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The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry

Mark Bender

978 1 60497 976 3
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Publication date:
25 March 2017

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This unprecedented volume presents important cultural works from the borders, margins, buffer zones, transitional areas, and frontiers from within and around the mega-states of China and India, subsumed within the larger geo-political constructs of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Many are from communities of poets or individuals writing within the watersheds of the Eastern Himalayas, an area encompassing North East India, Myanmar, and Southwest China. A number are from farther north in Western China and the steppes of Inner Mongolia and the nation of Mongolia.

This book is a rare collection that brings together the works of poets of diverse cultural backgrounds located in places that are only beginning to be recognized globally as sites of intense poetic work. Major themes that penetrate these works are rapid environmental change and subsequent effects on traditional culture and challenges to ethnic and personal identity. These concerns are often framed within imagery of the local folk culture and local geographic environment, which are under increasing pressures of development by local and international governments and business enterprises.

This book by Mark Bender is a result of his research and personal connections in these diverse areas across Asia since the early 1980s. It is a valuable resource that presents the diverse poetry being produced in these borderlands from Inter-Asian, transnational, and trans-indigenous perspectives, regarding the works of literature presented as humanistic indices of individual and ethnic group responses to local ecological and environmental change. The poets come from widely varying backgrounds, yet each in their own way is highly place-competent, knowing about and growing within the environments and cultures that couch their poems. Some of the poets are well-known locally, others have national or even international reputations, and a few write in near obscurity. This volume is intended to contribute to raising global awareness of this poetry of land, waters, and cultures in less-highlighted parts of Asia.

The subjects of environmental and cultural change are inescapable in the poetry represented in this volume, and many ethnic communities are on the front lines of development, affected in various ways by resource extraction (especially mining and logging), damming of rivers (a severe international issue), loss of wildlife and habitat, population displacement, and the effects of climate change. Likewise, the local cultures have variously experienced the effects of invasion, colonization, revolution, social engineering, insurgency, multi-spectrum development, and globalization contributing to often challenging (or worse) cultural changes. The intense contemporary poetry being produced is an index of the magnitude of these changes. This volume offers a substantial glimpse into contemporary poetry from exciting but under-represented poetic voices speaking out in the border areas of eastern Asia. The collection reflects the high energy, sense of purpose, and deep insight and feeling of highly sensitive poets living in times of cultural and environmental change.

The Borderlands of Asia is an important book for Asian studies, Indigenous literature studies, and literature of the environment studies.


Mark Bender is a professor of Chinese literature and folklore at The Ohio State University. He did his undergraduate at The Ohio State University, then taught in China (Wuhan and Guangxi) during much of the 1980s, before returning to The Ohio State University for graduate school. Dr. Bender's publications include Plum and Bamboo: China’s Suzhou Chantefable Tradition, Butterfly Mother: Miao (Hmong) Creation Epics from Guizhou, China, and The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (coedited with Victor Mair). He has published in journals such as Asian Ethnology, Oral Tradition, and Chinese Literature Today. Dr. Bender was the keynote speaker at the 25th Albert Lord and Milman Parry Lecture Series at the Center for Oral Tradition, University of Missouri, in 2011.



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