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Moving Mountains: ethnicity and livelihoods in highland China, Vietnam, and Laos

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Jean Michaud and Tim Forsyth (eds)
UBC Press (October 2010)

The mountainous borderlands of socialist China, Vietnam, and Laos are home to some 70 million people, representing an astonishing array of ethnic diversity. How are these peoples fashioning livelihoods now that their homeland is open to economic investment and political change?

Moving Mountains presents the work of anthropologists, geographers, and political economists with first-hand experience in the Southeast Asian Massif. Together, they show that the parallel experiences of ethnic minorities in these three socialist regimes offer a unique opportunity to explore the intersection of ethnicity, livelihood, and state-society relations. Case studies on groups such as the Drung in Yunnan, the Khmu in Laos, and the Hmong in Vietnam document the experiences of such minorities under socialist regimes and how their lives are changing under more open political and economic conditions.

Although scholars have typically represented highland people as marginalized and powerless, Moving Mountains argues that they draw on culture and ethnicity to indigenize modernity and maintain their livelihoods. This unprecedented glimpse into a poorly understood region shows that development initiatives must be built on strong knowledge of local cultures in order to have lasting effect.

  • Tim Forsyth is a reader in environment and development at LSE.

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Moving Mountains provides a timely and rich series of highly interesting discussions of the interplay between livelihood and ethnicity on the margins of modern Asian states and especially on the historical agency of the resourceful but hard-pressed peoples of these mountains. This volume is especially important given recent changes engulfing the region, including globalization and the rapid expansion of Chinese state and commercial power. It should enjoy a wide readership amongst scholars interested in Asian cultures and will be very useful in courses on all these topics.
Magnus Fiskesjö, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University

Moving Mountains manages the rare feat of bringing together a fine-tooth comb ethnography of upland peoples, on the one hand, with a theoretical and conceptual subtlety about the reach and limits of state power on the other. It becomes, on the spot, the indispensable source for understanding the socialist margins of Southeast Asia.
James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

Moving Mountains