Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview
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Stevan Harrell


There are nearly seven million Yi people, almost all of them in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou Provinces, with a few in Guangxi Province and Vietnam and a very small number of emigrants overseas. There are, in all, more Yi than there are Danes or Israelis or Cambodians. Yet it is quite probable that most educated people outside China have never even heard the name, let alone learned anything about the Yi. One goal of this book is thus to begin the establishment of a field of scholarship within today's cosmopolitan social-studies discourses: to inform scholars and students of China, of Southeast Asia, and of ethnic relations generally about a large part of the world that has remained largely inaccessible in European languages.

At the same time, there is no dearth of written materials dealing with Yi history, society, culture, and literature. These materials, however, belong to two widely divergent discourses,1 both of them quite far removed in their assumptions, concepts, and methods of argument from the cosmopolitan discourses to which scholarship in European languages is usually addressed. One of these is Chinese language scholarship, encompassing the fields of ethnology (minzu xue) and ethnohistory (minzu shi), which seek to locate Yi society and culture in a temporal and spatial framework of relation and interaction with other peoples in the region and with peoples in China generally. The other is traditional Yi-language scholarship, concerned with

In this introduction, “discourse” bears both its linguistic sense of a conversation among a group of people using an agreed-upon, somewhat specialized vocabulary, and something of its Foucauldian sense of a set of linguistic categories that define a regime of power (see Foucault 1984).


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