Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960

This innovative contribution to the historiography of Southeast Asia tells the tragic story of the Hmong ethnic group, not only from the usual outside perspective but from within the Hmong cultural tradition as well. Lee draws on French colonial archives and interviews to show how the Hmongs—a hill people scattered across Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of southern China—have oscillated between submission to and rebellion against superior forces: French colonizers, the Laotian royal government, the Japanese occupiers during World War II, and later the local communist movements and the Americans. The messianism of the Hmong rebellions, the fractiousness of the Hmong clans, and the opportunism of Hmong relations with other forces mystified colonial powers and have puzzled historians ever since. But Lee, herself a member of the Hmong diaspora, makes sense of these behaviors as she deciphers the community’s myths, symbols, lineage ties, sexual politics, and rituals, with the combined skills of a historian and an anthropologist.

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