Southeast Asian Studies, 2013 vol. 2 no 1
Abstract: This paper challenges James Scott’s thesis of state evasion and state prevention as
the basic features of lowland-upland relationships. It scrutinizes the validity of
Scott’s assumptions by examining the case of prolonged violent conflict in a tiny
Tay polity feudatory to China during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Civil war broke out in the Mäng2 Khön1 polity (Mangshi, Dehong Autonomous
Region in southwest Yunnan, China) due to mismanagement by the monarch
of two upland peoples, the Jingpo and the Ta’aang. The analysis of the hostilities
furnishes no evidence to validate Scott’s thesis of mountain areas as refuge zones
for migrants from lowland oppression. What it does expose, however, is the symbiotic
side to upland-lowland relationships.
It concludes that symbiosis of upland and lowland was a central issue for the
maintenance of political and social stability. Rather than viewing diametric opposition
as the main characteristic of upland-lowland relations as Scott does, this study
demonstrates the role of interdependence and cooperation, and reveals that relationships
between upland peoples and Tay polities shifted according to changing politicosocial
circumstances. It also identifies the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries as a tumultuous period for upland and lowland, when the migration of new
ethnic groups forced basin polities to readjust their strategies.