69th Meeting – June 1990

Chinese Views of Sipsongpanna

A talk by Ann Hill

Ann Hill discussed the various ethnic groups living in the Sipsongpanna [often written Xishuangbanna] region in southern China, with particular emphasis on: 1) stratification, 2) community, 3) kinship, 4) policy, and 5) relations with other states. She drew on extensive research from two people who have studied the area most closely - Li Fuyi [now in Taiwan] and Jiang Yingliang [from mainland China; deceased in 1988]. Li, who writes in the gazetteer tradition [sometimes quixotic and unpredictable], concentrated more on the aristocrats among the Dai. Jiang, who wrote as an anthropologist with a Marxist viewpoint, focused on the commoner groups of Daimeng, Gunhenzhao, and Hong-hai.

A number of interesting conclusions were forthcoming:

·        Officials are like pigs. If they get fat, they are killed.

·        The Dai in Sipsongpanna were doubly exploited, both by the aristocrats and the

Chinese government.

·        The communal land system was employed by the zhao [lords] to exploit the Dai.

·        The political system was feudal but functioned very smoothly.

·        Sipsongpanna is an integral part of the Chinese state and most histori­ans consider it to

be a prior semi-independent state.