at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Hmong Experiences in Southeast Asia


Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960
Mai Na M. Lee

Countering notions that Hmong history begins and ends with the “Secret War” in Laos of the 1960s and 1970s, Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom reveals how the Hmong experience of modernity is grounded in their sense of their own ancient past, when this now-stateless people had their own king and kingdom, and illuminates their political choices over the course of a century in a highly contested region of Asia. In China, Vietnam, and Laos, the Hmong continuously negotiated with these states and with the French to maintain political autonomy in a world of shifting boundaries, emerging nation-states, and contentious nationalist movements and ideologies. Often divided by clan rivalries, the Hmong placed their hope in finding a leader who could unify them and recover their sovereignty. In a compelling analysis of Hmong society and leadership throughout the French colonial period, Mai Na M. Lee identifies two kinds of leaders—political brokers who allied strategically with Southeast Asian governments and with the French, and messianic resistance leaders who claimed the Mandate of Heaven. The continuous rise and fall of such leaders led to cycles of collaboration and rebellion. After World War II, the powerful Hmong Ly clan and their allies sided with the French and the new monarchy in Laos, but the rival Hmong Lo clan and their supporters allied with Communist coalitions. Lee argues that the leadership struggles between Hmong clans destabilized French rule and hastened its demise. Martialing an impressive array of oral interviews conducted in the United States, France, and Southeast Asia, augmented with French archival documents, she demonstrates how, at the margins of empire, minorities such as the Hmong sway the direction of history.

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A People’s History of the Hmong
Paul Hilmer

Over the centuries, the Hmong have called many places home, including China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and most recently France, Australia, and the United States. Their new neighbors, though welcoming, may know little about how they have come to these places or their views on relationships, religion, or art. Now, in A Peopls’s History of the Hmong, representative voices offer their community’s story, spanning four thousand years to the present day.

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Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands
Sarah Turner, Christine Bonnin, and Jean Michaud

Do ethnic minorities have the power to alter the course of their fortune when living within a socialist state? In Frontier Livelihoods, the authors focus their study on the Hmong – known in China as the Miao – in the Sino-Vietnamese borderlands, contending that individuals and households create livelihoods about which governments often know little. The product of wide-ranging research over many years, Frontier Livelihoods bridges the traditional divide between studies of China and peninsular Southeast Asia by examining the agency, dynamics, and resilience of livelihoods adopted by Hmong communities in Vietnam and in China’s Yunnan Province. It covers the reactions to state modernization projects among this ethnic group in two separate national jurisdictions and contributes to a growing body of literature on cross-border relationships between ethnic minorities in the borderlands of China and its neighbors and in Southeast Asia more broadly.

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Calling in the Soul: Gender and the Cycle of Life in a Hmong Village
Patricia V. Symonds

Calling in the Soul (Hu Plig) is the chant the Hmong use to guide the soul of a newborn baby into its body on the third day after birth. Based on extensive original research conducted in the late 1980s in a village in northern Thailand, this ethnographic study examines Hmong cosmological beliefs about the cycle of life as expressed in practices surrounding birth, marriage, and death and considers the gender relationships evident in these practices. The Hmong (or Miao, as they are called in China, and Meo, in Thailand) have lived on the fringes of powerful Southeast Asian states for centuries. Their social framework is distinctly patrilineal, granting little direct power to women. Yet within the limits of that structure, Hmong women wield considerable influence in the spiritually critical realms of birth and death. Calling in the Soul will be of interest to sociocultural anthropologists, medical anthropologists, Southeast Asianists, and gender specialists.

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