆï¼Œå¤§æ§?树下è€?鸹çª?。â€?这首民谣数百年æ?¥åœ¨æˆ‘国许多地区广为æµ?传。(æ?®æˆ‘ è€?家的æ?‘民说,我们æ?‘就是那个时候从大æ§?æ ‘è¿?移出æ?¥ï¼Œä»¥å……实北部边防的,æ?‘里的家谱也正是从那个时候记起的。)

In late autumn the scholar tree’s leaves whither and fall, the old crow’s nests catch the eye. Just before the migrants leave, they fix their gaze on the large, tall, ancient scholar tree, the old sparrow hawks perched in the crotch of the tree constantly call out plaintively, the migrants ordered to leave their native soil, with tears in their eyes repeatedly looked back, couldn’t bear to leave. In the end they could only see the cranes’ nests in the Great Scholar Tree. Because of this, the Great Scholar Tree and the old cranes’ nests became symbols of the hometowns the migrants hated to part from. “Ask where my ancestors came from, the Great Scholar Tree in Hongdong, Shanxi. What is my ancestors’ hometown called, the crow’s nest under the Great Scholar Tree.� Over hundreds of years this folk song has been spread to many parts of China. (According to the villagers of my hometown, our village also came from the Great Scholar Tree at that time, in order to strengthen the defence of the northern border, and the village’s genealogy also began to be recorded from that time)

明�从山西洪洞等地�出的移民主�分布在河��河北�山东�北 京�安徽�江��湖北等地,少部分�往陕西�甘肃���地区。从山西�往上述�地的移民,��转�到云��四��贵州�新疆�东北诸�。如此长时间大范围 有组织的大规模�徙,在我国历�上是罕�的,而将一方之民散移�地,仅此一例而已。

Of the migrants who left Hongdong and other parts of Shanxi in the early Ming, the largest number went to such places as Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Beijing, Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei, with a lesser number going to the Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia area. Of the migrants from Shanxi to the places mentioned above, some later moved on to Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Xinjiang and all the northeastern provinces. Organised migrations over such a long time and of such a large scale are rarely seen in China’s history, and this is the only example of people scattering to every region.

 Yes, my translations are truly awful. Any corrections or constructive criticism would be most appreciated. And I wish I could figure out who the author was, but I can’t find a name, the only thing relevant to such things as IPR I can find on that page is “Copyright by 2005-2007 All rights reserved.” Anyway, I’ve linked to the page and I believe I’ve made it clear I’m not the original author, just quoting and translating, so I believe I’m in the clear. But I guess not being able to find who the original author is I can’t really vouch for the historical accuracy of the article. Let’s just say I’ve been reading other things, not on Wikipedia, though, that tend to back up the story.


Yeah, so anyway, huge, huge, massive migrations of an historically significant proportion, with the result that many Chinese people can travel throughout the country (and probably the world, these days) and find others with a link to the Great Scholar Tree of Hongtong. And they don’t show up at all in that Wikipedia article, even though they originated in Shanxi. I suppose I should stop ranting here and join Wikipedia and correct their gross oversight.


Whence my interest in this Great Scholar Tree and the migrations that began with it? My wife is one of those millions who can trace their origins back to Hongtong and the tree.


2 Responses to “a hole so big you could drive one of the biggest mass migrations in Chinese history through it”

  1. John Says:

    So far from being a particularly stable society, China, as history tells us, seems to be nothing of the sort with its tradition of mass migrations. The migrant workers who have flooded into China’s cities today are merely continuing a long, long trend, so it seems.

  2. wangbo Says:

    That’s exactly the impression I’ve been getting from everything I’ve been reading lately.