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A zone of refuge in Southeast Asia? Reconceptualizing interior spaces

  • Victor Lieberman (a1)
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1 A neologism derived from Tibeto-Burman and meaning ‘region of remote people’: James C. Scott, The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 14, 16.

2 Ibid., p. x.

3 Ibid., pp. 96–7.

4 Ibid., pp. 67, 85.

5 Ibid., pp. 64–73.

6 Ibid., p. 97 and ch. 3, passim.

7 Ibid., pp. 86–9, 151–3.

8 Ibid., pp. 24–6, 127–9, 141–54, 326, and ch. 5, passim.

9 Ibid., pp. 32, 137–45, 175, 240, 284–5.

10 Ibid., p. 128.

11 Ibid., ch. 7, esp. pp. 256–70.

12 Ibid., pp. 129, 152–3, 279.

13 Ibid., pp. 77, 162, 186–209, 279, 327.

14 Ibid., pp. 207–19, 279.

15 Ibid., p. 219; also pp. 210, 220, 235, 277, 327 and 178–282 passim.

16 Compare ibid., pp. 3, 12–13 with Francois Furet and Jacques Ozouf, Reading and writing: literacy in France from Calvin to Jules Ferry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 297–9; Xavier de Planhol, An historical geography of France, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 326–44.

17 Scott, Art, pp. 29–32, 130–7, 189–90, 259–61, 328.

18 E. R. Leach, Political systems of highland Burma, London: Athlone Press, 1970 (reprint).

19 I have assiduously combed the Notes in Scott, Art, pp. 339–406, in an unsuccessful search for secondary or primary Burmese-language materials – although it must be said that, because this book fails to provide either a printed or online bibliography, a completely accurate picture of what sources the author consulted is not easy to obtain. On p. 36, he claims that the Burmese term for the basic building block of administration was maing. In truth, that is a Shan term. The Burmese word – which appears in virtually every administrative document – is myo (township). On p. 291, the Burmese spelling for set-kya min (royal possessor of the magical set-kya weapon) is also wrong.

20 Scott’s Notes refer to four publications of translated Burmese materials: Frank Trager and William Koenig, eds. and trans., Burmese sit-tans 1764–1826, Tucson, AZ: The Association for Asian Studies, 1979; Than Tun, The royal orders of Burma, A.D. 1598–1885, 10 vols., Kyoto: The Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, 1983–90; Pe Maung Tin and G. H. Luce, The Glass Palace chronicle of the kings of Burma, London: Oxford University Press, 1923; and Nai Thein, comp. and tr., ‘Glass Palace chronicle: excerpts translated on Burmese invasions of Siam’, Journal of the Siam Society, 5, 1908, pp. 1–82 and 8, 1911, pp. 1–119. From Trager and Koenig, Burmese sit-tans, Scott uses the editors’ secondary commentary but cites no documents. From Than Tun’s monumental ten-volume collection of over 10,000 royal orders, I found citations to precisely four orders (Scott, Art, pp. 345, 350, 369, 374). From The Glass Palace chronicle, I found four citations (one on p. 352, two on p. 353, and one on p. 369), but these nineteenth-century descriptions of thirteenth-century Pagan are totally anachronistic. From Nei Thein’s abridged translation of the Burmese chronicles, I found six citations (two on p. 358, one on p. 370, two on p. 374, and one on p. 377).

21 Scott cites Michael Aung-Thwin, Irrigation in the heartland of Burma, DeKalb, IL: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1990, but not his more critical work, Pagan: the origins of modern Burma, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1985, which has invaluable observations on the question of manpower primacy. Nor do I find reference to the following sources on Burma’s political economy: seminal works by Than Tun, including his Essays on the history and Buddhism of Burma, ed. Paul Strachan, Whiting Bay, Arran: Kiscadale Publications, 1989, and various entries for Than Tun in the bibliography of my Burmese administrative cycles: anarchy and conquest, c. 1580–1760, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984; Toe Hla, ‘Moneylending and contractual thet-kayits: a socio-economic pattern of the later Kon-baung period, 1819–1885’, PhD thesis, Northern Illinois University, 1987; Jorg Schendel, ‘The Mandalay economy: Upper Burma’s external trade, c.1850–90’, PhD thesis, University of Heidelberg, 2002.

22 Scott, Art, pp. 224–5.

23 In France it was 47%; in Japan, 40–50%. On Southeast Asian literacy, see Victor Lieberman, Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in global context. c. 800–1830, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 2009, vol. 1, pp. 189, 313–16, 443–7, and vol. 2, pp. 27–8. On literacy in China, see vol. 2, pp. 543–4; in France, vol. 2, pp. 361–2; in Japan, vol. 2, p. 477 (for 1850). In every case, female literacy, though clearly lower, was also significant.

24 Examples of dating errors: Scott dates Anuvong’s anti-Bangkok revolt at Vientiane to ‘the late nineteenth century’ (Scott, Art, pp. 303–4), although it occurred in 1827: see Mayoury Ngaosyvathn and Pheuiphanh Ngaosyvathn, Paths to conflagration, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1998, chs. 6–8. He writes that Chiang Mai lost its independence in the eighteenth century (Scott, Art, p. 341), when in fact it did so in 1558: see Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 2, pp. 285–6, 299, 312–13; David Wyatt, Thailand: a short history, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2nd edn, 2003, pp. 104–10, 116–17. He starts the Pegu-Ava wars in 1747 (Scott, Art, p. 287), six years too late: see Lieberman, Burmese administrative cycles, pp. 215–24. He dates Tomé Pires’ work thirty years too late (Scott, Art, p. 80): see Armando Cortesao, trans. and ed., The Suma oriental of Tomé Pires and the book of Francisco Rodrigues, 2 vols., London: Hakluyt Society, 1944. He has frontier revolts targeting the Ming that in fact targeted the Qing (Scott, Art, p. 316). He claims that Ava was Burma’s capital from 1364 to 1841 (p. 407), but it served as such only from 1365 to 1527, 1635 to 1752, 1765 to 1783, and 1823 to 1837.

25 None of the following claims can be substantiated: ‘For most of its history, Southeast Asia has been marked by the relative absence even of valley states … Where they arose, they tended to be remarkably short-lived … and generally unable systematically to extract resources (including manpower) from a substantial population. Indeed, interregna, far from being uncommon, were more protracted than regna’ (Scott, Art, p. 32). Cf. Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol.?1, a principal argument of which is that interregna were far shorter than regna and grew progressively shorter and less disruptive as institutional controls became more effective. The same pattern was found in the western, eastern and central mainland. Scott’s treatment of the state is linked to his claim – astounding for someone unfamiliar with Burmese-language documents – that Burmese royal records were ‘strong on dynastic self-idealization and weak on hard information’ (Scott, Art, pp. 66, 34–5). Not only does he misinterpret royal chronicles but he ignores resource inventories, local inquests, law codes, legal rulings, imperial geographies, commercial contracts, and local histories, most of which were no less sober historical documents than their early modern European counterparts.

26 Srivijaya was succeeded by Melaka, while Melaka yielded to Aceh, Banten, and Johor, all thinly populated maritime-based polities. See Scott, Art, p. 69; Lieberman, Strange parallels,vol. 2, ch. 7.

27 The claim that Theravada Burma and Siam ‘potentially made the ruler into a Hindu-Buddhist god-king’ is wrong (Scott, Art, p. 155). Although Scott cites my writings to suggest that over 50% of ahmu-dans were slaves or their descendants (p. 161 and p. 374, n. 102), I suggested under 40%. Page 287 and p. 399, n. 12 questions whether ‘Gwei’ was an ethnic term, but primary sources cited in my Burmese administrative cycles, pp. 218–19, 223, 231, 232n, 264 make clear that this was the case. Other doubtful or erroneous assertions appear inter alia at Scott, Art, pp. 61–2 (pace Than Tun, key campaigns were fought during the rainy season); at pp. 35, 44–5 (Scott argues that precolonial courts could not extract grain and labour beyond a 300-km radius, but Kon-baung capitals obtained major rice levies from Lower Burma, 700 km distant; Scott’s 300-km thesis and his subsequent comments on water transport are not integrated); and at p. 68 (Burmese myo-za titles and Vietnamese official titles belie Scott's claim that administrative terminology normally showed the primacy of population control).

28 Ibid., pp. 64–73, esp. p. 69.

29 Li Tana, Nguyen Cochinchina, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1998; George Dutton, The Tay Son uprising, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006; Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 1, ch. 4.

30 Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 1, pp. 129–31, 236–58, 371–2. See also Geoff Wade, ‘An early age of commerce in Southeast Asia, 900–1300 CE’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 40, 2, 2009, pp. 221–65.

31 Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 1, pp. 151–3, 184–5, 302–13; Hong Lysa, Thailand in the nineteenth century, Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, 1984.

32 See previous note; also Ngaosyvathn and Ngaosyvathn, Paths to conflagration, pp. 45–50.

33 Aung-Thwin, Pagan; Greater Angkor Project, ‘Redefining Angkor’, Udaya, 4, 2003, pp. 107–25; Leigh Dayton, ‘The lost city’, New Scientist, 13 January 2001, pp. 30–3; Roland Fletcher, ‘Seeing Angkor: new views on an old city’, Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, 32–3, 2000–01, pp. 1–27; Jared Diamond, ‘Maya, Khmer, and Inca’, Nature, 461, 24 September 2009, pp. 479–80.

34 Lieberman, Strange Parallels, vol. 1, pp. 367–72, 386–96, 419–23. Even in Upper Burma in the Kon-baung period, where Scott justifiably calls attention to problems of manpower flight and service disorganization, those disorders were accompanied, and in some degree precipitated, by intense pressure on peasant land holdings.

35 Cf. n. 25 above.

36 Scott, Art, p. 27; also pp. 128, 142, 306, 326, 334.

37 Jean Michaud, Historical dictionary of the peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006, pp. 8–9, 50, 100, 130, 136, 161–2, 193, 241, 258, 265. In Thailand, the chief hill minorities who entered from China are the Hmong/Meo, Lahu, Ikaw/Akha, Yao/Mien, and Lisaw/Lisu; in Vietnam, they are the Hoa, Hmong, and Dao; in Laos, the Hmong, Ko, and Lolo. See also Frank Lebar, Gerald C. Hickey, and John K. Musgrave, Ethnic groups of mainland Southeast Asia, New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1964, esp. the excellent end maps; and Paul and Elaine Lewis, Peoples of the golden triangle, London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, pp. 102, 136, 172, 204, 242.

38 See discussion in Michaud, Historical dictionary, pp. xx, 7–9; Charles Patterson Giersch, ‘Qing China’s reluctant subjects’, PhD thesis, Yale University, 1998, pp. 40, 43–4; Leo Shin, The making of the Chinese state, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, chs. 4, 5; David Faure, ‘The Yao wars in the mid-Ming and their impact on Yao ethnicity’, and Donald S. Sutton, ‘Ethnicity and the Miao frontier in the eighteenth century’, in Pamela Kyle Crossley, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton, eds., Empire at the Margins, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006, pp. 171–228.

39 See Scott, Art, pp. 117–18, 129, 138–49, 223, 284–93, 316, 341, 375–6. Scott relies heavily on Herold Wiens, China’s march toward the tropics, Hamden, CT: Shoestring Press, 1954. But, apart from being fifty-five years old, this source focuses on movements within what is now China and has almost nothing to say about Southeast Asia (one such reference does appear at Wiens, China’s march, p. 91). In Scott’s earliest specific reference to movement into the Southeast Asian massif that I could find, on p. 290, he writes that the failure of a Lahu revolt in 1807 ‘appears to have set off a large-scale migration southward into Burma’s Shan states’. I am grateful to Prof. C. S. Chang, personal communication, for information on pre-1880 movements in and from China’s south-west.

40 Scott, Art, pp. 154, 285, 289–93, 316, 375–6; n. 38 above; and Michaud, Historical dictionary, pp. xx, 92, 188–90. Michaud notes that the eighteenth century was ‘presumably [my emphasis] the time of the first migrations to the peninsula of the Miao-Yao groups’, but that ‘substantial migrations’ of minority peoples from South China into the peninsula occurred only in the 1860s to 1890s (p. xx). Tais entered Southeast Asia overland as early perhaps as the twelfth century but, insofar as Tais were or became valley-dwelling, wet-rice-cultivating Buddhists, they are not considered hill peoples.

41 Michaud, Historical dictionary, pp. 50 (Lolo-Muhso), 55.

42 Scott, Art, pp. 149, 224.

43 Ibid., p. 143.

44 Ibid., p. 149, citing J. G. Scott.

45 Ibid., pp. 149, citing Charles Keyes. This is the sum total of his reliable Southeast Asian documentation. Other claims are not germane to intra-Southeast Asian movement, either because they describe groups who fled China, rather than Southeast Asian kingdoms, or because they describe flight not from the lowlands to the hills but from one hill locale to another, or because Scott does not present the material accurately. In the first category are oral legends among Akha, Lahu, Hmong, and Mien (pp. 221–3). In the second category are references to Pwo Karen and Chin (pp. 148, 149). In the third category are: references (by Sangermano and ‘an English observer’) to migrations that make no mention whatever of the hills (pp. 142, 147); a reference to William Koenig’s work that lacks a citation and that also does not specify the hills (pp. 198, 381, n. 51); and a claim on p. 287 that provides no citation and indiscriminately collapses flight to the hills and to lowland Siam.

46 Li, Nguyen Cochinchina, pp. 130–1; Michaud, Historical dictionary, p. 40.

47 Michaud, Historical dictionary, p. 193.

48 F. K. Lehman, The structure of Chin society, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1963, pp. 24, 26, 33–6. Yet Lehman suggests that twentieth-century economic-cum-political ties between hills and plains encouraged spurious, retrospectively legitimating histories of hill–plains interaction.

49 A. Saulière, tr., ‘The Jesuits on Pegu at the end of the XVIth century’, Bengal Past and Present, 19, 1919, p. 74.

50 Alexander Dalrymple, Reprint from Dalrymple’s oriental repertory, 1791–7, of portions relating to Burma, Rangoon, 1926, vol. 1, p. 130. Moreover, in 1714 a failed Burmese princely pretender fled to the wilds, where, by a tribal woman, he fathered a boy who later claimed the throne of Ava: Hman-nan-daw-u-dwin pyu-zi-yin-ya-thaw maha-ya-zawin-daw-gyi, vol. 3, Mandalay: Ahtet myan-ma naing-ngan thadin-sa Press, 1908, p. 383. This is an early nineteenth-century chronicle based on eighteenth-century sources. It should be said, however, that neither of the Pegu references specifies upland as opposed to lowland jungle.

51 Lieberman, Burmese administrative cycles, pp. 134–6, including nn. 239–49, and pp. 215–16; idem, ‘Ethnic politics in eighteenth-century Burma’, Modern Asian Studies, 12, 3, 1978, pp. 468–9.

52 On the reliability of Burmese official reports, see n. 25 above. For detailed reports of unauthorized population shifts, see my Burmese administrative cycles, ch. 3.

53 See, e.g., Lehman, Structure, pp. 28–39.

54 See, e.g., Leach, Political systems, pp. 36–7, 230ff., 246; Lehman, Structure, ch. 1; James Anderson, The?rebel den of Nung Tri Cao, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007, pp. 13–14, 69–70, 77–87; G. H. Luce, ‘Note on the peoples of Burma in the 12th–13th century A.D.’, Journal of the Burma Research Society, 42, 1, 1959, pp. 52–74; Michaud, Historical dictionary, pp. 118–22, 124–5, 141, 188; Charles Higham, The archaeology of mainland Southeast Asia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 31–61, 143, 191, 228–30.

55 Scott, Art, p. 162. Lehman, Structure, p. 25 refers to a sixteenth-century population ‘explosion’ in the northern Chin hills. Scott’s analogy between Zomia and the swamps of Florida, the Virginia–North Carolina border, and so forth is misleading insofar as the latter areas, unlike Zomia, were effectively empty until refugees chose them for asylum.

56 Lehman, Structure, p. 32; pp. 37–8 emphasize that Chin conflicts were typically with lowland bandits and independent local leaders, Shan as well as Burman, not with the monarchical state, although the Chin flattered themselves by dignifying their lowland rivals as agents of ‘the Burmese king’. On upland attitudes to lowlanders, see also ibid., pp. 28–39; Scott, Art, pp. 216–19, 221–4, 289–93.

57 Citations from I. Mabbett, ‘Some remarks on the present state of knowledge about slavery in Angkor’, in Anthony Reid, ed., Slavery, bondage, and dependency in Southeast Asia, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1983, pp. 44–5. See also ibid., pp. 44–63; Luce, ‘Note’, pp. 56, 59, 61, 62, 68.

58 Leach, Political systems, pp. 39–40.

59 Ngaosyvathn and Ngaosyvathn, Paths to conflagration, pp. 45–50. See also Katherine Bowie’s graphic account of slave raiding and slave markets, ‘Slavery in nineteenth-century northern Thailand’, in E. Paul Durrenberger, ed., State power and culture in Thailand, New Haven, CT: Yale Southeast Asian Studies, 1996, pp. 100–38.

60 Li , Nguyen Cochinchina, ch. 6; Dutton, Tay Son uprising, pp. 210–11.

61 Scott, Art, p. 216; Lehman, Structure, pp. 28–39.

62 Scott, Art, pp. 64, 179, 190–6. See also Leach, Political systems, pp. 21, 27–8, 236–7; Michaud, Historical dictionary, p. 100.

63 The Hani may offer a partial exception to both of these conditions; see previous note.

64 Cf. Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 1, pp. 38–40, 58–9, 87, 117–19, 135–8, 188–98, 286, 315–16, 382–3, 443–8, 455; Scott, Art, pp. 220–37.

65 Cf. Scott, Art, ch. 7; Lieberman, Strange parallels, vol. 1, pp. 40–4, 131–5, 200–6, 266–73, 324–30, 365–7, 408–15, 429–33, and vol. 2, pp. 37–48, 63–7, and passim.

66 David Henley, ‘Conflict, justice, and the stranger-king roots of colonial rule in Indonesia and elsewhere’, Modern Asian Studies, 38, 1, 2004, p. 92. On exceptionally high levels of violence in non-state societies, see Nicholas Wade, Before the dawn, New York: Penguin, 2006, pp. 85–6, 150–7; Steven Pinker, ‘A history of violence’, 2007, (consulted 9 March 2010); Lawrence Keeley, War before civilization, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

67 Lehman, Structure, pp. 25–6, 81–2, 90–1; Marcus Franke, War and nationalism in South Asia, London: Routledge, 2009, pp. 20–6.

68 Leach, Political systems, pp. 89–100, 185–7.

69 Note also that, although some of those captured in slave raids by one hill group against another were sold to the lowlands, a great many others were kept by their captors.

70 See n. 14 above; Leach, Political systems, chs. 6–8; Scott, Art, pp. 213–16, 274–81; Francois Robinne and Mandy Sadan, eds., Social dynamics in the highlands of Southeast Asia, Leiden: Brill, 2007, esp. pt. 2, critiquing Leach’s theories of social oscillation.

71 Also in Wa, Akha, and Lahu areas. See Scott, Art, pp. 216–19, 328–31; Lehman, Structure, pp. 37–8; Freek Colombijn, ‘The volatile state in Southeast Asia: evidence from Sumatra, 1600–1800’, Journal of Asian Studies, 62, 2, 2003, pp. 497–529, esp. 509–12.

72 Among the Punan-Penan, agriculture was subordinate to hunting and gathering.

73 Frank Lebar, ed., Ethnic groups of insular Southeast Asia: vol. 1, New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files, 1972, pp. 150–97; D. E. Brown, Brunei: the structure and history of a Bornean Malay sultanate, Brunei: Star Press, 1970, pp. 130–63; M. C. Ricklefs, A history of modern Indonesia since c. 1200, 4th edn, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

74 Lebar, Ethnic groups, pp. 94–7; Barbara Watson Andaya, personal communications, 12 December 2008 and 4 January 2010.

75 David Henley, Fertility, food, and fever, Leiden: KITLV Press, 2005, pp. 1–100; idem, ‘Conflict’, pp. 90–1.

76 Although Indonesian trade and Malay/Sulu slaving touched some coastal areas in western New Guinea, such influences had little or no impact on the western interior and did not extend to the coast, much less to the interior, of what is now Papua New Guinea in the east. See Leonard Andaya, The world of Maluku, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1993, pp. 82, 99–109, 192, 216, 220ff.; The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edn, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2007, vol. 9, pp. 130–2 and vol. 25, pp. 273–4; Axel Steensberg, New Guinea gardens, London: Academic Press, 1980, esp. chs. 1 and 2; Jared Diamond, Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies, New York: W.W. Norton, 2007, pp. 147–50, 298–308, 315–19, 346–51; Peter Ryan, ed., Encyclopedia of Papua and New Guinea, Clayton: Melbourne University Press, 1972, vol. 1, pp. 10–18; Michael Rynkiewich, Cultures and languages of Papua New Guinea, Goroka: Melanesian Institute, 2004, pp. 35–36, 40–4; Julie Campbell, Irian Jaya-Papua, Singapore: Graham Brash, 1991, pp. 39, 63; C. R. Hallpike, Bloodshed and vengeance in the Papuan mountains, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, esp. chs. 5 and 8; Diana Howlett, Papua New Guinea, London: Thomas Nelson, 1973, chs. 1–4; Wade, Before the dawn. pp. 85–6, 152–7.

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