Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 11)
Stories and Histories from the China-Vietnam Border
Whether on land or at sea, border areas are not just sites of conflict. For the ethnically diverse communities who live at the margins of empires or nations, border crossing is a facet of everyday life. It may involve trade and smuggling, pillaging raids, flight from fighting or from the state, human trafficking, marriage, or family visits. These historical events and trends are often narrated within the confines of national histories. Yet they highlight the fuzziness of national boundaries and the importance of forms of social organization that cut across borders and unite individuals and communities that nations seek to separate and distinguish. Not only does the study of border areas and border crossings “rescue history from the nation,” to borrow from Prasenjit Duara (1995), but it also points out that the highly local can be transnational, and that apparently remote places can be linked to global currents of people, ideas, and commodities...
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 Based on written historical documents and historical fieldwork, this article traces Yang’s life in the chaotic water frontier of the Gulf of Tonkin and argues that he was but one in a long line of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
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, Tày, Zhuang, Nông Văn Vân uprising, border crossings, Sino-Vietnamese border
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, Hoàng Kế Viêm
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