SPEAKER 1: Today, we are gathered together for the Frank Hindman Golay Lecture. Professor Golay came to Cornell in 1953, and taught Economics and Asian Studies here. He had a very long, distinguished career, which culminated in his becoming President of the Association of Asian Studies, AAS, in 1984.
And in Professor Golay's honor, a once-every-few-years lecture was established in 1994. And Cornell asks a distinguished Southeast Asianist to come and give this lecture on a topic of their choice which they think might be a broad interest to the public at large. And previous speakers in this series have included Erik Thorbecke, Craig Reynolds, Ruth McVeigh, Joe [INAUDIBLE], Tony Milner, [INAUDIBLE], and Claude [INAUDIBLE] so a kind of who's-who of Southeast Asian Studies.
And today, it's my very great pleasure to introduce you to this year's Golay Distinguished Lecturer, Jim Scott of Yale University. Jim is the Sterling Professor at Yale, where he holds concurrent appointments in political science, anthropology, and as director of the Agrarian Studies Program, where he's been housed for many years.
He's the author of a number of books, each of which I think it's fair to say were small seismic events in Southeast Asian Studies and in the world of academia generally, to be honest. And these have included The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Weapons of the Weak, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, and Seeing like a State, all published by Yale University Press.
Jim has held grants from the National Science Foundation, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and from the Guggenheim Foundation, and he's also been a fellow at advanced research institutes at Stanford, MIT, and Princeton over the years. More than all of these honors, however, Jim has truly made a name for himself as being a warm and wonderful colleague and human being. You don't often meet people this famous who also seem to be so well liked, I think it's fair to say. And usually with such people, you have to climb over a mountain of dead bodies to shake their hands.
And there is no such pile of bodies with Jim Scott. What you see is what you get, and I think Jim and everyone else who knows him wouldn't have it any other way. Today, Jim will be speaking about a new book of his that will be coming out in the coming months about Zomia, a high-altitude zone in Southeast Asia stretching from actually the marches of South Asia all the way to the borders of Vietnam. So without any further ado, ladies and gentleman, Jim Scott.
JAMES SCOTT: Thank you, Eric, for that generous introduction, especially remarks about the body count. I wouldn't want to say it's zero, but I hope it's somewhat lower than the standard body count.
I want to begin my talk with the closing phrases of Pierre Clastres great work, La Societe Contre L'Etat, the last two sentences in particular. And I quote, "It is said that the history of peoples who have a history is the history of class struggle. It might be said with at least as much truthfulness that the history of people's without history is a history of their struggle against the state," end quote.
Pierre Clastres was the first, I think, to suggest that what had seemed to anthropologists in South America like Neolithic survivals-- the [INAUDIBLE] the Guarani-- were actually ex-sedentary cultivators who took up foraging in order to escape forced labor in the Spanish Reductions and the disease associated with those settlements-- and that, Clastres pointed out, they devised social structures to prevent states from arising among them, strong chiefs in particular.
He echoed Owen Lattimore and many others who understood that nomadic pastoralism, for example, is not an earlier subsistence form but a secondary adaptation to sedentary agriculture, an adaptation by tax- and state-shy ex-cultivators. I hope, with my argument today, to please the ghost of Pierre Clastres.
Zomia is a new name for virtually all the lands lying roughly above 300 meters all the way from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to Northeast India and Bangladesh, and traversing five Southeast Asian nations-- Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma-- four provinces of China-- [INAUDIBLE], Guangxi, parts of Szechuan. It's an expanse of something like 2.5 million square kilometers, containing over 100 million minority peoples of truly bewildering linguistic and ethnic complexity. Geographically, it's also known as the Southeast Asian Massif.
Since this huge area is at the periphery of nine states and at the center of none, and since it also bestrides the usual regional designations-- Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia-- and since what makes it interesting is both its ecological variety and its relationship to states, it represents something of a novel object of study, a kind of a transnational Appalachia, and perhaps a new way to think about area studies.
Let me just show you briefly roughly the area in white's the area I'm talking about. And the term "Zomia" is not my idea, but the idea of Willem van Schendel, a Dutch scholar. "Zo" in certain Chin languages means "hill," and "mi" means "the people." [INAUDIBLE] is that from that compound. And Willem has decided to call this area Zomia. And on his account, Zomia includes not just this area but extends over into Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia.
My thesis is simple, suggestive, and controversial. Zomia, I argue, is the last remaining region of the world-- the largest remaining region of the world-- whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation states. Its days are numbered. Not so very long ago, however, such self-governing peoples were the great majority of mankind. They are today seen from the valleys as our living ancestors-- what we were like before we discovered wet rice cultivation, Buddhism, and civilization.
On the contrary, I argue that the hill peoples are, on the long view, best understood as a fugitive, runaway, maroon community who have, over the course of the last two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys-- slavery, conscription, taxes, [INAUDIBLE] labor, epidemics, warfare. Virtually everything about these people's livelihoods, their social organization their ideologies, and more controversially, even their illiteracy, can be read as strategic choices designed to keep the state at arms length.
Their physical dispersion and rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structure, their pliable ethnic identities-- and, I would argue, even their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders-- are designed to avoid incorporation into states and to prevent states from springing up among them. The particular state that most of them have been evading, of course, has been the precocious Han Chinese state. But also, they have been evading the Tibetan State historically, the Siamese state, the Chandragupta states, and the Burmese state.
A history of flight is embedded in many hill legends. The documentary record, though somewhat speculative before 1400, is clear enough after that, including the frequent military campaigns against hill peoples under the Ming and Qing dynasties, and culminating in the unprecedented uprisings in Southwestern China in mid-19th century that left millions seeking refuge. The flight from both Burmese, Thai, and Tibetan slave-raiding states is also amply documented.
This way of looking at the area I would call Zomia is novel in several ways. There's a huge literature on state-making, of course-- contemporary and historical-- that pays virtually no attention to its obverse-- that is to say, the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness. This is the history of the people who got away, if you'd like, and state-making cannot be understood apart from it. It's also what makes it something of an anarchist history.
This account would, if I were even more ambitious, bring together the histories of all peoples extruded by coercive state-making and unfree labor systems-- Gypsies, Cossacks, Inuit, the polyglot tribes made up of refugees from the Spanish Reductions in the New World and the Philippines, fugitive slave communities, the Marsh Arabs, the San Bushman, and so on.
These areas constitute what Stuart Schwartz has called shatter zones, areas where people who've been running away from state-making projects have accumulated. And it accounts for the tremendous ethnic and linguistic diversity. And one can find on almost every continent shatter zones of this kind. In fact, Richard White's book The Middle Ground is an account of such a shatter zone in the Great Lakes region.
The argument also reverses much of the received wisdom about primitivism generally. Pastoralism, foraging, shifting cultivation, segmentary lineage systems are often a secondary adaptation, a kind of self-barbarianization adopted by peoples who've strategically chosen their location, their subsistence, and their social structure with state evasion in mind as a political choice-- again, over the long-run. And by long-run, I mean 1,500 to 2,000 years.
If we open the lens at its widest possible angle and engage in an actually unexcusable fast-forward, Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for 200,000 years. In Southeast Asia, Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for perhaps 60,000 years maximum. Sedentary grain agriculture has been around for about 8,000 years. The small states of Southeast Asia arose roughly 3,000 years ago.
Sedentary agriculture is a necessary but not sufficient condition for state formation. Only sedentary agriculture creates a concentration of people and production that makes state formation normally possible. One can have sedentary agriculture without states. One can also have, occasionally, states without sedentary agriculture. But this usually occurs when the states occupy crucial choke points on some important trade route, as [INAUDIBLE] would have represented.
Most of human experience, therefore, has been an experience of statelessness. The states that arose early in Southeast Asia controlled a minuscule portion of the globe. The lands outside these early states, whether in Southeast Asia or elsewhere, were considered fiscally sterile. That is to say, the dispersed peoples and production of these zones made it impossible to seize their resources, and in many cases, to seize the population. This huge area was seen as the barbarian periphery. And this was true whether we're talking about Rome, Chandragupta, or the early Han dynasties.
The relations, again, in an inexcusable truncated history, with this barbarian periphary was of two kinds-- first, trade. As early as the ninth century, people in what are considered today to be the least developed portions of Southeast Asia were preparing goods and collecting goods in the forest for the Chinese luxury trade and for international commerce. This was a relationship between the barbarian periphery and these small states that was a relationship of voluntary economic integration that was completely compatible with political autonomy. That is, it was, if you like, exchange at the pleasure of valley peoples and hill peoples of states and its barbarian periphery.
The other relationship between these early states and their barbarian periphery was the relationship of slavery. Slaves were the most important item in world trade through much of early Southeast Asian history, and the cargo of most Malay ship crafts-- the most valuable cargo-- were slaves.
And as Tony Reid points out, there's a period of 300 or 400 or 500 years in which there is a huge population shift in Southeast Asia in which population is stripped from stateless areas and concentrated in the small state cores. The idea was to move people from this fiscally sterile zone, from this fiscally sterile landscape, to a place where they and their work were assessable, legible, and accessible.
This was the great demographic shift in early Southeast Asia. These early grain-based states were actually quite small as a matter of the portion of the landscape that they occupied, but they were militarily strong because they were able to concentrate grain and population in a small area. Their grain-based property systems with inherited property also made for high fertility, and made them expansionist. One could, from a certain perspective in a sense, see these sedentary grain complexes as the most expansionary system of settlement we've ever experienced.
And the white settler colonies of the US, Australia, Canada, Argentina, and so on can be seen as the transplantation of this sedentary grain complex from the Old World to what Crosby calls the Neo-Europe's of the world. In those cases where colonialism encountered already sedentary grain complexes, it just simply displaced the elites that had collected taxes and population in these zones and replaced them with its own administration.
Notice that even quite late in the game, much of the globe was still ungoverned by states. There were large zones of no sovereignty at all, and there were considerable zones of what one might called mutually canceling weak sovereignties. And then, starting at different times but certainly in the 19th and early 20th century, there were two changes that take place that make the story I have to tell for the rest of my talk completely irrelevant after this period.
That is the idea of a strong nation state that is both desirous of and able to extend its full sovereignty to the actual physical borders of the state-- that is to say, the modern nation-state as a full sovereign, exercising sovereignty up to its border, after half inch over that border it encounters the 100% sovereignty of an abutting nation-state. It's only in the 19th and early 20th century, and actually quite later in the 20th century, for many Southeast Asian states to be able to extend their sovereignty actually to the physical borders of the state. And some of them have not yet been able to do it at all.
The second change is that this barbarian periphery, which was seen as uninteresting and fiscally sterile, turned out to be of great importance for mature capitalism. A periphery that had once yielded slaves and sometimes gold and silver and a few commodities now was of enormous importance for coal, iron ore, oil, timber, copper, bauxite, the rare minerals that are now important for the aerospace and electronics industry for hydroelectric sites and so on. Hence, the projection of the state in increasing ways to these vast ungoverned areas of what had previously been zones of no sovereignty.
Now, if one steps back and contrasts the hill areas from the valley kingdoms of Southeast Asia-- again, to generalize inexcusably-- the valleys have historically been the sites of states, of social hierarchies, of taxes, of kings and permanent clergies, of large-scale warfare, of wet rice cultivation, and of what they would describe as civilization.
The hills have, by contrast, been zones of swidden cultivation and sometimes foraging, of no permanent states-- episodic states from time to time that tend to be transient-- of population dispersal rather than concentration, of relative egalitarianism, of a great cultural variety, and of no permanent political or clerical establishment that is tax collecting.
The paradox-- this is, in a sense, the most striking social geographical division in Southeast Asia, and cultural division. The paradox, however, is that people have been moving back and forth over this divide in huge numbers for as long as we can tell, an oscillation-- at some points, people moving toward the valley states, at some points people moving away from the valley states. The valley states themselves are, in a sense, like shooting stars that exist for a certain period of time, are extinguished. They themselves are evanescent.
But hill people have been becoming valley people-- this is the familiar civilizational narrative coming down from the hills of becoming civilized-- but it was just common until the mid-19th century for valley people to move to the hills. This is least acknowledged because the hills, of course, were seen as a barbarian periphery. They were seen as our living ancestors-- what we were like, as I said, before we discovered wet rice, Buddhism, and civilization.
For the Vietnamese and for many of the Thais, to go to the hills is not just a trip up to a higher altitude, but it's a trip back in history. It's a visit to what the Thais or Vietnamese were assumed to be like before they became lowland civilized founders of states. However, the idea that people would voluntarily, if you like, leave the valleys for the hills is something that fits very poorly into this civilizational narrative.
Here it's worth recalling what Owen Lattimore said about the great Chinese walls-- that we must remember that the great Chinese walls were built quite as much to keep the Chinese in as they were to keep the barbarians out-- to keep a taxpayer, sedentary, farming population, the only population that was valuable to the state, inside the state precincts as opposed to letting it leak away. And yet, despite this movement back and forth, there's always been a bright line between hills and valleys.
This is something that was noticed by Fernand Braudel in his Mediterranean World. And here, I quote his fairly outrageous statement along these lines. He wrote, quote, "The great waves of civilization, even the longest and most persistent, which may spread over great distances in the horizontal plane but are powerless to move vertically when faced with an obstacle of several hundred meters."
Paul Wheatley wrote in much the same spirit, that in Southeast Asia, the Sanskritic tongue was stilled to silence at 500 meters. Ibn Khaldoun said that Arabs could conquer areas as long as they were on flat land, but they were powerless when they came to mountains and when they came to extensive deserts.
Paul [INAUDIBLE] observed-- and I think I have the quote correct. I haven't written it down here perfectly. But he said something like, the kin civilizational adventure ended at the high buttresses of the Annimite Cordillera-- that is to say, at the foothills of the Annamite chain of mountains.
The kind of relationship that I'm talking about between hills and valleys is also captured, I think, in a way that's suggestive by Ernest Gellner in his Saints of the Atlas when he describes what he calls marginal tribalism. And let me quote him. "Marginal tribalism is the type of tribal society which exists at the edge of nontribal societies. It arises from the fact that the inconveniences of submission make it attractive to withdraw from political authority, and the balance of power, the nature of mountainous or desert terrain, make it feasible. Such tribalism is politically marginal. It knows what it rejects."
My argument is not, however, that civilizations find it impossible to climb hills, but rather that people climb hills in order to get away from civilizations-- or more precisely, to get away from certain forms of states. If we see Zomia, this highland area, from a 2,000-year perspective, I think we can see it as being largely peopled by populations who have moved to the hills in response to state-making projects in the valley, people who've been fleeing taxes, conscription-- also, political and religious dissent, people fleeing famines and disease that are particularly associated with the crowding and monocropping of valley rice kingdoms, desertion from armies, and so forth.
This is amply documented during the Tang and Yuan dynasties. It becomes crystal clear in relatively massive proportions under the Ming and Qing expansion into Yunnan and [INAUDIBLE] and Guangxi, and one can see it continuing not only during the great mid-19th century uprisings as people move further south into the hills, but in World War II and even during the Great Leap Forward, when a number of hill peoples move across the Burmese and Thai borders in order to escape the effects of the Chinese state.
That is to say, these areas, looked at historically over a long period of time, are a shatter zone in which a process of ethnogenesis takes place in the hills. These people by and large were not always already immemorially there. One should see them rather on a long view as something like the history of the Cossacks.
The Cossacks were it nothing more and nothing less than runaways from European Russian serfdom, and they collected at the frontier. Depending on where they collected, they became the Don Cossacks the Azov Cossacks, and so on. I think there's something like 16 different Cossack hosts.
And there, at the frontier, they often learned the horseback habits of the Tatar. They had open property-- that is to say, range land. Instead of being just runaway serfs, they became at the frontier the Cossacks, mobilized later by the czars as military units. But they were, in a sense, a community of runaway serfs who at the frontier became a people. And it is that process that, looked at over a long period of time, I think makes the most sense for Southeast Asia.
Let me say something about the demography of the state centers in order to contrast it to the demography of the hills. The Thais have a famous proverb that everyone quotes, which goes, put vegetables in the basket, put people in the [INAUDIBLE], being the small state in Thai languages. It's a reference to the effort to concentrate manpower and agricultural production in a very small area.
Let's imagine that you were Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and it was your job to design an ideal kingdom under premodern conditions and to design agriculture for this premodern kingdom. You would need to concentrate manpower and foodstuffs in a very small radius, roughly within 200 kilometers as a rule of thumb under premodern transportation conditions-- bull cart, oxen cart, and so on, of the palace walls.
If that were your job, I believe you would try to invent something very much like irrigated wet rice cultivation. There's nothing like irrigated wet rice cultivation to concentrate manpower and production in a very small area. There are other damages of paddy rice that are extremely important. They will seem silly at first glance, but less simply when contrasted with forms of hill agriculture.
Paddy rice is, of course, a grain that grows above ground. Most of it gets ripe at roughly the same time. If the tax collector or the army want your rice, all they have to do is turn up when it's ripe and they can have it all. Or if they decide they don't like you, they can burn your crop. Or if you've already gathered it and have it in the granaries, they can simply confiscate the supplies that you have in your granary.
Unhusked paddy rice stores quite well, can be transported relatively long distances, and has a relatively high value per unit weight and volume, which makes its transportation rather economical. For this reason, rice cores tended to produce states in Southeast Asia. If there was a large rice core, it might produce a large state-- not necessarily, but it might. If it was a small rice core, it might produce a small state. This was a necessary but not sufficient condition generally for the production of states.
The problem in Southeast Asia, of course, was holding the core population at the center. In 1700, the population density of Southeast Asia is roughly five people per square kilometer. In the same year, the population per square kilometer in India is 32 people per square kilometer; in China, 35 to 37. Thus, controlling arable land in Southeast Asia didn't give you necessarily power over people. They could and did run away.
All the traditional proverbs of state-making in Southeast Asia indicate this problem of holding population at the center. A Burmese proverb goes, oh yes, it's easy for a lord to find a serf. Excuse me-- it's easy for a serf to find a lord, but for a lord to find a serf, now, that's difficult.
A Thai proverb that goes-- in a house with many servants, the doors may be safely left open. In a house with few servants, the doors must be shut. So the Thais developed, among others, a system of tattooing serfs with the mark of their master so that they could be captured if they did run away, and returned. Hence, the wars in Southeast Asia, although they were incessant, tended not to be particularly sanguinary, because the objective of the war was to capture population and take them back and settle them at the center of the state that was the conquering state.
Now, let me return briefly to the question of this geography of state power. And the important principle that water joins, and terrain, especially rugged terrain, separates. This is the principle on which Braudel's The Mediterranean World is written essentially, the idea that the Mediterranean world is one large cultural zone because of the ease of communication across the Mediterranean. It's the principle that lies behind Tony Reid's great two volumes on Sunda Shelf and Southeast Asian civilizations, that in fact the Sunda Shelf was actually a quieter body of water than the Mediterranean, and therefore, joins people even more effectively than the Mediterranean did.
There are striking facts that illustrate this. In 1800, it's said that it was faster to go from Southampton, England by ship to the Cape of Good Hope than it was to go over land by stagecoach from London to Edinburgh. You get some sense for the lack of friction and the ease of movement. And you could take a lot more, of course, in a ship bottom than you could in a stagecoach.
In 1951, the first units of the People's Liberation Army, Chinese People's Liberation Army, enter Lhasa. And it turns out that very quickly, they're starving and grain has to be sent to them. And 3,000 tons of rice are shipped to them. And the rice is shipped by ship from Guangdong all the way to Calcutta-- this is 1951-- then up by railroad through what's now Bangladesh, to the edge of [INAUDIBLE], and then in 16 days on mules and horses, into Lhasa. So even in 1951, it was completely inconceivable to move that kind of bulk of rice except by water.
In this respect, our standard maps of Southeast Asia are completely misleading. That is to say, 300 miles over easy water is, in every sense that matters, much closer than 20 miles over rugged mountain terrain. What we need, in a sense, are what I would call friction of distance, or friction of terrain maps, in which the unit of measurement would be a day's walk, a day's ox cart ride, or a day's sailing by a small boat.
I have an inadequate representation of this. By the way, I forgot this. It's worth showing that, except for [INAUDIBLE] and a couple of very small exceptions, all the classical states of Southeast Asia are near or on bodies of water, where transportation across water is easy and simple, or at the coast.
What I've done here is to take a small Thai kingdom, Mung Yang, that's on the Thai-Burma border. And each concentric dotted line represents a day's walk under the assumption that the terrain was completely flat like a pancake. So this would be one day's walk, two day's walk, and three day's walk.
And then, correcting for the actual terrain and the ruggedness according to the formula Waldo Tobler's hiker function, one can see how far one can go in one day, two days, and three days, depending on which route one takes. It gives you some indication, anyway, of the differences between a terrain that is easy to move across if it were possible to also correct this for the quantity of goods shipped and also give you a map that would include what if this were water. Under premodern conditions, the difference would be even more striking.
If we had maps that stretched the terrain of rugged mountains and swamps and marshes that are difficult to move across and vastly shrink the terrain of flat plains and easy water, calm seas, navigable rivers, it would be a very strange map to our eyes but it would be a much more successful map if we were uninterested in the actual contact and exchange between people. If we were interested in the trade and cultural influence, if we were interested in linguistic and religious integration-- not necessarily political integration, but linguistic and religious integration.
And of course, in just this way, the Greek world of the Aegean was united across water in the same way as a single cultural but politically fragmented area. And so was the Malay world, with Malay elites moving between [INAUDIBLE], Malacca, and so on as conditions suited them. And it's why all the great states of Southeast Asia in Burma were on the Irawati or the Chindwin or the Sittaung or the Chao Phraya or the Mekong or the [INAUDIBLE]. Angkor is an arm of the Mekong, and the Red River of classical Vietnam.
The exception that proves the rule in Southeast Asia is the Salween or Thanlwin or New River. And the reason why it only produced a small state at its estuary is because it runs through a gorge for almost all of its passage, and there are not the alluvial plains that would create a kind of rice core. And so at the estuary, you have Thaton or Martaban, today Moulmein or Mawlamyine.
States stopped then at mountains, at marshes, and swamps. And this was the logic of the terrain, and states were joined across easy water. I want to ask you to imagine a map that I've been unable to make, but we'll have to imagine it together. Let's imagine that I am holding a rigid piece of plywood on which is a map of Southeast Asia, in which the actual geographical relief was represented in an actual relief on the map-- so the mountains were represented all in scale.
And let's imagine that each of the traditional state core areas was represented on this map by a well of red ink that was filled to the brim. And then imagine I'm holding this rigid, and then that I tilt it ever so slightly forward, backward, to the right, and to the left. The ink would then start to run across the landscape, the flat areas, the areas where there was no relief.
And that, perhaps titling it a degree or two forward and back and to the right and left, would give you a very good indication of the political reach of the traditional Southeast Asian state, right? It would show you pretty much the areas that they were able to control on a good day-- and during the dry season, because during the wet season these kingdoms shrank basically to the palace walls in many cases.
And if I were to tilt this map another three or four or five degrees, the red ink would start to run into areas which it had not run when I had tilted it only slightly. And that would give you an indication, roughly, I think, of the degree of exertion it would take for a state-- the degrees of tilt, if you like-- would give you some indication of the difficulty with which a state was able to exert control over certain areas-- very tenuous, took more manpower, took more punitive expeditions, and so on.
Now, before I say more about Zomia, let me tendentiously characterize the agricultural of the hills. And in this respect, let's imagine that you are an anti-Colbert that is to say, you've been hired by hill people to design a form of agriculture and social organization that will be state-repelling, that will resist state incorporation.
I think that the first thing you would do is to fall in love with the root crops-- taro yams, sweet potato, potatoes. My candidate for all-time champion escape cultivar is the cassava, or manioc-- in fact, a kind of new world cultivar that spreads quite rapidly in the old world. Cassava can be planted almost anytime anywhere. It grows with relatively little care. It's actually unobtrusive. It can be planted in little plots here and there, interspersed with either uncultivated land or other cultivars. It ripens in less than a year, but it can be left in the ground for up to another two years and be perfectly good to eat.
That is to say, if the state wants your cassava, it's going to have to dig it up tuber by tuber, just like you do. And when it digs it up it, it has a carload full of tubers. It's not worth very much and doesn't do very well for very long out of the ground, unless it's made into tapioca flour.
This is something-- the tremendous value of root crops in preventing confiscation and thwarting states was noticed by Frederick the Great at the Siege of Philippsburg as a young man when he noticed that the people of Philippsburg were able to withstand the siege for a long time because they grew potatoes rather than wheat.
And he then persuaded-- which is to say, forced-- the Prussian population to switch from wheat to potatoes, because potatoes couldn't be confiscated, and the military population that he needed as a basis for what was after all not a very populous state could stay in place, because they could come back after the battle had passed and dig up the potatoes for the evening's meal, and they were never, in a sense, scattered and dispersed by having their whole year's food supply confiscated at one blow or burned out.
In this sense, forms of root crops have tremendous escape value. One can-- and I've tried to work this out-- rank crops, in a rough and ready way, by their relative escape value-- how easily they can be confiscated, and how easily they escape state appropriation. Maize, which is of course another new world crop, brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century that actually spread quite rapidly-- within 50 years, it could be found in many, many places.
And Peter [INAUDIBLE] argues that the places where maize especially took hold were highland areas, and in exactly that zone where hill rice that was unirrigated could no longer grow, but maize would grow. It gave people, he argues, another 1,500 feet of running room up the watershed and gave them a major crop which they could then use for their major food supply-- further away from the valley kingdoms, further away from conscription, further away from taxes, and so on. It of course then allowed later lowland populations to move into the hills with this cultivar as well, it should be added.
Swiddening generally is a form of state-resistant agriculture. That is to say, the fields are moved from time to time. So in fact, a cadastral survey that wanted to locate cultivated fields would find it rather difficult to do this on a consistent basis. Maps would be out of date very quickly.
Most swiddens support probably 20 to 30 of sometimes many more different crops at the same time, and all of these crops are of different maturities, different qualities, different capacities to be stored and so on. And imagine, in a sense, the impossible problem faced by a tax collector of a population that grows 30, 40 different crops, all of which ripen at different times and have different values.
The population itself, since swidden villages often move to take advantage of new land, is fugitive. Capital costs for moving for a swiddening population are quite low. Of course, hunting and gathering and foraging are the ultimate state-repelling subsistence strategies, but swiddening is in fact an almost impossible or an almost intractable subsistence strategy for a state to batten itself on.
And we can see, in case after case, populations in the hills who, when times are peaceful, times of easy economic exchange and trade, often move toward more sedentary crops, including irrigated wet rice. And when the pressure increases on them, they are often swiddening already. They move almost entirely to swiddens, and sometimes move from swiddening to foraging so that-- the best way to understand hill populations as having a portfolio of subsistence strategies, kind of concertina fashion, that can be expanded and contracted depending on the conditions they face with nearby states.
I don't have time to argue it today, but I would argue that in the hills, they have also developed what I would call a state-repelling social structure-- that is to say, the capacity to split and to fission into small segmentary lineages and disperse across the landscape, social structures that are capable of almost endless forms of disaggregation and reformulation, this pattern of fissioning and of creation of daughter villages, and the way in which conflict in hill villages is often dealt with simply a division of the village or a move the village to a new area. And this is eminently suited to the mobility and fissioning that allows them to move out of the way of states.
Ernest Gellner observed this in the context of the Berber populations. And he invented what he thought ought to be the motto of these Berbers, which was the motto, divide that ye be not ruled-- a nice play on words of "divide" and "rule," the idea that if one was capable of fissioning into smaller and smaller groups-- these are called in the Middle East by people who are looking at this from a state perspective as jellyfish tribes-- you sort of touch them and they disintegrate.
And I would argue that there are a whole series of social forms in which one can-- the people in the hills, of course, have different relationships to states. And those peoples who have historically been small, atomized, and so on have escaped social structure in a definitive and striking and fairly comprehensive way. And those populations that are intermediate populations that sometimes create little statelets that exist for a certain time have less in the way if these escaped social structures.
Finally, let me suggest something that is a possible extension of this argument that may very well be a bridge too far, but since it's in the same spirit, I suggest it-- without much in the way of evidence, I might add. I think I have evidence for the agriculture, but this--
So throughout Southeast Asia, in the hills of Zomia, it's not quite universal but it's strikingly common that hill peoples have a story about how they once had writing, and lost it. And the story takes either of two forms, either the form of profligacy and carelessness. Some of these stories go, we wrote our characters on animal hide and the cow ate it, or we were making our swidden and it got burned up.
Or other stories are about treachery and betrayal. The older brother ran away with the book with the characters. The Chinese showed us the back of the slate with no characters, and kept the front of the slate where the characters were from us. And some of these stories among the Mien and the Hmong are stories that not only did we once have writing, but we also had wet rice, we grew wet rice, and we had kings. We were valley cultivators. And many hill peoples have legends about how they were valley people, and then came to the hills or were forced to come to the hills.
I think these stories ought to be perhaps taken far more seriously than they have been. They've taken as a story about envy of valley civilization, and the effects of stigmatization of their illiteracy. But it seems completely reasonable to imagine that the Mien Yao or the Mong Mao, who were in North of the Yangtze River during the Great Han expansion-- it's clear that they were sedentary cultivators. It's clear that they had quite strong concentrations of populations living among and between people who did have literacy.
And remember, in those days, literacy would have been restricted to a tiny, tiny minority of the population. It's completely conceivable that they had a small literate minority. When, however, of course, of the Mien and the Mung when the Han kingdom them expanded, most of them stayed where they were and were absorbed, and eventually lost their separate identity as Mung or Mien. But some people moved away. And this process occurred actually several times, with some being absorbed and some moving away.
I think it's completely plausible to imagine that when these populations were moving to the hills and away from valley kingdoms, first of all, they were no longer part of an imperial system in which there were offices and honor and status to be gathered by being literate. But I would argue that there were tremendous advantages to these people to move to an almost entirely oral culture where it was possible for them to invent as it pleased them, over time, a genealogy that was flexible, an itinerary of their movements that was not written-- once you have a written text, the written text survives the conditions of its production and becomes something from which a kind of orthodoxy can be created.
And you can measure, in a rough and ready way, deviations from this oral text. But if you don't have an oral text, then your bards can drop elements out of the story, add new elements, and so on. And some peoples in the hills are famous for having virtually no genealogies, let alone elaborate ones. And others ones, you can tell over time that these genealogies have been manipulated in order to make a connection to the kingdom that's next to them, or with another group that's next to them.
And we do have examples of literacy disappearing, as well. Literacy disappears in the Greek world. The Greeks are literate in Linear B, as lost for 400 to 500 years until 700 BC. And it's this period when the great sort of oral classics of The Iliad and The Odyssey come to us as oral tales. There's nothing written. And it's a time when cities are destroyed, and there's a great disorder in the Peloponeesus.
And the Greeks become literate again, but this time they become literate in a new alphabet that they borrow from Crete, and not the previous Linear B. Literacy disappears in Europe after the collapse of the late Roman Empire. It's kept alive in a few monasteries and so on, but the whole system of power, prestige, and offices that, in a sense, the Gallo-Roman system created, have disappeared. And literacy disappears by and large with it, and disappears entirely in Great Britain.
So I think it's conceivable to think that not only, as these people were moving, was there no more particular reason for text and literacy, and perhaps the people who were literate stayed behind because they had, in a sense, the skills to be absorbed. They had the skills that made, perhaps, remaining where they were a more attractive option. But I think it's plausible to at least entertain the possibility that not only are the location of these people-- the form of agriculture that they practice, the form of social structure that they developed-- seen in the long-run as political adaptations to distance them from state-making projects in the valleys, but their orality and the absence of written languages was also an adaptation.
And to close, if, as Braudel says, that these are a people without history, it may be because they've chosen not to have a history. Or you could say that they have just as much history as they need or want, and no more.
Finally, it's worth noting that virtually all their characteristics, those that mark them out from the valley point of view as primitive or barbarian-- namely, their physical dispersal, their simplified social organization, the absence of permanent rulers, shifting cultivation, illiteracy, living in remote, inaccessible places, and the fact they have by and large not adapted the lowland religions-- are best understood perhaps as strategic adaptations, as a political positioning vis-a-vis valley states, and not some primordial contrition. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: We have a few minutes if people want to ask questions of Professor Scott.
JAMES SCOTT: Yeah?
SPEAKER 3: Thank you. Can you hear me? I'm just going to stand up. I appreciate your talk, and many of the things you said conform to a lot of the ways-- Eric and I teach early Southeast Asian history-- that we talk about political culture really in the premodern and early modern period, before state-making becomes a big issue.
My question is maybe something that's impossible to answer, especially given your closing remarks about this being kind of about people without history. But I'm wondering how you deal with their consciousness or lack thereof in terms of how they think strategically about being not literate, about swidden agriculture. I mean, I can see how your theory makes sense when you think about it in terms of these broad demographic sources, which is what you have to work with. But is there a danger of imposing your understanding upon them, versus however they may be conceiving of themselves?
JAMES SCOTT: It's a good question. And I realize I've left a wide avenue to that question by talking as if I might imagine these people, in a sense, at some historic moment sitting down and saying, aha, let's move towards swiddening because it's a state-escaping strategy. And I certainly don't mean that at all.
What I do mean, however, is that over time-- I mean, the documentation that we have for the last couple of hundred years of people who've been observing both the waxing and waning of small states in the hills and the people who position themselves around those little states, one can see this adaptation of different forms of agriculture-- of moving away, of dispersing-- in a sense, in a micro setting in the hills, being played out as if people are-- most often, people, as I said, have a kind of portfolio of subsistence strategies. And they adjust those depending on the relative advantages of one or another, including vis-a-vis state appropriation and the possibility of losing their crops or being burned out, and so on.
And one can see people in [INAUDIBLE] and Yunnan as the power not only of the Han state, but other states in the area, increased historically, moving further into the hills, moving toward more foraging, more swiddening, and so on. And from the outside, it looks as if this is, in a sense, a strategic adjustment of subsistence strategies vis-a-vis state appropriation. And that's the way I am reading it historically.
It turns out, of course, that in the hills, there are places where swiddening just makes more sense in pure economic terms. There's no doubt about that. On the other hand, wherever you have perennial water, you could make wet rice cultivation if you want to. And there are people in the highlands of the Philippines, people in the highlands of Vietnam, and so on who have terraces way, way, way back in the hills.
So it's not as if-- I think people have thought that swiddening is the only way to cultivate the hills. When in fact, any perennial stream, any small valley, and with the possibility of terracing, it's possible to grow wet rice almost anywhere in highland and Southeast Asia. So the question is, why do people do one thing more than another? And why do they switch from one to another over time? And it seems to me that the switching correlates-- the person who's done this well is [INAUDIBLE], who works on the [INAUDIBLE] in Northern Thailand. He shows-- huh?
JAMES SCOTT: [INAUDIBLE] Excuse me. And he shows people moving back and forth between these strategies pretty carefully over time. Yeah?
SPEAKER 4: Hi. I was thinking during your talk about contemporary developments. Because it seems what we read in the newspaper all the time in a region not far from yours-- Afghanistan, Pakistan-- when we hear a story, which may be an erroneous story, but the story is the mountain coming to create a state, and moving towards the valleys. I mean, that's the news every day now, getting closer to the valleys.
Now, it could be, of course, we have a history of state-makers are always trying to recruit new groups of people by claiming to be their representatives, right? So maybe it's just those who claim to represent those but are in fact not mountain people at all.
But I wonder, is it possible that maybe today, we're witnessing those who had no history and had no state finding it increasingly difficult to escape state-making-- certainly, drone attacks suggest that it's hard to escape state-making now-- and that they may be then moving towards stateness, and towards trying to bring states there and elsewhere.
JAMES SCOTT: There's a huge difference between Southeast Asia and, let's say, the Mongolian frontier or Afghanistan, in the sense that-- I mean, for Ibn Khaldun and Toynbee and so on, this pattern of the nomadic pastoralists sweeping down from the ranges and from the hills and conquering the valley kingdom is, for Ibn Khaldun, the renewal of civilization buy a new martial people that is part of what he sees as a cycle.
The Zomia happens, for perfectly good ecological reasons, to be an area in which there is no nomadic pastoralism to speak of. So the kind of concentration of power and mobility that nomadic pastoralists make possible simply doesn't exist in the area of Zomia, unlike the Mongolian frontier of China.
So in that sense, although the people of Yunnan and [INAUDIBLE] and Guangxi have been a problem of minority resistance for the Chinese state, they've never represented a military threat to the Chinese state. They've represented something of a nuisance to assimilate, a capacity to resist the imposition of control-- but never a kind of military state. So that, I think, is the huge difference between a nomadic pastoral frontier, which is always historically the Berbers and so on, a military threat, as opposed to swidden collaborators and so on.
The other thing, of course, is that once nomads-- I think there's a Chinese proverb that you can conquer a kingdom on horseback, but to rule the kingdom you have to get off the horse. And so [INAUDIBLE] and the Mongols of [INAUDIBLE] dynasty and so on are transformed into sedentary state-making people once they've conquered the kingdom. I'm not sure if I've answered your-- the idea that the state now can extend its power into the hills, and not just through drones--
I mean, the reason why the story I tell makes no sense for contemporary Southeast Asia is that the huge population movement in contemporary Southeast Asia is transplanting valley people from the state cores to the periphery of the country, the Vietnamese moving and displacing and engulfing lots of hill peoples along the Chinese border, the transmigration in Indonesia, the Thai movement to the hills-- same in Northeastern India, in which Hindu populations moving to the hills because of land scarcity in the valley.
And these are done both for strategic military reasons, to put a population that's considered to be more loyal and more reliable in the hills, but it's also done because of the search for land and economic opportunity on a voluntary basis, as well.
SPEAKER 5: [INAUDIBLE] Actually, we met years ago in Amsterdam. I have a lot of comments on this. And I think if you look at the [INAUDIBLE] case, there is clear evidence in their own oral history that they claim they had wet rice terraces in the past.
And if you trace it back geographically and go back into China, you see [INAUDIBLE] still with wet rice terraces, and also the closely related [INAUDIBLE], who genealogically you can trace [INAUDIBLE]. Very clear history. It's also in their ritual texts that they irrigated terraces, as well.
And then in terms of the choice issue-- who's doing the choosing? Is it just you reading it into it? But you can see people-- individuals, actually-- selecting-- for example, I gave a man money to be able to make an irrigated terrace, and he never did, because-- and I kept thinking, why? It's so logical, the fact that more food supply and so forth. And that never happened.
Another man who was concerned about the state control coming into the area-- this was in Thailand-- said, well, if it gets too bad, I'll just move back to Burma to get away from it. So you can see actually self-selection in individuals' consciousness, if you want to call it that.
JAMES SCOTT: The person I think of is Mr. Akha now recently dead, Leo Alting von Geusau. He makes an argument just of the kind that you make, that this transition is included in their legends, that the [INAUDIBLE], of course, who have these incredible rice terraces more or less like [INAUDIBLE] in the Philippines, quite extraordinary elaborateness and so on.
He also makes the case that Akha have developed this elaborate oral genealogy that is not an actual guide to dissent so much as it is a strategic positioning in which certain parts of the genealogy are dropped out and altered and manipulated depending on the current situation which they face and in which their itinerary and movement as a people is also adjusted depending on the circumstances that they face.
So the Akha, [INAUDIBLE]-- I should have specified, I think, that when I talk about this sort of limited, direct control of these early wet rice states, I'm talking about the sort of hard administrative control over bodies and production at the center. If one looks at their economic penumbra, it's a very big penumbra, because they're trading on a voluntary basis with a large periphery. And many of these valley kingdoms depend on hill products for their lifeblood.
And their symbolic penumbra-- that is to say, in the hills, if you go to the hills, the thing that strikes you is not the story I've been telling, but the way in which visions of valley authority are extremely powerful regalia, a series of-- the Mien have documents purporting to be an imperial order that allows them to roam the forests as they like. And that is to say, the only images of extra-village authority that are alive in the hills are the ones that come from valley symbolism, except that it's almost never possible to institute these in an effective way because of the demography and social situation in the hills.
So if you are after the symbolic power of the valley kingdoms, then you can find it everywhere in the hills. There's the Palace of Mandalay, [INAUDIBLE]. A small-scale rulers have copies of the Mandalay Palace on a sort of miniature scale, and an ambitious Kachin village chief who doesn't rule much more than a couple of yards outside his village has in turn a much more miniature vision of the [INAUDIBLE]. So it's imitation and copies all the way down in more miniaturized forms.
But the idea, I suppose, without knowing much about it, that the way in which certain kinds of title circulated in Europe long after the Holy Roman Empire had disappeared but which came from this sort of aura of this now nonexistent state system, is something like that that appears to be operating in the hills.
SPEAKER 6: Is there a parallel to this kind of resistance in the movement of strand communities and to foraging [INAUDIBLE]?
JAMES SCOTT: Without, again, knowing as much as I ought to about this, I think the answer is yes. In fact, there are certain Orang Lao who-- well, Jeffrey Benjamin has, I think, a completely convincing argument that almost all of the Orang Asli groups in Malaysia were not separate migrants to the peninsula, as was often assumed, but were part of an earlier Malay population in which those people who stayed at the coast became Muslim, became the Malays that we know today.
And those people who, for one reason or another-- factional conflict, maybe they wanted to keep the pigs, maybe they wanted their traditional Hinduized rituals-- moved away became the Orang Asli, occupying a different ecological niche. And there are certain Orang Lao who are linguistically closely related to some of the Orang Asli. And the argument is that in escaping Malay state-making, some people went to the hills, and other people took to their boats.
So in a sense, when I'm talking about nonstate spaces, in a way, one could write an interesting piece on the sea, especially when you have millions of little islands like the Riau archipelago or the Andaman Islands-- and it's almost quasi-inspiring to see that a handful of Somali pirates can stalemate the G7 in this quite extraordinary way. And it's because of the nature of movement across water, and this vast zone that's hard to police and control. So it is has some parallels to the [INAUDIBLE].
I should also add that this hill-valley stuff, when you get to the-- often, if we were talking about the Andes, everything would be upside down, because most of the arable land for state formation is above 6,000 feet in the Andes. And so the states are up on the hills, and the barbarians and the nonstate people tend to be down in the coastal jungles.
So I'm talking about the creation of these sedentary plains that make state-making possible. And it happens that the altitude in Southeast Asia works out that the states are in the valleys and the nonstate people are in the hills. But it doesn't have to be that way.
SPEAKER 1: I'm afraid there's a class coming in here right after this. So the Southeast Asia Program is sponsoring a reception for Professor Scott out in the foyer, [INAUDIBLE] have a chance to talk to him. And maybe you'll join me in thanking him.
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For two thousand years, the peoples residing in Zomia -- the mountainous region that stretches from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India -- have fled the organized state societies in the valleys. Far from being 'remnants' left behind by civilizing societies, they are "barbarians by choice", peoples who have deliberately put distance between themselves and lowland, state-centers.
James Scott, director of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination.
The event was Cornell's eighth Frank H. Golay Memorial Lecture.