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Joseph Lawson: Inter-Group Violence in Upland Southwest China, 1800-1950s: Causes and Meanings

  • University of Edinburgh David Hume Tower, LG.06 (map)

Wednesday, November 23, 17:00-19:00

David Hume Tower, LG. 06, University of Edinburgh

Abstract: This paper explores group violence in an area of Southwest China that experienced on-going conflicts between 1800 and the late 1950s involving indigenous Yi (Nuosu) peoples, Chinese settler communities, and the Qing and Republican states. Population pressure has been blamed by early nineteenth century governors and later scholarship alike, but this paper argues against this approach. Nor were opium production or the growth of local paramilitary groups as destabilizing as narratives from the early twentieth century might suggest. Instead, conflict resulted from the lack of a common framework for dealing with property disputes, and also the unanticipated impacts of turmoil elsewhere in China, such as the Taiping War, civil war after the fall of the Qing Empire, World War II, and the Nationalist Party’s war on drugs. Although some of the frameworks for interpreting conflict are unhelpful or misleading, those frameworks exercised a powerful influence on the meanings of violence to locals, which shaped their responses to it. Locals developed measures to contain conflict, some of which worked. Others exacerbated it and led to the construction of stereotypical views of indigenous violence. In developing these arguments, the paper integrates this conflict into a world-historical framework, considering points of comparison to other borderlands in nineteenth and twentieth century history.

Joseph Lawson is a lecturer in Chinese history at Newcastle University. His first book, Sustaining Violence: Mountain Land, Paramilitary Mobilization, and Otherness in Southwest China, 1800-1956 will be published by University of British Columbia Press in 2017. He is also the editor and main translator of the new English edition of Mao Haijian’s The Qing Empire and the Opium War (Cambridge University Press, 2016).