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Editorial – Zomia and beyond*

  • Jean Michaud (a1)

This editorial develops two themes. First, it discusses how historical and anthropological approaches can relate to each other, in the field of the highland margins of Asia and beyond. Second, it explores how we might further our understandings of the uplands of Asia by applying different terms such as ‘Haute-Asie’, the ‘Southeast Asian Massif’, the ‘Hindu Kush–Himalayan region’, the ‘Himalayan Massif’, and in particular ‘Zomia’, a neologism gaining popularity with the publication of James C. Scott’s latest book, The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia.1 Through a discussion of the notion of Zomia, I will reconsider certain ‘truths’ regarding highland Asian studies. In the process, I seek to contribute to disembedding minority studies from the national straitjackets that have been imposed by academic research bounded by the historical, ideological, and political limits of the nation-state.

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1 James C. Scott, The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

2 Willem van Schendel, ‘Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in Southeast Asia’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 20, 6, 2002, pp. 647–68.

3 Personal communication, February 2008. To my knowledge, van Schendel has not published this expansion to his original 2002 Zomia.

4 van Schendel, ‘Geographies’, p. 660.

5 Scott, Art, ch. 1.

6 Clifford Geertz, ‘History and anthropology’, New Literary History, 21, 2, 1990, p. 321.

7 Ibid. pp. 321–2.

8 D. Kalb and H. Tak, Critical junctions: anthropology and history beyond the cultural turn, New York: Berghahn, 2005. See also Johannes Fabian, Anthropology with an attitude: critical essays, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001, ch. 4, ‘Ethnology and history’.

9 Keith Thomas, ‘History and anthropology’, Past & Present, 24, 1963, pp. 3–24.

10 Bin Yang, Between wind and clouds: the making of Yunnan (second century BCE to twentieth century CE), New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

11 Jan Vansina, Oral tradition: a study in historical methodology, trans. H. M. Wright, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965; idem, Oral tradition as history, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. See also Elizabeth Tonkin, ‘Implications of oracy: an anthropological view’, Oral History, 3, 1, 1975, pp. 41–9.

12 D. G. E. Hall, A history of Southeast Asia, 4th edn, Hong Kong: MacMillan, 1981; Jan Pluvier Historical atlas of South-east Asia, Leiden: Brill, 1995; Wolfram Eberhard, A history of China, London: Routledge, 2005 (first published 1950); N. Tarling, The Cambridge history of Southeast Asia, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992; Victor Lieberman, Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in global context c. 800–1830. Volume 1: integration on the mainland, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003; and Volume 2: mainland mirrors: Europe, Japan, China, South Asia, and the Islands, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

13 Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan, de 1294 à 1324, Paris: Gallimard, 1975.

14 Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi, and Anne C. Tedeschi, ‘Microhistory: two or three things that I know about it’, Critical Inquiry, 20, 1, 1993, pp. 10–35; James F. Brooks, Chris DeCorse, and John Walton, eds., Small worlds: method, meaning, and narrative in microhistory, Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2008.

15 A seminal contribution was certainly Bernard S. Cohn, ‘History and anthropology: towards a rapprochement?’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 12, 1981, pp. 227–52. See a round-up in Nicholas Thomas, ‘History and anthropology’, in Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer, eds., Encyclopaedia of social and cultural anthropology, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 273–7.

16 Jean Michaud, ‘Incidental’ ethnographers: French Catholic missions on the Tonkin–Yunnan frontier, 1880–1930, Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill Academic Publishers, 2007, p. ix.

17 And in all fairness, a few historians have also started putting the notion of bricolage to use. Among the early contributors are K. M. Baker, ‘On the problem of the ideological origins of the French Revolution’, in D. LaCapra and S. L. Kaplan, eds., Modern European intellectual history: reappraisals and new perspectives, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982, pp. 197–219; Mario Biagioli, ‘Scientific revolution, bricolage and etiquette’, in Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich, eds., The scientific revolution in national context, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 11–54; Frederick Cooper, ‘Conflict and connection: rethinking colonial African history’, American Historical Review, 99, 5, 1994, pp. 1516–45.

18 C. Patterson Giersch, Asian borderlands: the transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan frontier, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006; John E. Herman, Amid the clouds and mist: China’s colonization of Guizhou, 1200–1700, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007; Yang, Between wind and clouds.

19 Thomas, ‘History’, p. 273.

20 Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race et histoire, brochure published by Unesco, 1952; reprinted as a book in 1961; E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Anthropology and history, Manchester: University of Manchester, the University Press, 1961. In this piece, Evans-Pritchard also boldly declared that just as anthropology would be nothing without history, history would be nothing without anthropology.

21 Valerio Valeri, ‘“Our ancestors spoke little”: knowledge and social forms in Huaulu’, in Leontine E. Visser, ed., Halmahera and beyond: social science research in the Moluccas, Leiden: KITLV Press, 1994, pp. 195–212.

22 Geertz, ‘History’, p. 333.

23 Scott, Art.

24 Lim Joo Jock, Territorial power domains, Southeast Asia, and China: the geo-strategy of an overarching massif, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1984; Gehan Wijeyewardene, Ethnic groups across national boundaries in mainland Southeast Asia, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990; Grant Evans, Christopher Hutton, and Kuah Khun Eng, eds., Where China meets Southeast Asia: social and cultural change in the border regions, Singapore and Canberra: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Allen & Unwin, 2000.

25 John McKinnon and Jean Michaud, ‘Presentation: montagnard domain in the South-east Asian Massif’, in J. Michaud, ed., Turbulent times and enduring peoples: the mountain minorities of the South-east Asian Massif, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000, pp. 1–25.

26 See, in particular, Formoso, ‘Zomian or zombies? What future exists for the peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif ?’, in this issue, pp. 313–32.

27 Addressed by C. Patterson Giersch in ‘Across Zomia with merchants, monks, and musk: process geographies, trade networks, and the Inner-East–Southeast Asian borderlands’, in this issue, pp. 215–39.

28 See Magnus Fiskesjö, ‘Mining, history, and the anti-state Wa: the politics of autonomy between Burma and China’, in this issue, pp. 241–64; Sarah Turner, ‘Borderlands and border narratives: a longitudinal study of challenges and opportunities for local traders shaped by the Sino-Vietnamese border’, in this issue, pp. 265–87.

29 Fiskesjö, ‘Mining’, pp. 241–64

30 Ann Maxwell Hill, Merchants and migrants: ethnicity and trade among the Yunnanese Chinese in Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998; William G. Clarence-Smith, ‘Horse breeding in mainland Southeast Asia and its borderlands’, in Peter Boomgaard and David Henley, eds., Smallholders and stockbreeders: history of foodcrop and livestock farming in Southeast Asia, Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004, pp. 189–210.

31 These two examples are from Jean Michaud, Historical dictionary of the peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006 (reprinted in 2009 as A to Z of the peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif), pp. 149–50, 183–6.

32 See Turner, ‘Borderlands’, pp. 265–87

33 Alfred W. McCoy, with Cathleen B. Read, and Leonard. P. Adams III, The politics of heroin in Southeast Asia, Singapore: Harper Torchbooks, 1989. See also Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, Opium: uncovering the politics of the poppy, London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2009.

34 David. A. Bello, Opium and the limits of empire: drug prohibition in the Chinese interior, 1729–1850, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005.

35 Chantal Descours-Gatin, Quand l’opium finançait la colonisation en Indochine, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1992; Philippe Le Failler, Monopole et prohibition de l’opium en Indochine: le pilori des Chimères, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001.

36 Robert D. Jenks, Insurgency and social disorder in Guizhou: the Miao Rebellion, 1854–1873. Honolulu: University of Hawai?i Press, 1994.

37 For a more detailed account of Schotter’s life and work, see Michaud, ‘Incidental’ Ethnographers, pp. 145–50.

38 Aloys Schotter, ‘Notes ethnographiques sur les tribus du Kuoy-tcheou (Chine)’, Anthropos, 3, 1908, pp. 397–8.

39 Ibid., p. 403.

40 Georges Condominas, ‘Essai sur l’évolution des systèmes politiques Thais’, Ethnos, 41, 1976, pp. 7–67.

41 Stephan Fuchs, Against essentialism: a theory of culture and society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001; J. D. Eller and R. M. Coughlan, ‘The poverty of primordialism: the demystification of ethnic attachments’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 16, 1993, pp. 181–202.

42 Marshall Sahlins, ‘What is anthropological enlightenment? Some lessons of the twentieth century’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 1999, pp. i–xxiii; Sally Engel Merry, ‘Transnational human rights and local activism: mapping the middle’, American Anthropologist, 108, 1, 2006, pp. 38–51.

43 Scott, Art.

44 Van Schendel ‘Geographies’, p. 655, n. 20. The ICIMOD describes itself as ‘a regional knowledge development and learning centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush–Himalayas – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan’: (consulted 31 March 2010).

45 Van Schendel ‘Geographies’, p. 653.

46 Frank K. Lehman, The structure of Chin society, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1963. According to Lehman, in vernacular Chin language, zo means peripheral and mi means people; zo mi should thus translate as ‘peripheral people’ (personal communication, March 2008).

47 In time, scholars may realize the potential euphony when bringing together Zomia and Amazonia, and a number of entertaining neologisms may result.

48 Scott, Art, p. ix

49 Jean Michaud, ‘Economic transformation in a Hmong village of Thailand’, Human Organization, 56, 2, 1997, pp. 222–32; idem, ‘From south-west China into upper Indochina: an overview of Hmong (Miao) migrations’, Asia-Pacific Viewpoint, 38, 2, 1997, pp. 119–30; idem, Turbulent times.

50 See for instance, on Borneo, Bernard Sellato, Nomads of the Borneo rainforest: the economics, politics, and ideology of settling down, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994. In the Indonesian context, see Tania Murray Li, ‘Marginality, power, and production: analyzing upland transformations’, in Tania Murray Li, ed., Transforming the Indonesian uplands, Amsterdam: Harwood, 1999, pp. 1–44.

51 Hall, History; Tarling, Cambridge history.

52 See also Sara Shneiderman, ‘Are the Central Himalayas in Zomia? Some scholarly and political considerations across time and space’, in this issue, pp. 289–312.

53 Melvyn C. Goldstein, A history of modern Tibet, 1913–1951: the demise of the Lamaist state, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.

54 Discussed in Giersch, ‘Across Zomia’.

55 Herman, Amid the clouds; Claudine Lombard-Salmon, Un exemple d’acculturation chinoise: la province du Guizhou au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Publication de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient, vol. 84, 1972.

56 See the ‘Introduction’ in Michaud, Historical dictionary.

57 A. T. Rambo, ‘Development trends in Vietnam’s northern mountain region’, in D. Donovan, A. T. Rambo, J. Fox, and Le Trong Cuc, eds., Development trends in Vietnam’s northern mountainous region, Hanoi: National Political Publishing House, 1997, p. 8.

58 Schneiderman ‘Are the Central Himalayas’; Giersch, ‘Across Zomia’.

59 Giersch, ‘Across Zomia’; Fiskesjö, ‘Mining’; Lim, Territorial power domains; Wijeyewardene, Ethnic groups; Andrew Walker, The legend of the golden boat: regulation, trade and traders in the borderlands of Laos, Thailand, China and Burma, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999.

60 Scott, Art, pp. 48–9.

61 See Giersch, ‘Across Zomia’.

62 Condominas, ‘Essai’; J. Rispaud, ‘Les noms à éléments numéraux des principautés taï’, Journal of the Siam Society, 29, 2, 1937, pp. 77–122.

63 O. W. Wolters, History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian perspectives, revised edn, Ithaca, NY, and Singapore: Cornell Southeast Asia Programme and Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, 1999; Thonchai Winichakul, Siam mapped: a history of the geo-body of a nation, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994; Michel Bruneau, ‘Évolution des étagements ethnopolitiques dans les montagnes sino-indochinoises’, Hérodote, 10, 4, 2002, pp. 89–117.

64 AAS website, (consulted February 2010).

65 Christopher R. Duncan, ed., Civilizing the margins: Southeast Asian government policies for the development of minorities, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

66 For instance Ma Touan Lin, Ethnographie des peuples étrangers à la Chine: ouvrage composé au XIIIe siècle … traduit … du chinois avec un commentaire perpétuel par le Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys, Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1883; Zhang Tan, ‘Zhai men’ qian di shi men kan: Jidu jiao wen hua yu Chuan Dian Qian bian Miao zu she hui (The stone threshold in front of the ‘narrow door’: Christian culture and Miao people’s society of the border regions of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces), Kunming: Yunnan jiao yu chu ban she Yunnan sheng Xin hua shu dian jing xiao, 1992.

67 Thailand, in this regard, is exemplary, with hundreds of monographs having been produced from the 1960s to the 1990s on ‘the Hmong’, ‘the Karen’, or ‘the Akha’, while the number of representatives of each group there amounts in each case to a few per cent of the whole. See, for example, Gordon Young, The hill tribes of northern Thailand, Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1962; Inga Lill Hansson, A folktale of Akha in northern Thailand, Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1984; Paul E. Durrenberger, ‘Misfortune and therapy among the Lisu of northern Thailand’, Anthropological Quarterly, 52, 4, 1979, pp. 204–10; Robert G. Cooper, ‘Sexual inequality among the Hmong’, in John McKinnon and Wanat Bhruksasri, eds., Highlanders of Thailand, Kuala Lumpur and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

68 For similar case studies in Zomia/the Massif, see also Michaud, Turbulent times; Jean Michaud and Tim Forsyth, eds., Moving mountains: highland livelihoods and ethnicity in China, Vietnam and Laos, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010.

69 Scott, Art, p. ix.

70 Pierre Clastres, La société contre l’état, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1974 (trans. by Robert Hurley as Society against the state: essays in political anthropology, New York: Zone, 1987).

71 Scott, Art, p. xiii.

72 Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, Regions of refuge, Washington, DC: Society for Applied Anthropology (Mon. Ser. No. 12), 1979.

73 Ernest Gellner, Saints of the atlas, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1969.

74 Stuart Schwartz and Frank Solomon, ‘New Peoples and new kinds of people: adaptation, adjustment, and ethnogenesis in South American indigenous societies (colonial era)’, in Stuart Schwartz and Frank Solomon, eds., The Cambridge history of native peoples of the Americas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 443–501.

75 Richard White, The middle ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

76 Owen Lattimore, ‘The frontier in history’, in Studies in frontier history: collected papers, 1928–58, London: Oxford University Press, 1962; Robert W. Hefner, Hindu Javanese: Tengger tradition and Islam, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985; Felix M. Keesing, The ethnohistory of northern Luzon, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976; Edmund Leach, The political systems of highland Burma: a study of Kachin social structure, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954. On Leach, see also Jonathan Friedman, System, structure and contradiction in the evolution of ‘Asiatic’ social formations, Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira-Sage, 1998; and Mandy Sadan and François Robinne, eds., Social dynamics in the highlands of South East Asia: reconsidering Political systems of highland Burma by E. R. Leach, Leiden: Brill, 2007.

77 Giersch, Asian borderlands; Bernard Sellato, Nomads of the Borneo rainforest; the economics, politics, and ideology of settling down, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994; Jérôme Rousseau, Central Borneo: ethnic identity and social life in a stratified society. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990; Alain Testart, Le communisme primitif, vol. 1: economie et idéologie, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1985.

78 Scott, Art, ch. 2.

79 Ibid., p. 166.

80 Nicholas Tapp, ‘Review of James C. Scott’s “The art of not being governed”’, ASEASUK News, 47, 2010.

81 Scott, Art, p. 8.

82 Michaud, ‘Incidental’ ethnographers, p. 67.

83 Jean Michaud, ‘Bibliography’, in Historical dictionary, pp. 273–355.

84 See the map by the Makivik Cartographic Services, 2000, Canada, (consulted 1 April 2010). The University of the Arctic now offers an undergraduate degree in Circumpolar Studies.

85 See Formoso, ‘Zomian or zombies?’

86 James C. Scott, Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985; idem, Domination and the arts of resistance: hidden transcripts, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990. See also Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet, ‘Everyday politics in peasant societies (and ours)’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 36, 1, 2009, pp. 227–43.

* In addition to the three JGH anonymous readers, whose suggestions have been enlightening, colleagues have been most helpful in offering comments on drafts of this Editorial. These include in particular Sarah Turner, Magnus Fiskesjö, Sara Shneiderman, and Leif Jonsson. James C. Scott is to be thanked for putting me in touch with Magnus. As the Chief Editor of JGH, William Gervase Clarence-Smith has shown indefatigable support for this somewhat unusual venture, and I thank him warmly, as well as his co-editors for their scholarly inputs and collaboration.

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