This paper traces the history of Luang Namtha, an intermontane valley basin in northern Laos, based on the narratives of non-Tai ethnic groups that collectively constitute a majority in the region. The narratives demonstrate the possibility of alternative histories of muang polities, which are a core part of our understanding of Tai social and political organization. These narratives describe a central role for mountain people in the muang, including the formation, population, and development of what appears to be a Tai polity. This analysis suggests the need to open up our understanding of "traditional" Tai political spaces to accommodate an expanded historical agency for upland groups conventionally circumscribed within their own upland setting. This paper argues that the first step towards a more nuanced understanding of muang is recognizing them as cosmopolitan areas in which many sources of power, innovation, and transformation intersect.
This paper aims to contribute to James Scott's discussion of statelessness in "Zomia" by examining the realities of political autonomy and the concepts of state and kingship of the Lahu. During the nineteenth century, "kings" appeared among the Lahu in parts of southwest Yunnan. Indeed, the Lahu enjoyed political autonomy under their own kings before these were eliminated in the process of modern state formation and border demarcation in China and Burma. Messianic movements emerged among the Lahu after they became stateless. These movements stressed the need to redeem the lost states and kings throughout the course of the Lahu's modern history. In this respect, statelessness is not a timeless, quintessential attribute of the Lahu. Rather, they only became conscious of statelessness during the modern period. What this demonstrates is that the Lahu have never been conscious anarchists who chose to avoid kings and states. They possess their own original concepts of state and kingship, even though these differ from our conventional understanding, and the main theme of their historical experience and mythical accounts centers around their search for their own state and king.
The nature of upland-lowland relations has been a productive preoccupation for students of Southeast Asia. This paper looks at relations between the Ta'aang and Tay Maaw people of Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province,in southwestern China, re-examining the upland-lowland interaction through the lens of Buddhist practice. The role of lay ritual specialists in maintaining daily religious life and the use of upland minority language in ritual practice are central to the analysis. Special attention is given to the Ta'aang, as the changes underway in their society present us with an opportunity to reassess some of the basic assumptions about upland-lowland relations, in both present and past contexts, from the lesser-known upland point of view.
This paper challenges James Scott's thesis of state evasion and state prevention as the basic features of lowland-upland relationships. It scrutinizes the validity of Scott's assumptions by examining the case of prolonged violent conflict in a tiny Tay polity feudatory to China during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Civil war broke out in the Mäng2 Khön1 polity (Mangshi, Dehong Autonomous Region in southwest Yunnan, China) due to mismanagement by the monarch of two upland peoples, the Jingpo and the Ta'aang. The analysis of the hostilities furnishes no evidence to validate Scott's thesis of mountain areas as refuge zones for migrants from lowland oppression. What it does expose, however, is the symbiotic side to upland-lowland relationships. It concludes that symbiosis of upland and lowland was a central issue for the maintenance of political and social stability. Rather than viewing diametric oppositionas the main characteristic of upland-lowland relations as Scott does, this study demonstrates the role of interdependence and cooperation, and reveals that relationships between upland peoples and Tay polities shifted according to changing politico-social circumstances. It also identifies the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a tumultuous period for upland and lowland, when the migration of new ethnic groups forced basin polities to readjust their strategies.
This paper probes the mechanism of present-day periodic markets and how they operate through a detailed case study of periodic markets frequented by different ethnic groups in Jinping county, Yunnan, China. It sets out to identify the defining characteristics of periodic markets and considers the question of why they arise and why they continue to survive today. Past research has demonstrated that a key feature of periodic markets in traditional China was their accessibility and the freedom that they afforded local residents in buying and selling commodities. Fieldwork confirms that six-day-cycle markets, based on the 12-day Chinese zodiac, in Jinping county do give producers of all ethnicities the freedom to sell their produce, but alsopoints out that the market environment encourages the spontaneous specialization of production skills and provides an important place for social interaction and expression of the local cultures.