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Where China Meets Southeast Asia. Social & Cultural Change in the Border Regions, Grant Evans, Christopher Hutton, & Kuah Khun Eng (eds.)

Bangkok: White Lotus, & Singapore: ISEAS, 2000, 346 p.
Évelyne Micollier
p. 137-139
Référence(s) :

Where China Meets Southeast Asia. Social & Cultural Change in the Border Regions, Grant Evans, Christopher Hutton, & Kuah Khun Eng (eds.), Bangkok: White Lotus, & Singapore: ISEAS, 2000, 346 p.

Texte intégral

  • 1 See, however, a previous work edited by John McKinon, “Ethnie Minorities on the Borderlands of Sout (...)

1This book gathers papers presented at a conference entitled “South China and Main/and Southeast Asia: Cross-Border Relations in the Post-Socialist Age,” al the University of Hong Kong from 4-6 December 1996, which turned out to be a rare opportunity for scholars from P.R. China, Laos, and Vietnam to discuss and share ideas. This edited volume is a pioneering work for two reasons: The cultural area under consideration, i.e., the border regions between China and main/and Southeast Asia, is still scarcely clocurnented;1 and the method employed is heuristically mainly based on surveys and fieldwork data rather than economic figures and news data. Most of the contributors – sociologists, anthropologists, and linguists – make use of their deep insights into local cultures to investigate the process of social and cultural change, which has been accelerating in the area in the last decade. Their case studies tend to re-assert that nation­states’ borders are not all mapped along cultural lines. While political entities strive to draw clear frontiers and tend to ignore the intertwining of cultures due to regional diversity, cultural borders are hazy, diffuse, and changing over time and following opportunities. As Christopher Hutten emphasizes in his critical examination of cross-border categories, the role of anthropologists and linguists is ambiguous: Although they stress the vanity of political borders, “they are frequently (in some sense) the agents of colonial or nationalist states,” raising issues “symbolizing the approaching centralizing-categorization process of the state” (p. 254).

2The book’s main purpose is to document the current social conditions of the people of the border regions between China and Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam (with an extension into Thailand) that have been radical/y transformed by the recent economic boom. Radical changes in the economic policies of the states concerned, coupled with the opening of borders in the 1990s, have produced arguably unplanned and uncontrollable economic changes. The three states still ruled by communist parties receive particular attention: Even though they have shifted their economies towards a partly deregulated market model, the process of transition is, at least partly, planned. The authors stress that economic development is always related to cultural factors such as ethnicity, kinship systems, gender differentiation, traditional ways of organizing, and last but not least, language. This idea appears as a hallmark in the book, demonstrating the need for social and cultural analysis al the micro-social scale through case studies focused on a precise area and specific topic. These studies turn out to be at least as relevant as the more usual macro-social analysis and mega-trends used by political scientists, economists, and demographers. Moreover, as complementary information, they should be taken more seriously into account in the elaboration and implementation of development projects, which are now blossoming in the region.

  • 2 See Michel Foucault’s L’archéologie du savoir, Paris: Gallimard, 1969; and Boundaries in China, Joh (...)

3The book consists of fifteen chapters: Some provide broad analyses of current development in the region (Peter Hinton) and of recent changes in historical perspective (Geoff Wade), or examined through their impact on the regional ecology (Su Songge); others focus on specific issues and places. Mobility strategies and social networks are described in studies of the Hrnong’s recent migrations (Jean Michaud and Christian Culas) and of Akha traders (Mika Toyota). Ethnie loyalties are revived with the build-up of powerful economic networks integrated in a wider-scale economy (chapters by Chan Thi Haî, Mika Toyota, Jean Berlie, and Cheung Siu-Woo). Although state intervention has expanded and official regulatory power has been reinforced with the opening of borders (Andrew Walker), minorities may compete with majorities (Han or Vietnamese Kinh) for the control of newly available economic resources. The impact of such factors on social and economic change in the region is emphasized. Wade’s paper, the only historical study in this volume, offers an insightful analysis of China’s southern borders through history. Theoretically, the author refers to new ideas of boundaries using categories such as core/periphery, self/other, space/time, bodies and discourses first conceptualized by Foucault and applied to the Chinese context by Hay.2 It aims at contextualizing other papers, showing that most topics discussed have precedents in modern or even ancient historical periods.

  • 3 See Remapping China: Fissures in Historical Terrain, Gail Hershatter et al. (eds.), Stanford: Stanf (...)
  • 4 See Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and (...)

4The boundaries of ethnicity and local identities are investigated in most of the book’s contributions. These issues have been raised and critically analyzed in the Chinese contexts by Hershatter and Gladney,3 and a few papers expand on the discussion initiated by these two authors. Ethnic diversity no doubt has a strong impact on the regional political ecology. As Su Songge recalls (p. 51), no less than eighteen transboundary ethnic minorities live in the border areas between China and mainland Southeast Asia: the Zhuang, Dai, Buyi, Miao (Hmong), Yao, Yi (Lolo), Hani (Akha), Jingpo (Kachin), Lisu, Lahu, Nu, Achang, Derung, Wa, Bulang, Deang, Kemu, and Mang. It is then obvious that they are compelled to mobility and to crossing borders because neither linguistic nor cultural borders exist for groups living on both sides of state borders. ln a significant contribution, Christopher Hutton addresses the question of border as a geopolitical reality within linguistics. Through a case study involving the marginal Chinese population of northeastern Vietnam (Quang Ninh Province), he raises the complex issue of ethno-linguistic categorization and its role in the construction of ethnic identities. Grant Evans, in his case study about Jinghong (the capital of Xishuangbanna, in China’s Yunnan Province), describes and analyzes shifts in ethnic composition along the border and shows how and why this process appears to constitute a major social and cultural change. For instance, one outcome of the opening of the border has been an irrevocable Hanification of the town, along with a focus on “ethnic characteristics” as a mean to promote Chinese domestic tourism. These characteristics are based on a Han image of Dai culture: The “yellow” symbolism of the new local urban architecture refers to the Dai Theravada Buddhism and its temples; palm trees along the main streets are meant to evoke a “tropical paradise”; Dai women are being sexualized to feed the sexual imagination of Han men in a way that suggests a misunderstanding of women’s condition and gender relations in non-Confucean societies (pp. 167-170). Essentializing the Other has played a significant symbolic role in the construction of modern Asian state nationalism, a process convincingly documented in Gladney’s work with a particular emphasis on the Chinese context.4 As in other parts of Asia, sex tourism is flourishing, sex work takes numerous forms, and domestic tourism helps reinforce a unified ethnicity of the majorities (Han, Vietnamese Kinh, Thai in Thailand).

  • 5 See Marjorie Muecke’s “Mother Sold Food, Daughter Sells Her Body: The Cultural Continuity of Prosti (...)

5The growth of prostitution, along with its cortege of health problems (such as the propagation of STD and AIDS), forms a major social change in the whole region, as was pointed out in most papers – even those in which the sex industry is not directly related to the object of research. Sex work is a sideline subject in Chapters 8 and 15, and a main one in Chapter 9. Xie Guangmao (chapter 15) shows how new economic opportunities have altered the status of women in society and gender relations in the border region between China and Vietnam: Women partly control the trade developed as a direct consequence of the opening of borders. Xie adopts a more tolerant approach to prostitution, recognizing that sex work, too, may provide new opportunities for some women. Moreover, labor in sex tourism and in the sex entertainment industry contributes to the development of both the micro- and macro-economies.5

  • 6 See Sexual Cultures and Migration in the Era of AIDSD. Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives(...)

6Infrastructure development on a regional scale promotes the circulation of goods, but also the trafficking in people. For instance, a direct effect of a planned road network between China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar will be an increase in the commerce of drugs and human beings (mostly girls and women), which can be expected to open a major route for AIDS to spread, according to the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) experts. Cross-border mobility as a factor facilitating the spread of HIV has attracted the interest of scholars and is now quite well documented.66

7As Peter Hinton’s contribution points out, distinguishing an informal economic sector from a formal one – a convention among economists and policy planners – is hazardous in developing countries, as they are integrated in complex ways and the informal economy may significantly contribute to production activity. These remarks apply in particular to the area concerned. Illegal trade in drugs and sex, a major part of the informal economy, is booming in the region. A comparison of the income from the narcotics trade in the Golden Triangle (Chinese, Lao, and northern Thai borders) and Thai rice exports (a major resource in the region), which shows a ratio of almost thirty to one, gives an idea of the scale of drug trafficking (p. 22). Although ail figures should be taken carefully, the following estimate is striking: In Thailand, “the incarne from prostitution and trafficking in women abroad a/one exceeds the income from drugs and illicit arm trafficking combined” (David Feingold, p. 185). Feingold’s provocative paper on the relationship between sex and drugs as commodities on the international market closes on an insightful apology for actual sustainable development al village level and warns that, should this basic condition not be fulfilled, any fight against drugs or sexual exploitation is doomed to fail.

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Notes

1 See, however, a previous work edited by John McKinon, “Ethnie Minorities on the Borderlands of Southwest China”, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 38 (2), 1997; about intra-Mainland Southeast Asian border regions, see Gehan Wijeyewardene’s Ethnic groups across National Boundaries in Main/and Southeast Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 1990.

2 See Michel Foucault’s L’archéologie du savoir, Paris: Gallimard, 1969; and Boundaries in China, John Hay (ed.), London: Reaktion Books, 1994.

3 See Remapping China: Fissures in Historical Terrain, Gail Hershatter et al. (eds.), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996; and Dru Gladney’s “Relational Alterity: Constructing Dungan (Hui), Uygur, and Kazakh ldentities across China, Central Asia, and Turkey”, History and Anthropology, 9 (4): 445-477, 1996.

4 See Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and the United States, Dru Gladney (ed.), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998; Dru Gladney, Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority Nationality, Forth Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998; and Dru Gladney, “Representing Nationality in China: Refiguring Majority/Minority Identities”, Journal of Asian Studies, 53 (1): 92-123, 1994.

5 See Marjorie Muecke’s “Mother Sold Food, Daughter Sells Her Body: The Cultural Continuity of Prostitution”, Social Science and Medicine, 35: 891-901, 1992.

6 See Sexual Cultures and Migration in the Era of AIDSD. Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives, Gilbert Herdt (ed.), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997; and “Migrations et Sida”, special issue of Migrations et Santé, Nos. 94-95, 1998, papers by Marie-Ève Blanc (“De la ville à la campagne: itinéraire de l’épidémie du VIH/Sida au Vietnam”, pp. 11-29), Laurence Husson (“Le VIH en Indonésie: un virus de ‘bord de route’, fortement lié aux migrations”, pp. 31-54), and Évelyne Micollier (“Mobilité, marché du sexe et de la drogue dans le contexte du VIH/Sida en Chine du Sud”, pp. 55-82).

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Évelyne Micollier, « Where China Meets Southeast Asia. Social & Cultural Change in the Border Regions, Grant Evans, Christopher Hutton, & Kuah Khun Eng (eds.) »Moussons, 3 | 2001, 137-139.

Référence électronique

Évelyne Micollier, « Where China Meets Southeast Asia. Social & Cultural Change in the Border Regions, Grant Evans, Christopher Hutton, & Kuah Khun Eng (eds.) »Moussons [En ligne], 3 | 2001, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2021, consulté le 18 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/moussons/8549 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/moussons.8549

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Évelyne Micollier

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