The Southern Chinese Borders in History

  • Geoff Wade


During a recent talk about the ancient Vietnamese Dong-son bronze drums, a member of the audience was heard to opine that as “Vietnam belonged to China during the Han dynasty”, such drums are Chinese drums.1 A statement such as this brings into focus a number of important and perhaps intractable questions: What constitutes China? What constitutes Chinese culture? To what degree has the Chinese state, throughout the millenia, exercised control over areas which were, or are now, claimed as parts of China? How “Chinese” are these areas in cultural terms? Why are cultural areas that were previously considered to be non-Chinese included today in the Chinese state? In any exploration of questions such as these we need to determine or create boundaries or borders. The way people create and perceive borders, however, differs markedly with the culture and polities from whence they come. We can see an excellent example of this by looking at the maps of Ming China contained within the Cambridge History of China.2 While the map in the original edition portrays Ming China as extending westward only to Yunnan, Sichuan, and Gansu, the map in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) translation shows the Ming state extending west to the Pamir Mountains in central Asia and northwards far beyond Lake Baikal.


Qing Dynasty Song Dynasty Southern Border Chinese State Chinese Text 
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© Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore 2000

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  • Geoff Wade

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