The Routledge Handbook of Highland Asia is the first comprehensive and critical overview of the ethnographic and anthropological work in Highland Asia over the past half a century. Opening up a grand new space for critical engagement, the handbook presents Highland Asia as a world-region that cuts across the traditional divides inherited from colonial and Cold War area divisions - the Indian Subcontinent/South Asia, Southeast Asia, China/East Asia, and Central Asia.

Thirty-two chapters assess the history of research, identify ethnographic trends, and evaluate a range of analytical themes that developed in particular settings of Highland Asia. They cover varied landscapes and communities, from Kyrgyzstan to India, from Bhutan to Vietnam and bring local voices and narratives relating trade and tribute, ritual and resistance, pilgrimage and prophecy, modernity and marginalization, capital and cosmos to the fore. The handbook shows that for millennia, Highland Asians have connected far-flung regions through movements of peoples, goods and ideas, and at all times have been the enactors, repositories, and mediators of world-historical processes. Taken together, the contributors and chapters subvert dominant lowland narratives by privileging primarily highland vantages that reveal Highland Asia as an ecumune and prism that refracts and generates global history, social theory, and human imagination. In the currently unfolding Asian Century, this compels us to reorient and re-envision Highland Asia, in ethnography, in theory, and in the connections between this world-region, made of hills, highlands and mountains, and a planetary context.

The handbook reveals both regional commonalities and diversities, generalities and specificities, and a broad orientation to key themes in the region. An indispensable reference work, this handbook fills a significant gap in the literature and will be of interest to academics, researchers and students interested in Highland Asia, Zomia Studies, Anthropology, Comparative Politics, Conceptual History and Sociology, Southeast Asian Studies, Central Asian Studies and South Asian Studies as well as Asian Studies in general.

part Section 1|50 pages

Sino-Tibetan Mountains

chapter 2|13 pages

The Middle Highlands of modern China as a historical inter-Asian Zomia

Human-nature diversity in the Hengduan Mountains

chapter 4|12 pages


Social landscapes and change

chapter 5|12 pages

The Tibetan frontier

From regional boundaries to disputed borders

part Section 2|48 pages

Central Asian Mountains and Western Himalaya

chapter 6|12 pages

The Uyghurs

Conceptual highlanders of Xinjiang

chapter 7|11 pages


Relating to land, nation, and territory

part Section 3|56 pages

Central Himalaya

chapter 10|13 pages

Forming communities and negotiating power in a highland borderland

The Bhotiya on the Indo-Tibet border

chapter 11|15 pages

Infrastructures of change

Development among pastoralists in Dolpo, Nepal (1990–2020)

chapter 12|13 pages

Nepal Central Highland

Resistance and the state

chapter 13|13 pages

Ethnographies of the Sherpas in the High Himalaya

Themes, trajectories, and beyond

part Section 4|52 pages

Eastern Himalaya

chapter 15|12 pages

The desire to be ‘primitive'

The Nepalis of Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas and their claims for tribal recognition

chapter 16|13 pages


History, scholarship and emerging agency in the Bhutanese narrative

chapter 17|13 pages

Arunachal Pradesh

From a nonstate space to a contested state space

part Section 5|90 pages

Bengal-Indo-Burma Highlands

chapter 18|12 pages

Highlanders and lowlanders in Bangladesh

Reflections on borders, connectivity, and disconnection in Highland Asia

chapter 19|13 pages

Peopling the Yunnan-Bengal corridor

An ethnographic history of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people

chapter 20|12 pages

The uplanders of Tripura

Changing questions of identity

chapter 24|12 pages

Gendering Kachinland

Challenging the gender blindness of an ethnographic area in Highland Asia

part Section 6|114 pages

Southeast Asian Massif

chapter 25|12 pages

The Wa of the Burma-China borderlands

Identities and polities in the maelstrom of world-system cycles

chapter 27|15 pages

The Uplands of Northern Thailand

Language and social relations beyond the Muang

chapter 29|12 pages

From ‘slaves' to indigenous peoples

Shifting identities in Northeastern Cambodia

chapter 30|15 pages

On both sides of the Annamese Cordillera

The Bru of Vietnam and Laos

chapter 31|12 pages

Remoteness and connectivity

The variegated geographies of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau