Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Why Periodic Markets Are Held: Considering Products, People, and Place in the Yunnan-Vietnam Border Area

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Why Periodic Markets Are Held: Considering Products, People, and Place in the Yunnan-Vietnam Border Area

Article excerpt

I Introduction

Analysis of the nature, function, and role of marketplaces has a long history within the social sciences, and it is widely believed that human society's inclination to exchange is one of its defining characteristics. Contextualizing marketplaces within the history of a region is critical for understanding the local society. In mainland Southeast Asia, an area where markets and trade networks have always been vibrant, creative, and dynamic, there is a renewed interest in how people interact in marketplaces as the region continues its rapid economic development. Recent transformation of national economies towards more liberal models of market-driven growth, along with the integration of economies to form a dynamic regional market that includes southern China, brings the focus back to questions of how local people conduct trade. In the contemporary setting, while liberalized markets and freer trade have meant new opportunities for many people, these opportunities are accompanied by significant risks-many of which involve the interface between producers and consumers. While this interface may be undergoing rapid transitions-with increases in access to information and technology, and improving infrastructure-for much of the population living in rural areas the primary access route to larger markets often takes the form of a periodic marketplace.

The influence of Chinese markets and traders on the economic life of people in Southeast Asia has taken on "new" meanings in recent years, as borders are opened and regulations gradually relaxed after a long period of tension. But the economic influence of China is hardly a new phenomenon, and contemporary markets and marketplaces must be understood within their historical context. Japanese scholars began to conduct research on markets in China during the pre-World War II period. Studies by the economic historian of China Kato Shigeshi emphasized the role of periodic markets as a key focal point for economic activities, while the historian of Chinese agriculture Amano Motonosuke and another historian of China Masui Tsuneo also closely examined the role of markets in local society (Kato 1936; Amano 1940; Masui 1941). These studies all assumed that markets played an important role in the maintenance of everyday life of local communities in traditional China. They showed that market spheres had centers that varied considerably in size, from small day-worker markets encompassing just a few villages through to major livestock markets that serviced an entire county. Moreover, these markets intersected and overlapped at various levels. They also pointed out that periodic markets in China provided a highly open and accessible venue for local people to buy and sell goods, operating autonomously without interference from government authorities or specific interest groups.

G. William Skinner, in his study of markets in Sichuan province, expanded on the research of pre-war Japanese scholars. He found markets to be both hierarchically and spatially distributed according to size, and argued that life in Chinese villages was determined by the coverage of the market sphere (1979). Recently, Kuroda Akinobu, an economic historian of Asia, has refuted Skinner's theory (2003). Focusing on the role of markets in the collection and distribution of goods, Kuroda argues that markets are just one of many different nodes or junctions in the distribution chain, and says that "market spheres" do not exist as economic spaces. He regards markets in traditional China as freely created by individual proprietors as a means of engaging in free and unhindered trade without intervention from the state or regulation by closed groups, in contrast to the model of centralized administration. His idea is very close to that of the pre-war Japanese scholars.

Western anthropologists have seen marketplaces as a window on the intersection of the economic and social spheres for local people (Michaud and Turner 2000). …

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