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Accepted Paper:

'And what will we get in return?' - Khmu (m)oral histories and the ethical evaluation of global China's rise in upland Laos today  
Paul-David Lutz (Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB))

Paper Short Abstract:

Drawing on long-term, multisited fieldwork in two ethnic Khmu communities in upland far-north Laos, this paper analyses how locally- and culturally-specific historical memories are shaping intimate, multifaceted engagements with ‘global China’ in the future-oriented present, and vice versa.

Paper Abstract:

This paper analyses the role of locally- and culturally-specific historical memories in shaping engagements with ‘global China’ in an understudied but increasingly important part of the Southeast Asian resource frontier: the uplands of far-north Laos. How do the culturally-specific moralities conveyed in memories of previous encounter shape uplanders’ ethical evaluations of/eclectic engagements with China’s growing presence in their lives today? Conversely, how is China’s growing hard and soft power reshaping the role of upland pasts in providing moral guidance in Laos' increasingly disenchanted, future-oriented and Sino-centric present? I tackle these questions by drawing on long-term, ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in two ethnic Khmu communities intimately affected by China-driven commodification, hydropower development and agrarian transition. In so doing, my paper both balances the disproportionate scholarly focus on headline-making, BRI-related nodes and corridors and pushes back against the stereotype of Laos and its people as hapless prey to an all-devouring China. This paper also makes a case for a more nuanced anthropological approach to upland oral history: far from being unequivocally ‘marginal’ or even ‘subversive’ to official discourse emanating from Beijing and/or other national capitals, ethnic minority histories and their attendant aspirations, valuations and moral claims can resonate with broader tropes, for reasons owing to both agentive appropriation and locally-/culturally-specific dynamics.

Panel P064
Temporal encounters with global China
  Session 1 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -