Highland chiefs and regional networks in mainland southeast asia: Mien perspectives

Le Jiem Tsan, Richard D. Cushman, Hjorleifur Jonsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article is centered on the life story of a Mien upland leader in Laos and later in the kingdom of Nan that subsequently was made a province of Thailand. The story was recorded in 1972 but primarily describes events during 1870-1930. The aim of this article is to call attention to long-standing networks of highland-lowland relations where social life was unstable but always and persistently inclusive and multiethnic. The centrality of interethnic hill-valley networks in this Mien case has numerous parallels in studies of Rmeet, Phunoy, Karen, Khmu, Ta’ang, and others in mainland Southeast Asia and adjacent southern China. The implications of the Mien case support an analytical shift from ethnography to ethnology—from the study of singular ethnic groups that are viewed as somehow separate from one another and from lowland polities, and toward a study of patterns and variations in social networks that transcend ethnic labels and are of considerable historical and analytical importance. The shift toward ethnology brings questions regarding the state/non-state binary that was largely taken for granted in studies of tribal peoples as inherently stateless.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-551
Number of pages37
JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016


  • Chiefs
  • Highland peoples
  • History
  • Interethnic networks
  • Laos
  • Mien (Yao)
  • Thailand

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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