Imperial Bandits: Outlaws and Rebels in the China–Vietnam Borderlands. By Bradley Camp Davis. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2017. xiii, 267 pp. (Illustrations) US$30.00 (paper)

C. Patterson Giersch
2017 Journal of Chinese History  
This book is an excellent study of the powerful armed groups inhabiting southern China and northern Vietnam during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unlike the newly fashionable studies of Zomia that, often inaccurately I believe, characterize pretwentieth-century Eurasian borderlands regions as places where communities primarily avoided lowlands states, Davis provides a nuanced, erudite investigation into the strong connections between upland bandit networks and the major
more » ... ial states in the region: Nguyêñ Vietnam, Qing China, and, later, the French protectorate. In a concise summary of this work, Davis writes, "This book tells the story of bandits, their official allies, and the communities that endured the culture of violence in the China-Vietnam borderlands" (17). Bandits, of course, have long enjoyed scholarly attention, and, following the strands of scholarship that have revealed the important links between bandits and state power, Davis compellingly argues that bandits were recruited by the imperial states seeking to extend power into the China-Vietnam borderlands. In this way, each imperial state, including the French protectorate of Vietnam, bears responsibility for supporting and prolonging a culture of political violence that terrorized the diverse communities of the uplands. From this important perspective, French rule was not an imposition of rationality and civilization any more than was the Qing intervention, which began in the eighteenth century. In this way, Davis traces continuities in borderlands politics across the disruptive decades of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. State collaboration with bandit powerbrokers, he argues, provided an important continuity, even as French colonial officials imposed new ruling structures and new concepts of sovereign territoriality onto the region. This vital insight, I believe, provides much potential for all who are interested in the larger regional history of the Sino-Southeast Asian borderlands.
doi:10.1017/jch.2017.38 fatcat:p5hpgsfqgvfexeyaexqsbj5lea