In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

— 85 — Introduction Social stratification in Nuosu societies in southwest China has a long history extending back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), if not earlier, documented in Chinese chronicles.1 Although often treated by historians and ethnologists as a single, bounded society with unique characteristics relative to other ethnic groups, including the Han Chinese themselves, the Nuosu communities in the area of the Da Liangshan (Great Cold Mountains) in southwestern Sichuan historically have shown considerable variation, especially in areas where the Nuosu have lived in close proximity to other ethnic groups. Here I compare two Nuosu areas on the periphery of Da Liangshan. While Da Liangshan is often called the Nuosu “core” area because of their overwhelming predominance in the population, the periphery has been dubbed the Lesser Cold Mountains, or in Mandarin Chinese, Xiao Liangshan. Nuosu communities in Xiao Liangshan were more frequently affected by interactions with other peoples, including state agents and populations from China’s interior, than Nuosu in the so-called core area. My purpose in F O U R Fried’s Evolutionary Model, Social Stratification, and the Nuosu in Southwest China A n n M a x w e l l H i l l — 86 — A n n M a x w e l l H i l l resorting to comparison of two areas in Xiao Liangshan is to show through ethnographic detail how local conditions differentially affected stratification in Nuosu communities and coincidently to put to rest the romantic trope of the “independent” Lolo (an earlier name for the Nuosu) popularized by Western travelers to Da Liangshan in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Li Lie 2006: 61–62).2 A second concern is to use the two examples of Nuosu stratification to reexamine Fried’s contention in his early work on political evolution that stratified societies without states were inherently unstable and therefore ephemeral (Fried 1967). Fried’s view that nonstate stratified societies are short lived is easily refuted, not only from the longevity in the historical record of Nuosu societies , but also from more recent studies of stratified societies (Rousseau 1990; Johnson and Earle 2000). While modern states tend to lay claim to long genealogies of nationhood, stratified societies, too, we now know, can persist for centuries without the formation of a centralized political system. Examples abound in Polynesia, including the Hawaiian Islands, the Middle East, Melanesia, and Southeast Asia. The question of the intrinsic instability of nonstate stratified societies is more complicated, not least because Fried was not very specific about what he meant by instability. He seems to assume the inevitability of a “revolution from below” (my term), as access to resources is increasingly restricted by elites, and kinship begins to fail as both ideology and structure under conditions of population expansion (Fried 1967: 186–187, 196–204). A question anthropologists consider relevant to the stability of stratified societies is their proximity to states. Ever since Leach’s work on the Kachin in the China-Burma border area, scholars have been aware that ethnic groups cannot be productively studied as bounded isolates (Leach 1954). Their relations with adjacent polities and communities contribute to their social forms and identities. In Fried’s model, some stratified societies are “secondary” formations (meaning not pristine) affected in complex, subtle ways by nearby states (Fried 1967: 198–199) and inevitably absorbed by them. More recent studies of this relationship see the state as engaged in continual efforts to convert nonstate space into legible, taxable domains (Scott 1998, especially 183–191). There is also the view that the “tribal” zone at the edge of empire sustained high levels of violence, not because the people there were inherently violent, but because indigenous societies were disrupted by the intrusion of the state, or its agents and technologies — 87 — F r i e d ’ s E v o l u t i o n a r y M o d e l (Ferguson and Whitehead 1992). These newer accounts of frontier politics, whether focused on traditional empires, colonies, or the modern nationstate , all tell more of the story from the periphery rather than the center. Local people, knowledge, and institutions are at the heart of these recent accounts, demonstrating that peripheral peoples—in Fried’s sense, merely secondary phenomena relative to the state—were far from passive recipients of state initiatives. Their capacity for confounding the predatory intrusions of the state speaks to the ethnographic case at hand, where the Nuosu in Southwest China were often predatory in...


Additional Information

Print ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.