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Contact Zones and Colonialism in China’s South, 221 BCE – 1368 CE

Pennsylvania State University

                                                                                                                                                                                                            May 9-12, 2019 


Penn State University will host an international, interdisciplinary conference on the nature of early cultural contacts in China’s South, to take place at  from May 9-12, 2019. The conference, funded by the American Council of Learned Societies, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and Penn State’s Asian Studies Department, examines the emergence in pre-modern times of an increasingly coherent region, which the conference organizers have dubbed the greater "Southeast Asian maritime zone [SEAMZ].” We understand this zone not only to include water and maritime travel, trade, and migration, but to consist as well in the dry-land networks and communities that were established and facilitated because of maritime travel in this zone. Understanding why certain areas in South China and Southeast Asia evolved as a significant “world” or “zone” of interaction much like that of the Mediterranean, and clarifying the nature of the extensive and persistent types of cross-cultural contacts that aided in the development of this zone is a topic of utmost concern to scholars of all kinds. However, nationalistic histories and identities, regional affiliations, and disciplinary constraints seriously limit and bias the ways in which researchers study this region. To make matters worse, the sources, languages, and types of data available for the study of this region are extremely diverse, so that it is difficult for any single scholar to master and make use of relevant data outside his or her discipline. For these reasons, our primary aim is to facilitate a space where scholars from humanities fields can work alongside social scientists to help fill out the historical gaps and make progress towards the development of a more synthetic, detailed account of cross-cultural contact in this important zone.

Contact Zones and Colonialism in China’s South,” will encourage interdisciplinary discussions of the Greater SEAMZ, limiting our inquiry to questions of contact and colonialism in the early South. Is the term “colonialism,” a concept well known from European and especially British global contexts, appropriate and useful in the context of premodern South China and Southeast Asia? To what extent were cross-cultural and cross-ethnic contacts characterized by colonial types of power relations? What was the nature of migration into the region, and was such migration a form of settler colonialism? And, lastly, was there a colonial dynamic among disparate peoples and in local communities of the South when cross-cultural interactions were commercial or agricultural, and not directly supported by an imperial government? Our conference offers participants a unique opportunity to explore the gaps, biases, constraints, and blind spots of their disciplines and areas of expertise. We will arrange the panels so as to promote maximum interdisciplinary exchange.

In terms of time frame, the conference features the seminal periods of early imperial control and mass migrations from North China into the southern reaches of the Sinitic-language-speaking world; the crystallization of Southeast Asian mainland states such as Angkor, Champa and Dai Viet, and the Thai kingdoms; and the primary presence of Islamic foreigners in the realms of maritime trade. It is during this period that immense demographic and political changes took place on the East Asian mainland, including the mass migration of literate Chinese peoples into various parts of southern China and beyond in 316 CE, the re-establishment of mammoth, centralized empires that incorporated southern lands during the Sui, Tang, and Song periods, and the unique, Eurasian phenomenon of Mongol rule.


Keynote Speaker: Pamela Crossley (Dartmouth)

Introductory Address: Kenneth Pomeranz (University of Chicago)

Principal Investigator and Organizer:  Erica Brindley (Penn State University)



       Francis Allard (Co-investigator; Archaeology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania); Mark  Alves (Linguistics, Montgomery College); James Anderson (Sino-Vietnamese History, University of North Carolina, Greenville); Megan Bryson (Religious Studies, University of Tennessee); Andrew Chittick (East Asian History, Eckerd College), Catherine Churchman (Sino-Vietnamese History, Victoria University, New Zealand), Michele Demandt (Archaeology, Jinan University, Canton, China); Hilario De Sousa (Linguistics, Max Planck Institute, Netherlands); Hilde De Weerdt (History, Leiden University, Netherlands), Derek Heng (Sino-Malay History, Northern Arizona University), Daniel Kaufmann (Austronesian Linguistics, CUNY, New York), Nam Kim (Vietnamese Archaeology, University of Wisconsin); Kueichen Lin (Archaeology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan); John Phan (Co-investigator; Linguistics, Columbia University); Martha Ratliff (Linguistics, Wayne State University); Gregory Smits (Ryukyuu History, Penn State University); John Whitmore (History of Vietnam, Independent Scholar); Alice Yao (Archaeology, University of Chicago); Victor Mair (Asian Culture, University of Pennsylvania)



      Kathlene Baldanza (History and Asian Studies, Penn State); Miriam Stark (Archaeology, University of Hawaii); Robert Hymes (History, Columbia University); and Michael Puett (History, Harvard University)


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