Imperial Bandits

Outlaws and Rebels in the China-Vietnam Borderlands

Bradley Camp Davis

  • Published: January 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / Southeast Asia; History
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 16 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies
  • Contents

The Black Flags raided their way from southern China into northern Vietnam, competing during the second half of the nineteenth century against other armed migrants and uplands communities for the control of commerce, specifically opium, and natural resources, such as copper. At the edges of three empires (the Qing empire in China, the Vietnamese empire governed by the Nguyen dynasty, and, eventually, French Colonial Vietnam), the Black Flags and their rivals sustained networks of power and dominance through the framework of political regimes. This lively history demonstrates the plasticity of borderlines, the limits of imposed boundaries, and the flexible division between apolitical banditry and political rebellion in the borderlands of China and Vietnam.

Imperial Bandits contributes to the ongoing reassessment of borderland areas as frontiers for state expansion, showing that, as a setting for many forms of human activity, borderlands continue to exist well after the establishment of formal boundaries.
Bradley Camp Davis is assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University.

"Examines the various degrees with which indigenous leaders used their informal authority as 'imperial bandits' to personal advantage."
-James A. Anderson, author of The Rebel Den of Nung Trí Cao: Loyalty and Identity along the Sino-Vietnamese Frontier

"A fascinating and insightful recreation of the micro-realities of the political history of the very complex Sino-Vietnamese borderlands."
-Alexander Woodside, author of Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World History

"Bringing Hobsbawm to Southeast Asia, Davis describes the emergence of a culture of violence in northern Vietnam that enabled borderlands forces to seize the political mainstream. Drawing on rich archival and oral sources from China and Vietnam, his illuminating narrative shows how the collapse of Vietnamese imperial rule and the encroachment of French empire were assisted by bandit armies from the hills."
-Andrew Hardy, ƒcole franaise d'Extrme-Orient, Vietnam

"The Black Flags left an enduring legacy in the turbulent borderlands of China and Vietnam. Davis deftly untangles the complex threads that linked their culture of violence to Qing, Vietnamese, and French imperial ambitions, following the twisted tale through the nationalist movements of the twentieth century. He also vividly portrays how ordinary people suffered under the rule of these domineering frontier lords. This is an ambitious and insightful example of cross-border history."
-Peter C. Perdue, Yale University

Introduction: Imperial Bandits, Cultures of Violence, and Oral Traditions
1. Opium and Rebellion at High Altitudes
2. Commerce, Rebellion, and Consular Optics
3. Imperial Bandits and the Sino-French War
4. Borderline, Resistance, and Technology
Conclusion: Flags in the Dust

"Bradley Camp Davis has delved deeper into this topic than anyone before. . . . The discussion of the borderlands in this book and the way it reveals the challenges faced by a failed state is helpful in thinking about other periods of Vietnamese history. . . . Davis's Imperial Bandits takes us deep into one of those times when a Vietnamese state struggled to control its territory, but when we take a step back we can see parallels with other periods and places, too."
-Liam C. Kelley, Mekong Review