Society for Economic Anthropology
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This paper examines the encounters between Han tea bosses, Dai-lue intermediaries and upland ethnic minorities by looking at the Pu-erh tea trade. In particular, it focuses on the dynamic interactions between the people in the plains and the people in the highlands in their responses to dramatic economic transformations in Menghai County, Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna). Since Pu-erh became a highly sought-after commodity in the early 2000s, Han Chinese from all over the country have swarmed into Xishuangbanna to enter the Pu-erh tea business. The competition for forest Pu-erh tea leaves underpins the structural relationship among the nonlocal Han and the local hill dwellers and Dai-lue in the valley. This paper argues that the commercial interactions among these three groups are complex, hierarchical and dynamic. Their encounters with the modern tea market have reshaped internal and external ethnic relations in Xishuangbanna.