In between Poppy and Rubber Fields: Experimenting a Trans-border Livelihood in the Northwestern Frontiers of Laos

On the morning of December 4th, 2020, a lecture on Southeast Asian studies entitled “In between Poppy and Rubber Fields: Experimenting a Trans-border Livelihood in the Northwestern Frontiers of Laos” was successfully held at Conference Room 205 of the Central Main Building of Tsinghua University, delivered by Dr. Li Yunxia from the Department of Social Work at the School of Sociology, Yunnan Minzu University.

Driven by foreign trade, investment and aids, Laos has tried to implement its basic power by eliminating opium poppy cultivation in remote mountainous areas. However, the capital, commodity and labor flows brought about by trans-border economic development have changed the landscape of the local society and economy, which has led to some new forms of cultural and social interactions. In this context, Dr. Li focused his research on the social significance arising from the interactions between the Akha and foreigners in Muang Sing and Pang Kalom areas of Laos’ Luang Namtha Province. Dr. Li started with her field investigation and vividly depicted a picture of local lives in the mountainous areas of the northwestern frontiers of Laos for the audience with her field experience. Later, by raising the question about the definition of “frontier”, she proposed that the northwest frontiers of Laos represent a zone of multiple contacts and interactions, where Lao minorities have obtained a wide range of opportunities of economic practices that are highly dependent on trans-border interpersonal networks. Finally, by emphasizing the roles of “agency”, “aspiration”, “indigenizing modernity” and individualization, Dr. Li forward new ideas for the study of livelihood reconstruction of minority residents in the northwestern frontiers of Laos.

During the Q&A session, Dr. Li Yunxia and the audience held more in-depth discussions on the effects of Laos’ land policy on rubber planting, whether rubber planting will form an impact favorable to large capital owners and unfavorable to small-peasant economy, the livelihood of Lao frontier residents under COVID-19 and the methodology of field investigation in overseas mountainous areas.

Holding a PhD in Anthropology from Macquarie University, Dr. Li Yunxia currently serves as Lecturer of the School of Sociology at Yunnan Minzu University. Her research interest covers on northern Laos and the border between China, Laos and Myanmar, focusing on the socio-economic and political impact of transnational capital flows on receiving countries, social changes, social gender and minority policies.

By: Qin Yi