Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, vol. 3, no. 2 (2014)


Stories and Histories from the China-Vietnam Border

Editor’s Introduction
Guest Hue-Tam Ho Tai (Harvard University), 315

In keeping with the mission of Cross-Currents, I have selected four articles for this issue whose common trait is their focus on the border between China and Vietnam. I am deliberately eschewing the term “borderland” to describe the area they cover, as one article, by Robert J. Antony, concerns life on the water and piracy. The other articles, however, fit neatly into the category of borderland studies.

“Righteous Yang”: Pirate, Rebel, and Hero on the Sino-Vietnamese Water Frontier, 1644–1684
Robert J.Antony (University of Maccau), 319
This article is a case study of a little-known but important historical figure, known variously as Yang Yandi (Dương Ngạn Địch), Yang Er, and, more colloquially, “Righteous Yang” (Yang Yi), who lived during the turbulent Ming-Qing transition (1644–1684). In that age of anarchy, it was easy for charismatic individuals like Yang to possess multiple identities and affiliations—in Yang’s case, pirate, rebel, and hero. Based on written historical documents and historical fieldwork, this article traces Yang’s life in the chaotic water frontier of the Gulf of Tonkin and argues that he was but one in a long line of pirates and dissidents who operated in this region.
Keywords: Yang Yandi, Dương Ngạn Địch, Gulf of Tonkin, water frontier, piracy, Vietnam, South China

The Politics of Frontier Mining: Local Chieftains, Chinese Miners, and Upland Society in the Nông Văn Vân Uprising in the Sino-Vietnamese Border Area, 1833–1835
Vũ Đường Luân (Vietnam National University, Hanoi), 349

This article, part of a longer study of the history of mining in Vietnam, argues that the Nông Văn Vân uprising (1833–1835) in the northern uplands of Vietnam brings into relief the importance of mining in the Vietnamese economy of the nineteenth century. It also highlights the consequences of Emperor Minh Mệnh’s dual agenda of extracting more tax revenues from mining operations and expanding the reach of the state by replacing hereditary tribal chieftains with imperial bureaucrats. While the uprising was quelled, the imperial agenda could not be fully realized in the face of local opposition and declining revenue from mining. The uprising reflected the multiethnic nature of border society, composed as it was of Vietnamese, local minority populations, and a significant number of Chinese mine owners, workers, and providers of goods and services to the mining towns. In ordinary times, the border was regularly flouted as kinship relations, trading networks, and ethnic affinity transcended allegiance to either the Qing or the Nguyễn in this borderland. Although the uprising was formally contained within the Vietnamese territory, rebels were able to seek refuge and recruit new adherents in China. And while the Nguyễn court was eventually able to subdue the rebels, its centralizing policies and attempts at extracting more revenues from mining were ultimately unsuccessful in the face of reemerging local and transborder forces.
Keywords: Vietnam mining, Chinese miners, Tay, Zhuang, Nông Văn Vân uprising, border crossings, Sino-Vietnamese border

Rebellion and Rule under Consular Optics: Changing Ways of Seeing the China-Vietnam Borderlands, 1874–1879
Bradley Camp Davis (Eastern Connecticut State University), 379

This article contributes to the continuing discussion concerning the changing relationships between China and its neighbors in the nineteenth century. Focusing on Vietnam, a country within the metaphorical framework of the “tribute system,” it analyzes the complex range of relationships in the borderlands during the 1870s. Following the establishment of French consular offices in northern Vietnam, rebellions, counterinsurgency, communities, and commerce in the borderlands fell under a new kind of official gaze, one that ultimately provided self-serving justification to advocates of French imperialism in Southeast Asia. As emblems of foreign influence, French consulates soon became elements in factional struggles that unfolded within the Vietnamese bureaucracy over the role of China in Vietnam, the employment of surrendered bandits as officials, and borderlands administration.
Keywords: borderlands, frontiers, French imperialism, rebellion, Nguyễn Vietnam, French Indochina, Qing Empire, Li Yangcai, Alexandre de Kergaradec, Black Flags, Liu Yongfu, Yellow Flags, Hoang Ke Viem

Cross-Border Brides: Vietnamese Wives, Chinese Husbands in a Border-Area Fishing Village
Nguễn Thị Phương Châm (Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences), 413

This article traces the lives of a group of Vietnamese women driven by poverty and loss of marriageability to cross the border into China to marry men from the fishing village of Wanwei. Wanwei’s location, only 25 kilometers from the border with Vietnam, enables these women to make fairly regular trips back to their native villages to visit their birth families. Yet, despite the fact that they now live in a designated Jing (ethnic Vietnamese) village, where a significant proportion of the population shares their ethnicity, their illegal residential status and recent arrival excludes them from the community of villagers who claim descent from Vietnamese immigrants in the sixteenth century. Despite the hardships these women face as a result of continuing poverty, lack of emotional intimacy in their marriages, and marginal social status, few see themselves as victims of human trafficking. Instead, most take pride in their agency and achievements.
Keywords: marriage, Vietnamese wives, Chinese husbands, transnational marriage, Wanwei

Islam in China/China in Islam

Matthew S. Erie (Princeton University), Allen Carlson (Cornell University), 443

There are over twenty-three million Muslims in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), more than in Malaysia, Tunisia, Russia, Jordan, Libya, or Kazakhstan and slightly fewer than the number in Saudi Arabia or Yemen. China’s Muslims, including those who are ethnically Chinese, Mongolian, and Turkic, have historically had a major impact on Chinese affairs, both domestic and across the border (Bellér-Hann, Harris, Cesaro, and Finley 2007; Fletcher 1975; Forbes 1986; Han 2013; Kim 2004; Millward 2007). In light of China’s ascendance in international relations over the past thirty years and, specifically, its (re)engagement with the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa (Carlson 2011; Kemp 2012; Olimat 2012; Simpfendorfer 2009), China’s Muslim population is poised to play a significant role in the evolving relationship between China and the rest of the developing world, as well as in the resurgence of global Islam in state politics.

The Case of the Disappearing Altar: Mysteries and Consequences of Revitalizing Chinese Muslims in Yunnan
Kevin Caffrey (Harvard University), 458

This article takes the example of a disappeared altar in a Himalayan valley as revelatory of contradictions within the mechanics of a Hui Muslim revitalization project. The community example—a group of historically identifiable Muslims in China—centers on the disappearance of a gifted propitiation altar that once stood as an instantiation of community cohesion among ethnically varied populations in the valley. The investigation examines transformations of modernity and the erosion of the “social glue” that held valley communities together as the disappearance of this gift is revealed to be a telling instance of the large-scale productivities and corrosions effected by China’s contemporary renaissance of reemerging religious movements and community identifications, processes in which Chinese Muslims serve as a potential indicator for a long view of reform contemporary social transformation.
Keywords: China, ethnicity, minzu, Muslims, Yunnan, religion, frontier, revitalization

In Pursuit of Islamic “Authenticity”: Localizing Muslim Identity on China’s Peripheries
Lesley Turnbull (New York University), 482

In this ethnographic sketch, I analyze the complex processes of Sino-Islamic identity formation by examining the variety and diversity of locally produced “authenticity,” situated within a global understanding of Islam. Even within a single province, among a single official minzu (nationality) that People’s Republic of China propaganda, media, and scholarship often construct as a unified, static group, localized practices and processes of identity formation are remarkably diverse. This article investigates how trans/national discourses and practices of Islamic authenticity are localized within two specific field sites: the provincial capital of Kunming and the rural Muslim enclave of Shadian. For the purposes of this article, I focus primarily on how life is temporally and spatially structured, both in everyday practice and in imaginings of one’s place in history, modernity, the Muslim world, and the Chinese state. By setting out details of the daily lives of two Hui Muslim women, I aim to elucidate how temporal and spatial structures of life, which are tied to urban or rural location, reflect and shape local identity formation. I argue that as actors involved in their own self-production, Hui Muslims in Kunming and Shadian negotiated, appropriated, and contested both monolithic notions of Islam and the official state-propagated minzu classificatory system, producing their own versions of authentic Hui Muslim identities. What constituted authentic Hui Muslim identity depended to a great extent on the residence of the individual.
Keywords: Chinese Muslims, Hui, identity, modernity, trans/nationalism, comparative ethnography

The Opposition of a Leading Akhund to Shi’a and Sufi Shaykhs in Mid-Nineteenth-Century China
Jianping Wang (Shanghai Normal University), 518

This article traces the activities of Ma Dexin, a preeminent Hui Muslim scholar and grand imam (akhund) who played a leading role in the Muslim uprising in Yunnan (1856–1873). Ma harshly criticized Shi’ism and its followers, the shaykhs, in the Sufi orders in China. The intolerance of orthodox Sunnis toward Shi’ism can be explained in part by the marginalization of Hui Muslims in China and their attempts to unite and defend themselves in a society dominated by Han Chinese. An analysis of the Sunni opposition to Shi’ism that was led by Akhund Ma Dexin and the Shi’a sect’s influence among the Sufis in China help us understand the ways in which global debates in Islam were articulated on Chinese soil.
Keywords: Ma Dexin, Shi’a, shaykh, Chinese Islam, Hui Muslims

Defining Shariʿa in China: State, Ahong, and the Postsecular Turn
Matthew S. Erie (Princeton University), 542

Just as shariʿa (Islamic law) has been demonized globally, so too, paradoxically, have governments sought to appropriate Islamic authority for secular rule. Based on nineteen months of field research in northwest China, this article offers some preliminary thoughts on the ways in which the party-state manipulates shariʿa for purposes of rule. Through the example of the China Islamic Association, an organization constituted under the Chinese Communist Party in 1953, the author argues that the party-state’s evolving relationship to Islamic authority demonstrates what he calls the “postsecular.” Rather than discursively demarcating (legitimate) secular law from (illegitimate) religious law, the China Islamic Association has, since 2001, a watershed year in the relationship between secular and Islamic authority, sought to expound law from the revealed sources of Islam that are congruent with Chinese socialism and nationalism.
Keywords: Islamic law, Northwest China, China Islamic Association, postsecular, ethnography

China in Islam: Turki Views from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Rian Thum (Loyola University, New Orleans), 573

This article questions dominant understandings of “China,” “Islam,” and the relationship between the two. It does so by uncovering an alternative understanding of China, one held by a group of people living within the Qing Empire and, later, the Republic of China: the Turki-speaking Muslims of Altishahr, known today as Uyghurs. Turki manuscript sources depict China as a distant and distasteful power, as a khanate in the Inner Asian tradition, and as a city synonymous with its ruler, characterized above all else by its rejection of Islam, yet vulnerable to conversion by charismatic Sufis. This notion of China, it is argued, is no more culturally determined than the predominant understanding of China that undergirds most scholarly studies of China, and no less enlightening. And yet Altishahri and other Islamic perspectives have been excluded from our notion of China, largely through a dependence on the concept of “syncretism.” As an alternative to the syncretism approach to cultural interchange, the article advocates for a greater focus on overlapping networks of shared meaning. Applied to the Altishahri case, this approach gives a sense of what is lost in the privileging of Islam and China as dominant categories, and shows the distortions involved in bounding these categories.
Keywords: Islam, China, Syncretism, Uyghur

Epilogue to “Islam in China/China in Islam”
Jonathan Lipman (Mount Holyoke College), 601

In my opening comments during the conference “The Everyday Life of Islam: Focus on Islam in China,” held at Cornell University on April 27 and 28, 2012, I proposed a number of themes, tensions, and conflicts on which we might focus our discussion of the papers. This epilogue will summarize some of the conversations that ensued and note areas of particular interest that emerged from revisions to the five essays presented in this special issue of Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review.
Some conference participants attempted to make generalizations at national and transnational levels, while others stuck tenaciously to local details. Our discussions sometimes strayed from “everyday life,” but rarely from diverse, sometimes divisive, solutions to the everyday problem of “being Muslim and being Chinese” and its macrocosmic projection, “Islam in China/China in Islam,” or, in Rian Thum’s contribution, Islam not in China. The essays here, influenced by conversations and debates during the conference, suggest future agendas for study of Islam in China and research on Muslim minorities and comparative religion and politics.


The Burden of the Double Question
Bound to Emancipate: Working Women and Urban Citizenship in Early Twentieth-Century China and Hong Long, by Angelina Chin
Intolerable Cruelty: Marriage, Law, and Society in Early Twentieth-Century China, by Margaret Kuo
Susan Glosser (Lewis & Clark College), 611

Bringing Class and Indigeneity In, but Leaving Japaneseness Out
On the Margins of Empire: Buraku and Korean Identity in Prewar and Wartime Japan, by Jeffrey Paul Bayliss
Japan’s Ainu Minority in Tokyo: Diasporic Indigeneity and Urban Politics, by Mark K. Watson
Robert Moorehead (Ritsumeikan University), 619


A New Discussion of Sino-Korean Relations during the Chosŏn Period
Chosŏn kwa Chunghwa: Chosŏn i kkumkkugo sangsangham segye wa munnyŏng, [Chosŏn and Chunghwa: The world and civilization that Chosŏn dreamt and imagined] by Pae Usŏng
Adam Bohnet (King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario), 629

Chiang Kai-shek’s “Humanitarian Bombs” and the Mirage Known as the “Manchurian-Mongolian Problem”: New Japanese-Language Perspectives on the Transnational History of Modern East Asia
Sho Kaiseki no gaiko senryaku to Nitchu senso [Chiang Kai-Shek’s diplomatic strategies and the Sino-Japanese War] by Iechika Ryoko
Manmo mondai’ no rekishiteki kozu [The historical composition of the “Manchurian-Mongolian problem”] by Nakami Tatsuo
Kyu Hyun Kim (University of California, Davis), 637