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and Vietnam (Scott 2009; van Schendel 2002). 2 These regions, which comprise some of
the most mountainous terrain on earth and support a population currently numbering nearly
200 million, have long posed a challenge to the various governments that have attemp-
ted to subjugate them. Subsistence strategies, political affiliations, and even ethnic iden-
tities have long remained fluid here; many of the region's inhabitants have pursued swid-
den agricultural cultivation and a “deliberate and reactive statelessness” (Scott 2009:x). Al-
though it would be a mistake to see the people of Zomia as entirely lawless or stateless,
their current experience is one of far-reaching social, cultural, and environmental change
(Michaud and Forsyth 2011). In Yunnan, consolidated Chinese control has been continu-
ously threatened and often explicitly undercut by regional fiefdoms, interethnic conflict,
and even, in the mid-nineteenth century, a Hui Muslim insurrection marked by widespread
bloodshed (Atwill 2005). The Chinese fought the Vietnamese in a border war over Yunnan
in 1979, a simmering cartographical and geopolitical conflict that wasn't resolved until the
early years of the twenty-first century. It is here, amid the competing processes of assimila-
tion and autonomy, integration and resistance, where some of China's greatest contempor-
ary social and environmental challenges can be most clearly seen.
How does statemaking take place? 3 In this topic, I consider statemaking from both a ma-
terial perspective and a normative perspective. In a material sense, the central question is
how powerful actors—including government agencies but also, in the case of hydropower
development, corporations with licenses to build dams on and distribute electrical power
from China's southwestern rivers—accomplish the goal of national development by draw-
ing upon the resources of peripheral regions such as Yunnan for exploitation. The geo-
grapher Darrin Magee (2006) has developed a useful analytical concept called a “power-
shed” that helps us understand how the highly developed regions of eastern China in gen-
eral and the Pearl River delta in particular have grown affluent in part because of a series
of policy decisions that extract electrical power from southwest China's rivers and alloc-
ate it in the east where commercial and manufacturing demand is highest. This realloca-
tion allows distant resources to be used in strategic ways that maximize their benefit to na-
tional development. Such policies represent a continuation of uneven development stretch-
ing back decades. Deng Xiaoping's Reform and Opening (Gaige Kaifang) policies during
the 1980s emphasized a coastal-development strategy to attract foreign trade and invest-
ment, while China's western regions, with limited access to markets and poorly developed
transportation infrastructure, fell farther behind the fast-paced development of the east (Lai
Although China is currently the world's second-largest economy and will likely overtake
the current leader, the United States, within a decade or two, its distribution of wealth is
among the most inequitable in the world. Standards of living in Beijing, Shanghai, and oth-
er cosmopolitan cities are similar to those in the West, but in many parts ofthe rural interior
they are more on a par with sub-Saharan Africa: hundreds of millions of people struggle to
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