Historical Society for Twentieth-Century China 1
Herman’s paper on ethnic violence and state expansion on the Yunnan frontier in the 18th century, shows not only the mutability of banditry but also the weakness of state authority on the fringes of empire. After the Qing state retained a notorious bandit, who was himself a member of an ethnic minority, to aggressively incorporate a hitherto autonomous area into the empire, such labels as hero, bandit, and rebel became ambiguous, misleading, and even meaningless. Davis takes the story further with his study of violent resistance, labeled by officials as banditry, to French colonialism on the Sino-Vietnamese borderland at the turn of the 20th century. Focusing on the investigation of the murder of a French priest, Davis elucidates how intercultural miscommunication and misunderstanding fostered a shared culture of violence in a border no-man-land. Problems of violence and banditry, however, were not limited to peripheries. They also posed tremendous problems in China’s political and economic core areas, such as the Pearl River delta. In fact, as Antony shows, contrary to conventional wisdom, there were more cases of banditry in the Pearl River delta than anywhere else in Guangdong province between 1800 and 1940. To fully appreciate this phenomena he further argues that it is necessary to examine banditry within the larger context of a ubiquitous culture of violence, epitomized by annual rock fights among boat people in the delta.
This panel, we hope, will contribute to ongoing reassessments among historians about the important roles that banditry, ethnicity, and violence played in the history of borderland and core areas of China over the past 300 years.