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The Chinese in Colonial Myanmar  

Yi Li

Exchanges of people and goods between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China have a long history spanning over a millennium. However, it was during the British colonial era in Burma (1824–1948) that substantial and consistent migration of ethnic Chinese occurred, laying the foundations of Sino-Burmese communities in present-day Myanmar. Two distinct migration routes were initially taken by Chinese immigrants: the overland route between northern Burma and Yunnan, predominantly used by southwestern Chinese since precolonial days; and the overseas route connecting the southern coast of China with port cities in Southeast Asia, including Rangoon. The latter forms part of the Nanyang Chinese network and was primarily used by immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Over time, regional differences between different Chinese immigrant groups blurred, and Chinatowns or Chinese quarters in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other major towns across the colony emerged with distinctive Chinese characters. In colonial Burma, migrants from China constituted a smaller population, were less influential commercially and socially, and were generally less visible than their Indian counterparts. Nonetheless, they were recognized as a distinct ethnic group in the colonial state. Given colonial Burma’s geographic and administrative position, Chinese immigrants, while maintaining strong connections with other Southeast Asian Chinese communities, experienced a unique trajectory under colonial rule, navigating through internal tensions and World War II, and, alongside their multiethnic fellow residents, in British Burma, declared the independence at the beginning of 1948.

Article

Tibetan Exiles in India  

Sonika Gupta

Since 1959, after the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet, thousands of Tibetans have lived in protracted exile in India. India hosts the largest number of Tibetan exiles in the world and is also the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration (formerly known as the Tibetan Government in Exile) and the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. The Indian government has made a long-term commitment to Tibetan rehabilitation by setting up tens of designated Tibetan settlements in different parts of the country. These settlements are grouped into agricultural, handcraft-based, and cluster communities. While there has been definite economic and educational progress for the exile community in India, Tibetans continue to be stateless. Since 2000, there has been increased migration from Tibetan settlements in India to North America, Europe, and Australia as people search for a more stable legal status and better life opportunities. The Tibetan settlements in India, with their network of monasteries, schools, and other cultural institutions, remain the primary site of the Tibetan struggle for the homeland that is focused on the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet under conditions of genuine autonomy. Therefore, sustaining these settlements is becoming a critical issue for the Central Tibetan Administration. As the Tibetan struggle for its homeland reaches its seventh decade in exile, it is undergoing parallel processes of institutionalized democratization and political fragmentation along regional and other lines.

Article

Zhang Qian  

Shujing Wang

Zhang Qian was a prominent diplomat of the Western Han dynasty in ancient China. Under the threat of the powerful nomadic federation called the Xiongnu, Emperor Wu dispatched Zhang Qian to Central Asia to establish military alliances with the Yuezhi and the Wusun. Zhang Qian also led a diplomatic mission to the kingdoms near the southwest frontier of Han China. His pioneering travels profoundly affected not only Sino-foreign relations in the centuries around the common era but also the development of the Silk Roads. His reports provided the Han government with firsthand information on the states in the Western Regions and beyond and greatly contributed to the exchanges of goods, knowledge, and ideology between Han China and the outside world. In later periods, he became an icon of long-distance travel. Wall paintings, legends, and decorative themes that were created based on his journeys clearly demonstrate his continual influence. More recently, in 2014, a tomb attributed to Zhang Qian was included as a site on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Article

The Sino-Tibetan Borderlands  

Stéphane Gros

The Sino-Tibetan borderlands cover a vast mountainous expanse inhabited by agricultural and pastoral communities of various ethnicities, predominantly Tibetan-speaking groups. An area of mutual interest, rivalry, and conflict, it has been the scene of lively religious and commercial exchanges, remarkable cultural flows, and circulations, which have involved many diverse peoples who were part of varying motley sociopolitical entities (kingdoms, estates, tribal federations, etc.) on various scales. Central Tibet, Mongolia, and China have historically exerted a strong political influence that has greatly contributed to shaping local political formations, religious landscapes, and cultural identities. For a proper understanding of this diversity, an anthropological history of this area cannot be limited to Sino- or Tibeto-centric narratives but needs to take into account multipolar perspectives. However, very few sources provide a borderland-centered history and, where written sources do exist, they generally portray the view held by the centers of power. A more kaleidoscopic view of this mountainous area can complement a social history of Sino-Tibetan relations and of the associated processes that have contributed to shaping the region into a borderland by restoring the multiplicity of historical experiences of the communities in between.

Article

The Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong  

Edmund W. Cheng

The Umbrella Movement, emerging from the planned Occupy Central, was a spontaneous mass movement that erupted in Hong Kong between September 26 and December 15, 2014. While the planned occupation campaign derived from frustrations over a protracted democratization process and the rise of a radical political force since the late 2000s, the movement’s spontaneous outbreak was a backfire against protest policing in September 2014. People from all walks of life, often with no organizational affiliations, rallied to occupy three business districts for seventy-nine days. Throughout the occupation sites, the prevalence of formal and informal leaders facilitated a wide range of innovative repertoire and plebian experiences but also hampered decision-making. Meanwhile, the state responded with an attrition strategy that tolerated protests ostensibly but adopted proactive means to increase the cost of participation. The purpose was to wear out protest strength and appeal to the public’s desire for law and order without making political concessions. When the movement reached a deadlock, the leadership of the veteran democrats and student activists was challenged by a radical political force known as the localists. The complex interactions within civil society and between state and society nonetheless marked Hong Kong’s departure from its moderate political culture and deprived the democratic opposition of its legitimacy and authority to broker the prodemocracy movement. The Umbrella Movement’s profound impacts in deepening political cleavages, fostering movement networks, and triggering state control were not fully manifested until another peak of street mobilization in the summer of 2019.

Article

Defining Chinese Commodities in the Early Modern Era: A Historical and Conceptual Analysis  

Ronald C. Po

China gradually became a major political and economic power, starting from the second half of the 20th century. Today, it is an export factory that manufactures almost every imaginable product, from brass buttons and footware to computer chips and motor vehicles. While one could argue that the label “Made in China” seems to be visible and recognizable everywhere in the 21st century, this is not a recent phenomenon. A few centuries prior to the 1970s, China was already tightly connected to the global market. During the early modern era, the ideas, customs, and habits of Chinese culture were already steadily spreading across the globe through the consumption of a series of highly desirable Chinese items. Although historians have studied the global impact of a wide range of goods exported from China since the Ming dynasty, if not earlier, it remains necessary to obtain a more conceptual definition of the term “Chinese commodity” in studies of consumption and material culture. According to one definition, a “Chinese commodity” is a good that originated in and/or was manufactured in China. Yet at the same time, the idea of Chinese commodities has occasionally said more about how the non-Chinese in a foreign market imagined and conceptualized Chinese culture than the actual cultural meaning that was supposed to be connected to China. In other words, this is a multifaceted concept that requires further elaboration since it offers promising perceptions from which to explore and reflect on the interlacing of China and the world, while some of these correlations continue to generate a certain degree of social impact on our physical surroundings and imagination even to the present day.

Article

Infrastructure Development in Xinjiang  

Alessandro Rippa

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region covers one-sixth of the entire territory of the People’s Republic of China and shares international borders with eight countries. Rich in natural resources, Xinjiang is home to several Turkic-speaking, Muslim Indigenous groups. Following Xinjiang’s formal incorporation into the Qing empire as a province in the late 19th century, recent scholarship shows how the region was subjected to a colonial-like civilizing project, in part carried out through large state investments in infrastructure. These covered agriculture, mining, and connectivity infrastructure, as well as a growing number of Han migrants settling into new urban centers. While the last few decades of the Qing administration and the convoluted Republican period that followed them (1912–1949) did not deliver much of what was planned, this phase would nevertheless define the approach taken later by the Chinese Communist Party toward Xinjiang. Since the Communist takeover in 1949, in fact, the way in which the Chinese authorities see Xinjiang has crystallized: as a potential economic outpost and a restless frontier space in need of further integration. This is particularly evident in Xinjiang’s history in the 21st century, as the region is both a backbone of transnational connectivity as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the site of one of the world’s most severe security apparatuses.

Article

Timurid Commercial Relations with China  

Ralph Kauz

Political and commercial relations between the Timurid Empire (1370–1507) and the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) in China are mostly framed by the so-called “tribute system.” It is indeed difficult to investigate and analyze these relations without referring to this theoretical framework. Closely related to this theoretical problem is the difficulty to distinguish between commercial and political interactions because, according to the regulations of the Ming court, private commercial entrepreneurship was closely restricted and merchants were thus forced to guise themselves as “official” envoys or travel in the retinue of real ones. However, during the first decades of the two empires, political relations probably prevailed, especially when the planned military campaign of Timur against China is considered. Though the first embassies of both sides offered various wares as “tribute” or “presents”—a requisite of any mission—their basic intention was obviously “political” reconnaissance of the other side. This changed after the death of the extremely external-orientated emperor Yongle 永乐 in 1424. After that, the character of the caravans, which traveled almost exclusively from west to east from this year onward, showed a prevalent commercial intention, as far as can be judged from the Chinese texts, the sole source for the topic. However, the land-based “silk road” was not the only way from the Timurid Empire to China, but the maritime route was also of major importance. The chief terminus in the Persian Gulf, the Princedom of Hormuz, though it never submitted to the Timurid Empire, functioned as an important harbor and emporium. On the maritime route, commercial interests certainly prevailed.

Article

Geology, Mineralogy, and Exploration  

Shellen Wu

Why is coal the most important energy source in China? Why has the National Geological Survey of China focused on and devoted significant resources to the exploration of borderlands and frontier areas? The answers to these questions have a great deal to do with how the scientific disciplines of geology and minerology developed from the waning decades of the Qing dynasty in the late 19th century through a period of political turmoil and war in the first half of the 20th century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the leading explorers in China were foreigners. Exploration and science became imbued with the greater significance of imperialism’s impact on the country and the growing nationalism in response. China’s leading scientists argued for the importance of a national geological survey to lay claims to the natural resources and territorial extent of the country, lest these be lost to foreign prospectors. These political undercurrents became an inseparable part of the history of geology in China.

Article

Commercial Structures of Ancient Central Asia  

Xinru Liu

Transactions between ancient communities across the varied ecological zones of Central Asia produced a complex commercial structure. Pastoral nomads on the steppe and farmers in the oases traded to supplement their livelihoods. Domestication of horses on the Eurasian steppe around four thousand years ago was a driving force stimulating interactions between the horse riders and settled farmers. Conflicts between horse-riding nomadic powers on the steppe and Chinese empires initiated the silk-horse treaty trade, which lasted until the end of the Tang Dynasty. Domestication of camels around 3000 bce enabled transportation across deserts and thus linked the oases to one another and to the outside world. Especially after the invention of a new saddle for the Bactrian (two-humped) camel, the caravan trade flourished as the major means of commercial interchange in the Central Asian deserts during the 1st millennium ce. Sogdian city states around the Syr and Amu Rivers prospered through farming, and the Sogdians became the agents of trade among Chinese empires, Persian empires, South Asian states, and various Turkic empires on the steppe. After the Islamic conquest of Central Asia, the Sogdians gradually submitted to Islamic rule, transforming themselves into Muslim traders and continuing to play an essential role in linking Central Asia to the wider Eurasian commercial world. Means of transportation and means of communication provided the infrastructure for trade. Governments and major trading communities such as the Sogdians were active in building trading networks, and religious movements such as the spread of Buddhism facilitated the formation of commercial networks.