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Colonial Development on the China-Burma Border

Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Part of the Ronald and Janette Gatty series

Lau Ting Hui, PhD Candidate,  Anthropology,  Cornell University

China’s rise has major geopolitical and economic implications for Southeast Asia. Among many issues, China’s policies and tactics in the South China Sea and its flagship Belt and Road Initiative have alarmed many countries in the region. This talk examines the on-the-ground impact of Chinese expansionism on marginalized communities in the peripheries of the state. Through the everyday struggles of ethnic Lisu subsistence farmers on the China-Burma border, I analyze the processes of violence and victimization embedded in forms of colonial development. The Lisu are a transnational ethnic community living across the borders of Burma, China, Thailand, and India. In the Nu River Valley of China’s Southwest Yunnan Province, they form the majority. Heavy-handed development and rapid social change in the valley have resulted in enormous cultural and community damage as dramatically reflected in rising alcoholism, mental illness, and violent death in many Lisu communities. State-sponsored and indigenized Christianities have become a powerful source consolation as well as perpetuating their own colonial dynamics. Drawing on a decade of engagement including two years of continuous fieldwork with Lisu farmers, this presentation traces the forces of family, state, church, and economy in constituting Lisu afflictions. In these afflictions, Lisu articulate their disaffection with the community and the state and their desire for a different future. Funding sources for this research included the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Mario Einaudi Center. 

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Southeast Asia Program, China and Asia-Pacific Studies, Cornell China Center, Anthropology

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James Nagy

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Lau Ting Hui

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Cornell University

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