Reflections from 一 to 龠

Minority Identity in Post-Classification China: A New Project

Minority Identity in Post-Classification China: A New Project
Ethnic Potential: The Constitution of Minority Identities in Post-Classification China
In China of the 1950s, ethnologists, linguists, and Communist authorities undertook a bureaucratic-cum-social scientific project known as the “Ethnic Classification.” Here it was determined which among China’s hundreds of ethnic minority communities would and would not be officially recognized by the state. Such was the subject of his first book, Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press, 2011). What followed after the Classification was an equally if not more complex process which historians have yet to understand, let alone document. Having merged nearly 400 minority communities into just 55 officially recognized categories, the Chinese state would now need to determine (or invent) the “standard” form of each: a standard or “representative” dialect, clothing style, dance-form, folklore, historical narrative, and much more. What ensued was a deeply politicized process in which state authorities, social scientists, and ethnic minority elites struggled to determine the hierarchies that would govern intra-ethnic (as compared to inter-ethnic) relations for which group – a profound challenge when we consider that single “groups” encompassed upwards of dozens of distinct subgroups or “branches.” For those ethnic subgroups whose spoken language and cultural forms were designated as “representative” of the group overall, one could expect to hear it broadcast over radio and television, and encounter one’s cultural practices in print, performance, film, pedagogy, museums exhibits, and more – the primus inter pares. For those whose cultural forms were demarcated as “dialectal” or “variant,” by contrast, their potential fate stood in stark contrast: a marked absence of state investment in their identity forms, and the specter of widespread, local-level cultural extinctions. This book investigates the constitution of minority identities in the post-Classification period.

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