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Coming to Terms with the Nation

Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China

Thomas S. Mullaney
With a Foreword by Benedict Anderson
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Coming to Terms with the Nation
    Book Description:

    China is a vast nation comprised of hundreds of distinct ethnic communities, each with its own language, history, and culture. Today the government of China recognizes just 56 ethnic nationalities, orminzu,as groups entitled to representation. This controversial new book recounts the history of the most sweeping attempt to sort and categorize the nation's enormous population: the 1954 Ethnic Classification project (minzu shibie). Thomas S. Mullaney draws on recently declassified material and extensive oral histories to describe how the communist government, in power less than a decade, launched this process in ethnically diverse Yunnan. Mullaney shows how the government drew on Republican-era scholarship for conceptual and methodological inspiration as it developed a strategy for identifyingminzuand how non-Party-member Chinese ethnologists produced a "scientific" survey that would become the basis for a policy on nationalities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94763-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
    Benedict Anderson

    When considering the fairly recent rise of “identity politics,” in which one can easily get the impression that a person’s “identity” has usurped his or her “soul,” it is useful to recall that it is strictly laic and relational, rather than metaphysical and absolute. An identity is a naïve or strategic response to an external enquiry, and its content necessarily determined by who asks the questions, when and where, and what the answerer imagines he or she can guess about the kind of answer that is expected or demanded. Asked by a bangkok interviewer “who” he is, a citizen of...

    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    From the sacred to the profane, the idea of China as a “unified, multinational country”(tongyi de duo minzu guojia)is a central, load-bearing concept within a wide and heterogeneous array of discourses and practices in the contemporary People’s Republic. China is a plural singularity, this orthodoxy maintains, composed of exactly fifty-six ethnonational groups(minzu):the Han ethnic majority, which constitutes over ninety percent of the population, and a long list of fifty-five minority nationalities who account for the rest.¹ Wherever the question of diversity is raised, this same taxonomic orthodoxy is reproduced, forming a carefully monitored orchestra of remarkable...

  8. 1 Identity Crisis in Postimperial China
    (pp. 18-41)

    In 1952, the newly established Communist regime in Beijing announced plans to convene the inaugural session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The congress was scheduled for autumn 1954, in time for the fifth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and would herald the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) transition from a revolutionary force to the legitimate government of mainland China. Here, the party would promulgate the first state constitution and implement a national system of representative government, which thus far had only been undertaken at the local level.¹ The CCP began laying the groundwork for...

  9. 2 Ethnicity as Language
    (pp. 42-68)

    In the closing weeks of April 1954, a small group of scholars in Beijing began to discuss the Herculean task that awaited them in Yunnan. The Classification team would have less than six months to prosecute a coordinated, multisite investigation and produce a series of definitive taxonomic recommendations about the province’s minority groups. Their findings would result in a complete reassessment of the country’s ethnonational demography, moreover, and not simply in the development of ethnological knowledge. They would influence not merely the direction of their discipline, but also China’s administrative geography, the allocation of economic and political resources, and entire...

  10. 3 Plausible Communities
    (pp. 69-91)

    Wang Xiaoyi arrived in Kunming on Sunday, May 16, 1954, following a ten-day journey from the capital. With three days to spare before the team’s orientation session, he was able to launder his clothes, trim his hair, attend a performance of local Dian opera, and familiarize himself a bit with the city. Here in the provincial capital, he and his fellow Beijingers would meet the second half of the Ethnic Classification research team and finalize plans for their upcoming fieldwork.

    The local moiety was essential to the success of the project, a fact repeatedly impressed upon Wang and his colleagues...

  11. 4 The Consent of the Categorized
    (pp. 92-119)

    By the time Wang Xiaoyi arrived in the field, the sky had been dark for some time. It was the fourth of June, the rainy season, and the southern town of Mojiang was caught in the heavy embrace of a torrential downpour. Wang and his teammate Chang Hongen, a young linguist from the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, took shelter for the evening with plans to begin work the following morning. Their two-person squad was one of five that, in order to make the most efficient use of limited time and personnel, divided the province into more manageable regional...

  12. 5 Counting to Fifty-Six
    (pp. 120-133)

    On September 15, 1954, the first National People’s Congress (NPC) convened in Beijing as scheduled. At the opening ceremony, Mao Zedong proudly welcomed the arrival of just over twelve hundred representatives from all corners of the country.¹ The roles and responsibilities of the NPC, Mao and his fellow party leaders explained, were to be far-reaching and comprehensive, dealing with the most sensitive of national issues: the formulation and passage of laws, the revision of the constitution, the election of the chairman and vice-chairman, the formulation of the administrative geography of the country, the national budget, the deliberation and settlement of...

  13. Conclusion: A History of the Future
    (pp. 134-136)

    The Ethnic Classification Project portrayed in these pages is Herculean and fragile all at once. The project was monumental, as one can sense most palpably in the way it has saturated all subsequent modes of Chinese ethnological knowledge and formed a prism through which our understanding of Chinese ethnicity and the Chinese nation-state is unavoidably refracted. Whether in the arena of administrative geography, language planning, family planning regulations, consumer culture, education, print and broadcast journalism, scholarship, or otherwise, these categories of minzu identity serve as the persistent identifiers. They are the anchors to which a wide array of knowledge, policies,...

  14. APPENDIX A: Ethnotaxonomy of Yunnan, 1951, According to the Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
    (pp. 137-138)
  15. APPENDIX B: Ethnotaxonomy of Yunnan, 1953, According to the Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
    (pp. 139-141)
  16. APPENDIX C: Minzu Entries, 1953–1954 Census, by Population
    (pp. 142-144)
  17. APPENDIX D: Classification Squads, Phases One and Two
    (pp. 145-146)
  18. APPENDIX E: Population Sizes of Groups Researched during Phase One and Phase Two
    (pp. 147-148)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 149-184)
    (pp. 185-190)
    (pp. 191-216)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 217-232)