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Geoff Wade 28© 2000 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore Geoff Wade The Southern Chinese Borders in History The Southern Chinese Borders in History During a recent talk about the ancient Vietnamese Dong-son bronze drums, a member of the audience was heard to opine that as “Vietnam belonged to China during the Han dynasty”, such drums are Chinese drums.1 A statement such as this brings into focus a number of important and perhaps intractable questions: What constitutes China? What constitutes Chinese culture? To what degree has the Chinese state, throughout the millenia, exercised control over areas which were, or are now, claimed as parts of China? How “Chinese” are these areas in cultural terms? Why are cultural areas that were previously considered to be non-Chinese included today in the Chinese state? In any exploration of questions such as these we need to determine or create boundaries or borders. The way people create and perceive borders, however, differs markedly with the culture and polities from whence they come. We can see an excellent example of this by looking at the maps of Ming China contained within the Cambridge History of China.2 While the map in the original edition portrays Ming China as extending westward only to Yunnan, Sichuan, and Gansu, the map in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) translation shows the Ming state extending west to the Pamir Mountains in central Asia and northwards far beyond Lake Baikal. The aim of this chapter is to place the other contributions to this volume within a broader historical context, by examining the southern Chinese borders through history. These borders are at times defined 2 ISEAS DOCUMENT DELIVERY SERVICE. No reproduction without permission of the publisher: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace, SINGAPORE 119614. FAX: (65)7756259; TEL: (65) 8702447; E-MAIL: 29 2. The Southern Chinese Borders in History© 2000 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore culturally, and at other times, geographically, economically, or politically . The validity of these categories can of course be discussed almost ad infinitum. I will, however, attempt to show, that many of the topics discussed in this volume have historical precedents. They are not solely issues of the present and, in some cases, constitute aspects of trends and processes which extend back for millenia. CHINESE BORDERS AND BOUNDARIES The studies of Chinese borders and boundaries, of core and periphery, of self and other, and of liminality, have in recent years become popular fields of enquiry in history, anthropology, and cultural and literary studies. These are opening up broad new vistas of enquiry into definitions, divisions , and categories. While researchers have continued to examine Chinese borders in a traditional way, new ideas of boundaries have been explored in works such as Boundaries in China, edited by John Hay. In this work, the more general and less concrete boundaries for categories such as bodies, space, time, and discourse in China are defined.3 Hay suggests that the strongest impetus within this movement [the study of “borders” and “boundaries”] has perhaps been an interest in the structure and dynamics of transgression, especially where such transgressions predicate boundaries as a necessary resistance. (Hay 1994, p. 6) This is very much an extension of ideas found in the realm of literary theory.4 New avenues for exploring Chinese borders/frontiers have also been produced by the annual University of Oklahoma symposia on frontier theory, established to further the studies of frontier theory initiated by Frederick Jackson Turner. Jan English-Lueck (1991) has, for example, examined the Chinese scholars studying and working in the United States as nodes on the Chinese frontier/interface with non-China. Also, the importance of images, rhetorical and otherwise, and concepts of space in Chinese societies, and the relations of these with frontier perceptions and policies, have recently attracted increasing scholarly attention.5 Other scholars have, furthermore, critically examined the borders of ethnicity and regional identities in Chinese contexts and questioned the certainty with which such boundaries have been previously accepted (for example, Hershatter et al. 19966 and Gladney 1996). Geoff Wade 30© 2000 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore THE CULTURAL BORDERS The idea of a cultural border is one of the most persistent, and perhaps the most clichéd, idea of the borders which over the centuries have divided China from non-China, and civilized China from non-civilized other. From the very earliest days of Chinese polities, the idea of a cultural...


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