In chapter 2, Ma Jianxiong provides an overall view and general information about ethnic minorities in southwestern China. This region includes Sichuan Province, Guizhou Province, Yunnan Province, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Ma starts with a discussion of the geographic distribution of ethnic populations in this region, which he describes as one of the most culturally diverse areas in China and the world. He then examines the system of native chieftains in pre-modern times before giving a detailed description of ethnic identification and classification and the process of the establishment of minority autonomous governments in southwestern China.
In chapter 16, Jianxiong Ma analyzes the issue of ethnic marginalization and why minority responses to ethnic marginalization happened in the last several decades in the southwest frontier of China, using the Lahu group as a case study. The government has not raised a sufficient number of Lahu elites. It has instead focused on poverty reduction projects. As a result, the Lahu’s position in the local government hierarchy has been ‘hijacked’ by local Han elites. The civil service examination for cadre recruitment has further narrowed the Lahu’s participation into local decision-making. This may be a major reason why local developments have been slow since economic growth in the local region has not been a major concern of local Han elites. This in turn has strengthened the Han discourse of Lahu backwardness. As a result, the Lahu people has suffered from the pain of being Lahu. In the last three decades, more and more Lahu women have married Han peasants and the rate of the Lahu suicides, in order to move to the world of the dead in their religious belief, is increasing. Moreover, more and more Lahu people have become addicted to alcohol in order to escape the shame and pain associated with being the Lahu.