In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the region of Liangshan in southwest China was plagued by violence. Indigenous Nuosu communities clashed with Han migrants, the Qing and Republican states, and local warlords. The first English-language history of Liangshan, A Frontier Made Lawless challenges the view that ongoing violence was the result of population pressures, opium production, and the growth of local paramilitary groups. Instead, Joseph Lawson argues that the conflict resulted from the lack of a common framework for dealing with property disputes, compounded by the repeated destabilization of the region by turmoil elsewhere in China.
1 Conflict over Land in the Longue Durée
2 Violence and the Structures of Power in the Qing Empire, 1800–1911
3 Growing Poppies, Firearms, and Populations: Expansion and Consequences of Trade
4 Law in a Lawless Land: Liangshan, 1911–37
5 The Prisoners of Liangshan: Captivity and Alterity
6 The Nationalist Party in Liangshan, 1937–49
Coda: The Communist Takeover and Liangshan in World History
Notes; Glossary; Bibliography; Index
Joseph Lawson’s exhaustive research into pre-1949 literature and archival documents challenges established views on the root causes of ethnic violence in China’s frontier society. He convincingly argues that warfare in modern China – notably the Taiping Rebellion, the interprovincial battles in the early Republican Chinese period, and the Sino-Japanese war in the 1930s and the 1940s – led to violence in Liangshan. A Frontier Made Lawless is sure to stimulate discussion and prompt further study.
Hsiao-ting Lin, research fellow and curator, East Asia Collection, Hoover Institution
A Frontier Made Lawless is the first history in English of Liangshan, but its reach is wider: it is an important case study of violence in the process of colonial expansion by a non-European power.
Stevan Harrell, professor of anthropology, University of Washington