Beyond Borders: Stories of Yunnanese Chinese Migrants of Burma

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9780801453311: Beyond Borders: Stories of Yunnanese Chinese Migrants of Burma

The Yunnanese from southwestern China have for millennia traded throughout upland Southeast Asia. Burma in particular has served as a "back door" to Yunnan, providing a sanctuary for political refugees and economic opportunities for trade explorers. Since the Chinese Communist takeover in 1949 and subsequent political upheavals in China, an unprecedented number of Yunnanese refugees have fled to Burma. Through a personal narrative approach, Beyond Borders is the first ethnography to focus on the migration history and transnational trading experiences of contemporary Yunnanese Chinese migrants (composed of both Yunnanese Han and Muslims) who reside in Burma and those who have moved from Burma and resettled in Thailand, Taiwan, and China.

Since the 1960s, Yunnanese Chinese migrants of Burma have dominated the transnational trade in opium, jade, and daily consumption goods. Wen-Chin Chang writes with deep knowledge of this trade's organization from the 1960s of mule-driven caravans to the use of modern transportation, and she reconstructs trading routes while examining embedded sociocultural meanings. These Yunnanese migrants’ mobility attests to the prevalence of travel not only by the privileged but also by different kinds of people. Their narratives disclose individual life processes as well as networks of connections, modes of transportation, and differences between the experiences of men and women. Through traveling they have carried on the mobile livelihoods of their predecessors, expanding overland trade beyond its historical borderlands between Yunnan and upland Southeast Asia to journeys further afield by land, sea, and air.

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About the Author:

Wen-Chin Chang is Associate Research Fellow, Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, RCHSS, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. She is the coeditor of Burmese Lives: Ordinary Life Stories under the Burmese Regime and Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities, and Networks in Southeast Asia.


"Rather than focusing on social structures and globalization processes, Chang explicitly concentrates on individuals and biographies... [W]e can certainly claim that a person-centered approach shakes up anthropological categories just as the lives of these individuals shake up political categories."― Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database (April 2015)

"The strength of this book is the space the author gives to personal narratives. In this refreshing ethnography, Chang demonstrates how the vivid descriptions of life trajectories and intimate relationships of ordinary people, supported by clear explanations on the chaotic historical political circumstances in which they are grounded, can be more revealing than reconstituted realities inspired by scarce documentation available to foreign observers. . . . Besides the fascinating stories that nourish this account of a largely ignored Chinese diaspora, and the rigorous historical approach to their contemporary situation, this book is also a real pleasure to read."―Caroline Grillot, Southeast Asian Studies (December 2015)

"If you enjoy a good gossip, nicely told and full of human interest, Beyond Borders will be of interest. For those with an interest in migration and human mobility, the volume provides a number of personal insights."―Robert H. Taylor, Asian Affairs (November 2015)

"Wen-Chin Chang's Beyond Borders: Stories of Yunnanese Chinese Migrants of Burma provides a rich personal history of Yunnanese Chinese migrants in South-East and East Asia. . . .The significance of the book is in having recorded the voices of the voiceless. It successfully avoidsanalysing case studies through the lens of ethnicity theories.. . . All in all, this individual-centred ethnography, backed by itsnarrative power, provides a rich comprehension of people’s lives across borders."―Tadayuki Kubo, International Journal of Asian Studies (Vol.13-2, 2016)

"Undergraduate and graduate students will benefit from this text. Changshows how ethnographers build rapportwith informants, let them speak for themselves, and preserve the "thicknesses" oftheir stories using first-person narratives....this book is an eyeopening addition to the literature on borderland diasporas in Southeast Asia." -- Hiu Ling Chan,International Migration Review(Fall 2016)

"Beyond Borders is a tremendous work whichdetails―with considerable intimacy and reflection―the lives of bothYunnanese Chinese in Burma, as well as those who later migrated from Burmato Thailand, Taiwan, and Mainland China.Its nuanced attention to the historical relationshipbetween the Kuomintang, civilian traders, the Shan insurgencies, and theBurmese government is compelling, especially since the information dealswith firsthand accounts.Although the author could very easily bog the reader down with acronyms, dates, and events inmilitary or political history, the priority placed on the subjects' lives allowsthe reader to assimilate the context inductively, rather than with a preemptiveroadmap of sorts." ―Jane M. Ferguson, Pacific Affairs Journal (December 2016)

"In Wen-Chin Chang's discussion of caravan trading, gendered trading lives, and the jade trade she combines the life story approach with pertinent and interesting theoretical analysis. This is a valuable addition to our understanding of the diverse life histories of people of Chinese origin in Burma, in which the author brings both humanity and insight to her subject."―Mandy Sadan, SOAS, University of London, author of Being and Becoming Kachin: Histories beyond the State in the Borderworlds of Burma

"Wen-Chin Chang's Beyond Borders is a masterpiece. It is both deeply human and superbly academic. It plunges the readers into the complex life-worlds of Yunnanese Chinese migrating through Burma, Thailand, and beyond, yet combines meticulous ethnographic scholarship with a careful and rigorous self-reflective approach. Beyond the rich descriptions of individual destinies, this book is also a fascinating guide to the political history and the challenging environments on the Southeast Asian margins."―Jacques P. Leider, Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient

"The best way to convey the color and tumult of a borderland diaspora is with vivid personal narratives. In Beyond Borders the chaotic postwar experience of wars, the drug trade, regime change, and economic turmoil along the Yunnan-Burma frontier bursts to life as an all-too-human experience. Far more rewarding than any six-foot shelf of statistics and demography. An achievement."―James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

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