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The Politics of Frontier Mining: Local Chieftains, Chinese Miners, and Upland Society in the Nông Văn Vân Uprising in the Sino-Vietnamese Border Area, 1833–1835


This article, part of a longer study of the history of mining in Vietnam, argues that the Nông Văn Vân uprising (1833–1835) in the northern uplands of Vietnam brings into relief the importance of mining in the Vietnamese economy of the nineteenth century. It also highlights the consequences of Emperor Minh Mệnh’s dual agenda of extracting more tax revenues from mining operations and expanding the reach of the state by replacing hereditary tribal chieftains with imperial bureaucrats. While the uprising was quelled, the imperial agenda could not be fully realized in the face of local opposition and declining revenue from mining. The uprising reflected the multiethnic nature of border society, composed as it was of Vietnamese, local minority populations, and a significant number of Chinese mine owners, workers, and providers of goods and services to the mining towns. In ordinary times, the border was regularly flouted as kinship relations, trading networks, and ethnic affinity transcended allegiance to either the Qing or the Nguyễn in this borderland. Although the uprising was formally contained within the Vietnamese territory, rebels were able to seek refuge and recruit new adherents in China. And while the Nguyễn court was eventually able to subdue the rebels, its centralizing policies and attempts at extracting more revenues from mining were ultimately unsuccessful in the face of reemerging local and transborder forces. Keywords: Vietnam mining, Chinese miners, Tày, Zhuang, Nông Văn Vân uprising, border crossings, Sino-Vietnamese border

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