Edited by Léo-Paul Dana, Mary Han, Vanessa Ratten and Isabell M. Welpe
1 Léo-Paul Dana and Susanne Barthmann Introduction The Lao People’s Democratic Republic – also known as Laos – is one of Asia’s most undeveloped nations, and among the five poorest in the world. The landlocked country, enclosing 236 800 square kilometres, is nestled between Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Laos is sparsely populated. It is among the least urbanized nations in Asia. Traditionally, business activities in Laos were not associated with high social status. Cultural values, stemming from religious beliefs, emphasized instead the elimination of desire. Commerce, on the other hand, was perceived as a means to satisfy desire. Social forces thus discouraged enterprise, and trade was usually the role of those with inferior social standing. When Lao men refrained from doing business, women often succeeded (Dana 1997). Yet, the communist take-over further discouraged entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, Lao society is generally non-entrepreneurial. The Chinese community of 67 000 people – 1.3 percent of the population – is very active in the entrepreneurship sector. Large corporations in Thailand each earn more than the value of all the goods and services produced in all of Laos. Government policy During the nineteenth century, France persuaded one of the leaders to accept a French protectorate, as insurance against conquest by China or Siam. France then united all of the Lao principalities into one country. This came to be named Laos, which is the plural of Lao. France used Laos as a buffer between their Asian acquisitions and British Burma. The French imposed a Vietnamese-staffed...
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