Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching a Classic: Jane Richardson Hanks’ “Reflections on the Ontology of Rice”

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Aglance at the globe reveals continents and oceans, or the patchwork that nations make, but were we to map the ecology of people and plants, we’d see how rice breeds local worlds. As rice draws neighbors together in a rhythm of rituals and exchanges, the countryside becomes a mosaic of small communities. Jane Hanks captures one such local world.

How should we place that world? In space, it’s the flood plain of the great Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s heartland; in time, it’s the 1950s, long after a global rice economy but well before contemporary consumerism; and in culture, the area is Siamese, although Mon neighbors, Chinese traders, and Khmer customs are close at hand. Households are dispersed along the waterways, only occasionally clustered in villages. Here and there are Buddhist temples, invitations to a great tradition.