Organized Panel Session
Only in the waning days of World War II did most people in the Black River region first encounter Vietnam. Socially and spatially closer to neighbors in China and Laos than to Hanoi and the distant Red River delta, the upstream region had long been dominated by Tai elites. Governing Tai communities organized by valley muang, they brokered relations between these communities, ethnolinguistically-diverse peoples in the hills, and multiple overlords, including French Indochina. In the August Revolution of 1945, radical Tai leaders broke with colonial rule and sought to create an independent Vietnam. But over the following decade, their role as powerbrokers remained much the same. Through the epic 1954 Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, they helped transform Tai subjects—as well as Hmong, Khmu, and Dao peoples—into Vietnamese citizens. They also helped turn their homeland into Northwest Vietnam.