Tusi (tu-szu),[n 1] also known as Headmen or Chieftains, were tribal leaders recognized as imperial officials by the Yuan, Ming, and Qing-era Chinese governments, principally in Yunnan. The arrangement is generally known as the Native Chieftain System.[n 2]
The system originated from Yuan accommodations following the conquest of Dali in AD 1253 by Mongol forces under the command of Kublai, the brother of the Great Khan. The former ruling Duan dynasty were appointed as its governors general.[n 3] and local leaders coöpted under a variety of titles as administrators of the region. Some credit the Turkoman governor Shams al-Din with introducing the components of the system. Duan Xingzhi, the last king of Dali, was appointed as the first local ruler, and he accepted the stationing of a pacification commissioner there. After Kublai's departure, unrest broke out among certain factions. In 1255 and 1256, Duan Xingzhi was presented at court, where he offered the Yuan Emperor Mengu maps of Yunnan and counsels about the vanquishing of the tribes who had not yet surrendered. Duan then led a considerable army to serve as guides and vanguards for the Mongolian army. By the end of 1256, Uryankhadai had completely pacified Yunnan. In 1381, the Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang sent a force against the last remnant of the forces of the Yuan Dynasty, led by the Prince of Liang Basalawarmi, who committed suicide. This left Duan Gong, a successor of Duan Xingzhi, as the last representative of remnant Yuan forces. He refused to surrender and attempted to have the former Dali kingdom recognized as a tributary state. When defeated in battle, the surviving Duan brothers were taken captive and escorted in to the capital. There they were given an insignificant office in the interior. From then on, "permanent chieftains were replaced by transferable officials," formally appointed by the Ming court.
Local leaders were obliged to provide troops, suppress local rebellions, and pay tribute in Beijing annually, biennially, or triennially according to their distance. The post was confirmed as hereditary (as opposed to the examination system in China proper), but succession, promotion, and demotion were all controlled by the Chinese administration which required each tusi to use a seal and an official charter. To establish legitimate successions, tusi were ordered to list their sons and nephews in AD 1436, to redo the list in quadruplicate in 1441, and to renew the list triennially in 1441 and again in 1485. The Ming also took over regencies of children younger than 15 in 1489.
Under the Ming, there were 179 tusi and 255 tuguan (native civilian commanders) in Yunnan and the destruction of a post generally only followed a severe crime. The Qing greatly reduced this number. By the Yongzheng Emperor, there were only twenty-two left: Cheli, Gengma, Longchuan, Ganya (modern Yingjiang), Nandian, Menglian, Zhefang, Zhanda, Lujiang, Mangshi (Luxi), Mengmao (Ruili), Nalou, Kuirong, Shierguan, Menghua, Jingdong, Mengding, Yongning, Fuzhou, Wandian, Zhenkang, and Beishengzhou.
- Bin Yang. Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan, Ch. 4. Columbia University Press.
- Atwood, C. P. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongols. p. 613.
- Du Yuting; Chen Lufan (1989). "Did Kublai Khan's Conquest of the Dali Kingdom Give Rise to the Mass Migration of the Thai People to the South?" (free). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 77.1c (digital). images 2–4. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
- Wellens, Koen. Religious Revival in the Tibetan Borderlands: The Premi of Southwest China, pp. 29 ff. Studies on Ethnic Groups in China. University of Washington Press, 2010. ISBN 0-295-99069-4.