Vietnam is at a critical juncture: will it 'take off' in a Rostowian sense (1971) and become the next 'Asian Tiger' or recede into widespread protest over access to resources as in the 1930s (Scott, 1976)? This research project aims to reveal the ideological and structural origins and effects of economic liberalization and highland development policies and programs on access to and control over resources, particularly for women and the poor, and on the medicinal plant ecology in the Northern Mountainous Region (NMR) of Vietnam. I choose the production and exchange of medicinal plant resources as a lens for understanding these changes because of its historical and increasing importance in the Vietnamese health care system and in the economy of the highland peoples. Struggles over access to medicinal plants are simultaneously struggles over the meaning of 'barren land', a term used to legitimate the reclamation of swidden fallows for State development needs. Challenging the common representation of women as passive victims of development, this research will use gender critically to show how women are active participants or agents, shaping the nature of the outcome of post-socialist change. Through a discursive analysis of barren lands, this research hopes to challenge commonly held misperceptions of the highlands of Vietnam as barren and empty, and minority peoples' knowledge and practice as universally backward and degrading.