Speaker: Roger Casas (Visiting Researcher, Chiang Mai University)
Abstract: The Tai-speaking populations of Sipsong Panna (Xishuangbanna prefecture, in Yunnan province, P.R. China) have been conventionally portrayed as part of the Theravada or southern branch of Buddhism, dominant in mainland Southeast Asia. After suffering harsh repression during the political movements in China between the 1950s and the 1970s, Buddhist practice among the Tai Lue experienced a strong revival following the political and economic reforms heralded in the post-Maoist period, and since around 1980 numbers of novices and monks rapidly increased, reaching a peak in the late 1990s. In the last decades, however, significant changes in the social and economic structures of rural Sipsong Panna and the subsequent emergence of new avenues of social prestige and mobility have meant that the traditional custom of sending young boys to the temple has become a less popular option for local families. In recent years, government policies regulating local religious practice, and the ordination of young novices in particular, have hardened, effectively bringing this custom to a halt.
Taking into account the key role that Buddhist monastic ordination has played in the production and reproduction of a centuries-old vernacular masculinity among the Tai Lue, as well as the effects of locals’ exposure to global, exogenous notions and practices related to market economic action in the ‘opening-up and reform’ era, in this presentation I will reflect on the actual and potential consequences that the current crisis of monastic practice may have on the evolution of traditional gender regimes among the Tai Lue, with a focus on the shifting positions of Tai Lue men and women within those regimes, and on the perceived decrease in the value of local men as ‘exchange commodities’ in particular.
Roger Casas has lived and conducted research among the Tai Lue of southwest China since 2004. He obtained his PhD from the Australian National University in 2015, with a thesis on the connections between Buddhist monasticism and masculinity among the Lue, obtaining the Thesis Prize of that year by the Australian Anthropological Society. Since then, he has continue working on the Tai Lue, expanding his research to domains such as the economic anthropology and the anthropology of gender. His latest publications are the book chapters “Death of the Last King: Contemporary Ethnic Identity and Belonging among the Tai Lü of Sipsòng Panna”, in Regional Identities in Southeast Asia: Contemporary Challenges, Historical Fractures, and “Intangible Enclosures and Virtual Scripts: The Cultural Politics of the Tham Script in Sipsòng Panna”, in Manuscript Cultures and Epigraphy of the Tai World, both volumes published by Silkworm Books (Chiang Mai, Thailand).