Mapping Routes, Exchange, And Transformation Along The Borderlands Of Laos, China, And Vietnam: The Lanten Case

Post Author(s)

Political and, often, scholarly, boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as Southeast Asia and China. This modern division often contributes to masking ongoing processes of exchange and flow of persons, goods and ideas, and societies inhabiting the borderlands. Such is the case of the Lanten communities (Landian Yao or Yao Mun) who have settled in the highlands across the Sino-Lao-Viet borderlands over the past centuries. Sino-Southeast Asian overland interactions have shaped the so-called Golden Quadrangle for centuries. However, this research focuses on mapping and studying the routes and exchanges taking place in two particular periods: The 1890s, right before the creation of the modern state boundaries when highly dynamic corridors and dozens of trade-routes interconnected Southeast Asia with the Tea and Horses (Silk-)Road in China; and the 2020s, which are defined by the various ongoing infrastructure-projects (e.g. highways, railways) and Special Economic Zones (Golden Triangle, Green Triangle) associated with the One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI/ New Silk Road). Of particular interest are the impacts of these developments upon the Lanten communities and their response to such transformations. The Lanten practicing a form of religion with heavy Daoist elements connecting them to a Chinese imperial cosmology, changing boundaries and circulations lead to continuities and divergences in cosmological and religious understandings and practices.

The Laos sub-project is carrying out archival research with a focus on diaries and travelogues written by early those Europeans explorers who first visited Luang Namtha. These early explorers had been commanded with the task of mapping the region so boundaries could be created between the British and French Empires. The Laos sub-project is, thus, contributing to bridging a historical gap: The mapping of the overland trade-routes and interactions between China and Southeast Asia in the 1890s. The ongoing research is employing infographics, and the fructiferous cooperation between a visual artist and the team-members of the BRINFAITH project is providing various maps to assist visualising the Silk Road in this specific region. At the same time, companion maps based on contemporary sources and the scheduled BRI development-plans serve to articulate a mapping of the BRI based on selected sites and infrastructures. This approach enables comparison and provides the necessary socio-historical background and framework for this case. Other maps provide crucial information about the location of the Lanten settlements. These maps combine ethnographic data, state census, and linguistic atlas, to establish the distribution of the speakers of the Kim Mun language (i.e. Lanten communities) in China, Laos, and Vietnam.

Joseba Estevez, David A. Palmer and Zhang Mengting: “Overland interactions in the Golden Quadrangle: The Silk Road in the 1890s vs the BRI in the 2020s

Joseba Estevez, David A. Palmer and Sun Jiayue: A road of stories: The dynamic exchange of written and oral stories amongst the Lanten ritual experts along the borderlands of China, Vietnam, and Laos. 

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