The Barbarian Borderland and the Chinese Imagination: Travellers in Wa Country

in Inner Asia
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Abstract

The Wa lands continue to be seized upon in the Chinese imagination, and elsewhere too, as representing what is dangerous and off limits. This is one important underlying reason why these lands, located in between China and Burma, have been some of the least-travelled areas on China's southwestern borders during most of the last few centuries. In fact, these areas have long been regarded as impenetrable for outsider travellers unless assisted by a full-fledged army, its gunpowder dry and its guns loaded. In the last years of the nineteenth century, the British occupation of Burma as well as increasing opium trade prompted increases in the numbers of Chinese and other visitors: officials, soldiers, traders, and so on. The first attempt at delineating a Burma-China border having failed, a second, joint British-Chinese survey was launched and almost completed in the late 1930s. These activities prompted a flurry of patriotic-scholarly efforts to claim these borderlands for the reconstituted Chinese state, which continued into the second half of the twentieth century. This brief paper explores some of the conflicting views of the various kinds of travellers and locals, including early Chinese judgements of the Wa, the nationalistic and scientistic travellers and writers of the 1930s, as well as the teams of ethnologists and soldiers dispatched there in the 1950s and 1960s – notably also Alan Winnington, the famous British correspondent for the Morning Star, and his Wa reception.

The Barbarian Borderland and the Chinese Imagination: Travellers in Wa Country

in Inner Asia

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