Booi Aha (Manchu: ᠪᠣᠣᡳ ᠨᡳᠶᠠᠯᠮᠠ (booi niyalma) for male, ᠪᠣᠣᡳ ᡥᡝᡥᡝ (booi hehe) for female; Chinese transliteration: 包衣阿哈) is a Manchu word literally meaning "household person", referring to hereditarily servile people in 17th-century Qing China. It is often directly translated as "bondservant", although sometimes also rendered as "slave" ("nucai").
According to Mark C. Elliott, the word "booi" could be confusing due to the absence of a proper Chinese word having the same meaning. The Manchu phrase literally means "of the household", but calling booi aha "slaves" conveys the wrong meaning. The reason is that there is no corresponding social status in Chinese society for booi, who often served in powerful positions and were sometimes intimates of the emperor.
As a compromise in Chinese they were called "bao-yi", but this caused further misunderstanding. In Manchu documents, booi only sometimes mean "bond servant", and despite the common belief it can simply refer to "people to my house" in some occasions.
Pamela Kyle Crossley wrote in her book Orphan Warriors: "The Mongol is the slave of his sovereign. He is never free. His sovereign is his benefactor; [the Mongol] does not serve him for money." This Mongolian "traditional model of slave to owner" was taken up by the Manchu during the development of the Eight Banner military system.
Crossley gave as the definition of Manchu: "A Manchu was, moreover, a man who used his skills exclusively to serve the sovereign....banners as institutions were derived from Turkic and Mongolian forms of military servitude, all enrolled under the banners considered themselves slaves of the emperor and called themselves so (aha, Chinese: 奴才; pinyin: nucai) when addressing him...".
In his book China Marches West, Peter C. Perdue stated: "In 1624 (after Nurhaci's invasion of Liaodong), Chinese households who had 5 to 7 Manchu sin of grain (800 to 1,000 kg) were given land and houses, while those with less were made into slaves." The Manchu established a close personal and paternalistic relationship between masters and their slaves, as Nurhaci said: "The Master (Chinese: 主子) should love the slaves and eat the same food as them". Perdue further pointed out that booi aha "did not correspond exactly to the Chinese category of "bondservant-slave" (Chinese: 奴僕); instead, it was a relationship of personal dependency on a master which in theory guaranteed close personal relationships and equal treatment, even though many western scholars would directly translate "booi" as "bondservant".
In the book A History of Chinese Civilization, Jacques Gernet pointed out that Chinese agricultural slaves were employed as early as the fifteenth century, and by the late sixteenth century it was observed that all the Manchu military commanders had both field and house servants. Between 1645 and 1647, Qing rulers enclosed (Chinese: 圈地) large numbers of previously Chinese owned estates over vast areas of North China, eastern Mongolia and neighborhood of Peking, and for land cultivation they were using a labor force consisting of bondservants which were previous land owners and prisoners of war. According to Gernet, regardless of repeated calls from the leader Nurhaci that "The Master should love the slaves", Manchu slave masters treated their slaves very harshly, arranged numerous corvees (Chinese: 徭役, 强迫的劳役), and sold and bought their slaves as if they were animals.
Booi was sometimes regarded as synonymous with booi aha, but booi usually referred to household servants who performed domestic service, whereas aha usually referred to the servile people who worked in fields.
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The number of booi aha of the Imperial Household Department seems to have risen mainly during the Nurhaci's conquest of the eastern fringes of the Liao River basin in the 1610s and 1620s, resulting in the massive increase of the numbers of captives. In 1618, Nurhaci increased the Jurchen state's population by 300,000 by the taking of Fu-shun. This large increase of its population changed the policy on booi aha. During the first year of conquest (to 1624), the captured Chinese were generally enslaved, and bore obligations to private persons, while later (in 1624–1625) they were often enrolled in the ranks of the semi-dependent agriculture class, jusen, who bore obligations to the state. Freeholder status was given to Li Yongfang's 1,000 troops after his surrender of Fushun, and the later Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) Bao Chengxian and Shi Tingzhu also experience good fortune in Qing service after their surrenders in 1622 at Guangning.
The Aha were made out of enslaved Jurchens, Koreans, Han Chinese, and Mongols before 1616, they then became part of the booi (bondservants) attached to Manchu Banners, there is no evidence that after 1621 most of the booi were Han Chinese despite the mistaken view held by many of this topic, many different ethnic groups were booi including Koreans and ethnic Manchu bondservants as well. Both Koreans, Han Chinese, and Jurchens who were prisoners of war or abducted became part of the Aha, the forerunner of the booi (bondservants) in the Banners, although the Jurchens integrated into their own some of the earlier captured Han Chinese and Koreans. The Jianzhou Jurchens accepted some Han Chinese and Koreans who became Jušen (freeholders) on Jianzhou land. Russians, Koreans, Manchus, and Han Chinese were all bondservants in the Imperial Household. Some lands for farming in Manchuria were used to dump soldiers after the position of kaihuren was assigned to former booi. The Imperial Exam resulted in the bureaucracy receiving some important booi while others fled as there was a drastic drop in booi population. The Imperial court saw the rise of the Han Chinese booi Cao Yin.
The Manchu Booi Aha (Home slaves) system was the origin of the Neiwufu (Chinese: 內務府) or Imperial Household Department organization. The personnel of this department came from the booi of the Manchu Eight Banner's upper three banners: Border Yellow, Plain Yellow and Plain White. The highest official's title was Dorgi Baita Icihiyara Amban, a Manchu term (Chinese: 总管内务府大臣), a position mostly occupied by Manchu princes.
The Upper Three Banners of the Neiwufu (Chinese: 内務府上三旗) (Manchu: booi ilan gusa) was a unique military system of Manchu. Apart from providing the clothing, food, housing and transportation for the operating of daily functioning of the imperial family, it also had a military function, which is to provide military protection for the inner imperial court.
In the Qing court, the number of eunuchs was reduced to less than 10% of that of Ming court because eunuchs were replaced by booi, the Qing imperial court's home servants.
Chinese scholar Mo Dongyin (Chinese: 莫东寅) in his Essays on Manchu History (Chinese: 《满族史论丛》) wrote that booi has a dual meaning: (1) Household servants, and (2) slaves. But in Manchu society, booi (Chinese: 包衣) occupied a special class, in which they serve their masters by doing all kinds of manual work and at the same time, with the permission from the master (Chinese: 主子), can enslave other booi, thus becoming masters themselves. With the establishment of the Qing dynasty and the maturity of its political system, booi were organized into Booi Gusa (Manchu: Slave Banner) and incorporated into both the Eight Banners Army and the Imperial Household Department. Booi had since become part of the Qing dynasty political hierarchy, with the emperor being the Master, and emperor's booi working for the Master and the imperial court simultaneously. When addressing the emperor, booi would refer to themselves as Nupu or Nucai (Chinese: 奴僕, or Chinese: 奴才). But when booi were addressing others, even though they were Nucai of the emperor (Chinese: 皇帝的奴才), they would refer to themselves as Superior officials of the Han Chinese (Chinese: 汉人的长官).
It was possible for Han Bannermen and Han bondservants (booi) to become Manchu by being transferred into the upper three Manchu Banners and having their surname Manchufied by adding a "giya" 佳 at the end as a suffix. The process was called 抬旗 in Chinese. It typically occurred in cases of intermarriage with the Qing Aisin Gioro Imperial family, and the close relatives (fathers and brothers) of the concubine or Empress would get promoted from the Han Banner to the Manchu Banner and become Manchu.
Manchu families adopted Han Chinese sons from families of bondservant Booi Aha origin and they served in Manchu company registers as detached household Manchus and the Qing imperial court found this out in 1729. Manchu Bannermen who needed money helped falsify registration for Han Chinese servants being adopted into the Manchu banners and Manchu families who lacked sons were allowed to adopt their servant's sons or servants themselves. The Manchu families were paid to adopt Han Chinese sons from bondservant families by those families. The Qing Imperial Guard captain Batu was furious at the Manchus who adopted Han Chinese as their sons from slave and bondservant families in exchange for money and expressed his displeasure at them adopting Han Chinese instead of other Manchus. These Han Chinese who infiltrated the Manchu Banners by adoption were known as "secondary-status bannermen" and "false Manchus" or "separate-register Manchus", and there were eventually so many of these Han Chinese that they took over military positions in the Banners which should have been reserved for Manchus. Han Chinese foster-son and separate register bannermen made up 800 out of 1,600 soldiers of the Mongol Banners and Manchu Banners of Hangzhou in 1740 which was nearly 50%. Han Chinese foster-son made up 220 out of 1,600 unsalaried troops at Jingzhou in 1747 and an assortment of Han Chinese separate-register, Mongol, and Manchu bannermen were the remainder. Han Chinese secondary status bannermen made up 180 of 3,600 troop households in Ningxia while Han Chinese separate registers made up 380 out of 2,700 Manchu soldiers in Liangzhou. The result of these Han Chinese fake Manchus taking up military positions resulted in many legitimate Manchus being deprived of their rightful positions as soldiers in the Banner armies, resulting in the real Manchus unable to receive their salaries as Han Chinese infiltrators in the banners stole their social and economic status and rights. These Han Chinese infiltrators were said to be good military troops and their skills at marching and archery were up to par so that the Zhapu lieutenant general couldn't differentiate them from true Manchus in terms of military skills. Manchu Banners contained a lot of "false Manchus" who were from Han Chinese civilian families but were adopted by Manchu bannermen after the Yongzheng reign. The Jingkou and Jiangning Mongol banners and Manchu Banners had 1,795 adopted Han Chinese and the Beijing Mongol Banners and Manchu Banners had 2,400 adopted Han Chinese in statistics taken from the 1821 census. Despite Qing attempts to differentiate adopted Han Chinese from normal Manchu bannermen the differences between them became hazy. These adopted Han Chinese bondservants who managed to get themselves onto Manchu banner roles were called kaihu ren (開戶人) in Chinese and dangse faksalaha urse in Manchu. Normal Manchus were called jingkini Manjusa.
A History of Chinese Civilization By Jacques Gernet.