Economic Development in China’s Northwest: Entrepreneurship and Identity along China’s Multi-Ethnic Borderlands

Review of Joshua Bird’s Economic Development in China’s Northwest: Entrepreneurship and Identity along China’s Multi-Ethnic Borderlands (Routledge, 2017)

Review

The ban on Arabic script at halaal restaurants in Beijing last month is a somewhat small, yet unnerving reminder of China’s illiberal relationship with its various minority populations. More serious has been the reported detainment of a million-plus Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang over the past couple of years. Similarly, the on-going detention of many Tibetan Buddhists—as well as a near universal ban of foreign travel for individuals living in the Tibetan region—also indicate a tense relationship between the single-party People’s Republic of China (PRC) and many minority populations.

The 55 “minority nationalities”, as defined by the Chinese party-state, only account for around eight percent of China’s 1.3 billion people. Yet, this non-Han population still amounts to a large number at over 100 million. How they do, or do not, interact with the overarching Han identity will continue to have a profound impact on China’s prosperity—particularly the farther one travels inward away from the coastal megalopolises.

Insightful and measured, Economic Development in China’s Northwest: Entrepreneurship and Identity along China’s Multi-Ethnic Borderlands by Joshua Bird is a fascinating evaluation of the day-to-day lived experience of those non-Han individuals. This is a measured investigation specifically because Bird focuses his study on ordinary people, making an ordinary living in China, including simple businessmen, small-time retailers, provincial-level traders, and local entrepreneurs. This is not a book about extreme cases of minority repression. Rather, the background assumption here is that by concentrating on those individuals, who are materially tied into the system for their livelihood—which is, indeed, most minorities in China—the researcher can better judge the government’s development plans as a whole on these populations. The outlier cases often make for good journalism, but they rarely represent the experience of most minorities, who are simply trying to maintain some sense of ethnic or religious identity that is independent of the juggernaut that is Han culture and society.

The Chinese authorities’ official view has been that if they were to succeed in improving the economic development of minority nationalities, then this would inevitably lead to a diminishing of political identity. As Bird notes, official policies like the “Open Up The West” campaign

have been created in the explicit belief that increased economic growth in minority nationality areas, and improved livelihoods for those who live there, will facilitate greater national cohesion.

In this case, minority local languages and minority status are fine—even encouraged for reasons of tourism—as long as they don’t signal any type of independent political aspiration. The end goal would be… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Review of Joshua Bird’s Economic Development in China’s Northwest: Entrepreneurship and Identity along China’s Multi-Ethnic Borderlands originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; follow Josh on Twitter; photo image credit of the Dongxiang girl goes to the talented Peter Morgan, where you can also find him on Twitter. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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Hidden Words Hidden Worlds

Review of Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum’s (eds) Hidden Words Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar (British Council, 2017)

Review

The crisis of recent months between the majority Buddhist Burmese and minority Islamic group calling themselves Rohingya serves as a reminder that Myanmar (Burma) is not a unified country in the sense of one nation, one state. The central government’s overreaction to an increase in Islamic radicalization in some rural areas by the brutal expulsion of 600,000-plus souls across the border into Bangladesh—though violent and tragic—should not be mistaken as unique in Myanmar’s history.

Stretching back at least seventy years to Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the various conflicts between the majority ethnic Burman along the central Irrawaddy valley down to the delta and the hundred or so different ethnolinguistic groups that populate the republic’s borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand attest even more vividly to disunity. The response to the Rohingya crisis is not without precedent. Wave the compass in the direction of northeast Myanmar and another ferocious struggle comes into purview between the central government and the Kachin peoples. Despite valid steps toward democratization—maybe less valid toward political liberalization—these types of communal conflicts have never not been an empirical reality for independent Myanmar. This cruel misalignment between majority-versus-minority aspiration is well documented both inside and outside Myanmar.

Less well documented are those perspectives that often never make their presence felt outside the smaller linguistic communities in Myanmar. The literary anthology Hidden Words Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar, edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum, is a fascinating reversal to the usual absence of non-Burman viewpoints. The short stories gathered here are an eclectic mix by fourteen different authors. The writers are… [click here to continue to read full text]

hidden words hidden worlds

*Review of edited book by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Rakhine Hills for this re-post goes to the talented DG-Photography via a post by Nada Haensel in Destinations Magazine. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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Texaners: Eight Short Stories

A new book for all of you bored with the normal Texas stereotype!

Texaners: Eight Short Stories can be purchased through normal book distributors, including Amazon.

Description

None of us wishes to abandon stereotypes if we don’t have to. Their utility is unquestionable. Yet, this anthology cares little about all of that. Occasionally, the sensation of sheepishness often associated with a change in one’s understanding of a place or a time is well worth the trial in self-reflection. This is, of course, occasionally. The Irish apostate James Joyce succeeded in secularizing the term “epiphany” for literature.

The book in your hands now, entitled Texaners, borrows unabashedly from Joyce’s insight. Texaners is, naturally, inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners. Impish errors aside, why else bother really? Earlier versions of some of these stories have appeared in literary magazines. “Oils” appeared in The Monarch Review and Status Hat. “The Gulf” appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Journal. “Drywall” appeared in Microstory a Week. “Airfare” appeared in Weirdyear. “Rooftop” appeared in Black Heart Magazine. The stories “Chinese Spoons”, “The Bat Mitzvah”, and “W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd” are new to this collection.

Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Etoile Solitaire Press (2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0692512748
ISBN-13: 978-0692512746
Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.8 inches
Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces

TEXANERS, rhoden (front cover only)

TEXANERS, rhoden (back cover only)

*Original paperback and ebook copyright held by T. F. Rhoden. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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