Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China

Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China

Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China

Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China

Synopsis

Focusing on the Ming (1368-1644) and (especially) the Qing (1364-1912) eras, this book analyzes crucial moments in the formation of cultural, regional, and religious identities. The contributors examine the role of the state in a variety of environments on China's "peripheries," paying attention to shifts in law, trade, social stratification, and cultural dialogue. They find that local communities were critical participants in the shaping of their own identities and consciousness as well as the character and behavior of the state. At certain times the state was institutionally definitive, but it could also be symbolic and contingent. They demonstrate how the imperial discourse is many-faceted, rather than a monolithic agent of cultural assimilation.

Excerpt

Ethnicity is a process, which implies beginnings and endings. Some peoples, such as the Avars and the Kitans, have few or no descendants who claim their identities. Others, such as the Uyghurs, and the Qiang and Miao, have adopted the names and the historical claims of much earlier peoples to whom they have at best a problematic connection. Still others, such as the Manchus, cannot be traced before the early modern period. Ethnic phenomena not only are dynamic across time, but are produced by intertwining acts of naming others and naming oneself, using distinctly “ethnic” institutions of language, religion, economic activity, or family organization—or using no external markers at all and relying solely on consciousness of difference and similarity. Some of the nominalizing originates with the state, some with local communities, some with individuals. In total these mechanisms produce “centers” and “peripheries,” “histories,” “nationalities,” and “cultural others” that are discernible on the social, cultural, or ideological canvas, and that play out the rotations of dominance, submission, resistance, conversion, or subversion. They delineate histories of identities, embedded in and elucidating the histories of states, societies, and cultures.

Ethnicity is produced by socio-political orders that are stratified by associations of certain regions and certain cultural institutions with the “normal,” “classic,” or “formal.” Population groups identified with these normative institutions are, in the twentieth century, usually playing the “national” role vis-à-vis the “ethnic” populations. Construction and enforcement of national criteria is a definitive state enterprise. Indeed all modern national republics can be shown to have defined their national populations through the backward process of identifying their “ethnic” groups. Though the reader sometimes meets the term multinational in the description of certain kinds of modern states, this is a very misleading description. Nations . . .

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