The above video is meant to introduce a new book – Erica Fox Brindley’s Ancient China and the Yue: Perceptions and Identities on the Southern Frontier, c. 400 BCE-50 CE (Cambridge, 2015) – but it is also an audio-visual reflection on how scholarship and academic ideas change and develop over time.
As I see it, Ancient China and the Yue is the best study to date on the Yue/Việt, the earliest known inhabitants of the area of what is today southern China and northern Vietnam.
This books is good in that it synthesizes, and builds upon, existing scholarship, but it is also good in that, unlike some earlier scholarship, it tries to avoid supporting any agenda or politics, and merely endeavors to put forth a rational argument about the past.
That said, historians are always influenced to some extent by their times and their societies. And the general public can adopt and transform ideas from the academic world. Much of this can only be seen clearly once we can stand at a distance and look back at an earlier era.
This video is meant to be a reflection on these topics. It recalls how the field of Southeast Asian history in the US began in the post-World War II era with European scholars lecturing at American universities, and how the identity politics of the 1960s and 1970s both advanced and distorted scholarship on Southeast Asia.
And as for what came after that. . . well that’s hard to say, as we probably do not have enough distance to view it clearly yet, but it did lead to the solid study that we can enjoy today: Ancient China and the Yue.