Decolonial Endurance: Indigenous World Making on the China-Myanmar Border

November 24, 2023

This presentation is sponsored by David Lam Centre.

Like many countries in Asia, China does not recognize the existence of Indigenous people within its borders, insisting instead on the category of ethnic minority. This denial of Indigeneity forecloses discussions about Chinese colonialism and limits transnational solidarity with Indigenous communities elsewhere.   

Pushing back against state-sponsored discourses, Dr. Lau proposes understanding so-called ethnic minority people in China as Indigenous to connect their experiences to broader questions of colonialism and Indigenous dispossession. Dr. Lau focuses her analysis on Indigenous Lisu subsistence farmers on the China-Myanmar border and their experiences of Chinese development. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, she argues that Lisu experience Chinese development as colonialism. Through storytelling, care, play, and prayer, Lisu practice decolonial world making that enables them to endure colonial erasure by sustaining relationships with the land, refusing assimilation, and proposing alternative futures. 


Lau Ting Hui is a sociocultural anthropologist in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the National University of Singapore. Her research focuses on mental health, development, and Indigeneity in Asia.