This unit explores the struggles through which political and social actors define and create a nation or nations by using historical and cultural ideas, beliefs, and practices for political purposes. Understanding the political and cultural processes that shape the modern nation-state in East Asia offers insight into how nation-states function in our contemporary global system. Furthermore, nationalisms, ethnicity, and national identity influence both the domestic and international political experiences of the East Asian geopolitical region.
This unit focuses on the People's Republic of China as a case-study to understand issues of nationalism, ethnicity and national identity in East Asia . Nationalism in contemporary China is explored through comparative theoretical frameworks such as “the invention of tradition,” “imagined communities,” popular nationalism, cultural nationalism, ethnic nationalism, and national identity.
The unit could be useful in a variety of courses including but not limited to:
The unit is designed to be taught over three class sessions in order to cover the creation of and changes in national identity in 20 th -century China . The first class session is best delivered as a lecture. The second and third sessions lend themselves to a combination of lecture, discussion, and small group work.
The unit can be used by itself or in combination with the following other units on race, ethnicity, and nationality in East Asia:
For summary information on each of these units, see “Not Color Blind: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in East Asia .”
Background Information for the Instructor
The following historical events are particularly important to discussions of Chinese nationalism and China 's search for a modern identity throughout the twentieth century.
All of these events were not simply periods of political and social upheaval, but involved complex changes in the ways in which Chinese intellectuals and ruling regimes came to regard China as a nation, a state, and a civilization.
Ethnicity in China
China is a non-homogeneous, multi-ethnic nation. Ethnic “minorities” officially include fifty-five identified groups such as the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongolians, and Hakka that are located in different provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities.
Throughout the twentieth century, government policies toward these groups can be seen as fluctuating between “accommodationist” and “assimilationist” approaches. In the early 20 th century, Sun Yat-sen adopted the Han Dynasty (206 BCE — 220 CE) “ethnonym” ( Hanzu ) to classify the dominant ethnic group in China . (This term continues to be used today.) The campaign for the Republican Revolution (1911) explicitly appealed to ethnic nationalism and urged the Han Chinese majority to expel the ruling Manchu. (The Manchus founded the Qing Dynasty and ruled China from 1644-1911.)
Ironically, one of the most urgent issues that faced the newly founded Chinese Republic was how to forge a nation out of the multi-ethnic empire it inherited from the Qing dynasty. The new Republican government pursued a policy of Han-centered assimilation, suppressing the languages and customs of minority groups. After seizing political control in 1949, the Chinese Communist party employed similar policies of assimilation, with some variations. They also embarked on an ambitious project to systematically identify and classify China 's ethnic groups based on a Stalin-era Soviet definition of ethnicity, which resulted in the list of fifty-five ethnic minorities that China still uses today.
Despite a history of government intervention, China 's ethnic minorities have never became fully assimilated into Han culture, and ethnic groups have resisted cultural and political intrusions to varying degrees. The best-known examples of ethnic nationalisms within the People's Republic of China are those of the Tibetan and Uyghur people.
Background Reading for the Instructor: Theoretical Literature on the Nation-state
*** Most important
***ANDERSON, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism . London : Verso, 1991.
***CONNOR, Walker. Ethnonationalism . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
**GELLNER, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism . Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1983.
**HOBSBAWM, Eric and Terrance RANGER. The Invention of Tradition . Revised edition. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1992
*SMITH, Anthony D. National Identity (Ethnonationalism in Comparative Perspective) . Reno : University of Nevada Press, 1993.
*** Most important
Class Session One: Historical Perspectives Concerning National Identity
***CONNOR, Walker. The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. pp. 67-92 and 322-329.
***GLADNEY, Dru. Muslim Chinese . Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1996. pp. 1-36.
Class Session Two: Changing Representations of National Identity from the Republican to the post-Maro Eras
***WALDRON, Arthur. “Representing China : The Great Wall and Cultural Nationalism in the Twentieth Century.” In Cultural Nationalism in East Asia: Representation and Identity , edited by Harumi BEFU. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California , Berkeley, 1993. Pages 36-60.
Class Session Three (Optional): Diversity of Nationalism and National Identity in China
**UNGER, Jonathan, ed. Chinese Nationalism . New York : M.E. Sharpe, 1996.
**GLADNEY, Dru C. “Clashed Civilizations?: Muslim and Chinese Identities in the PRC.” In Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan , Korea , China , Malaysia , Fiji , Turkey , and the United States , edited by Dru C. Gladney. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Pages 106-131.
Further Reading for Instructors and/or Students
DITTMER, Lowell and Samuel Kim, eds. China’s Quest for National Identity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.
FRIEDMAN, Edward. National Identity and Democratic Prospects in Socialist China. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1995.
GRIES, Peter Hays. China’s New Nationalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
HONIG, Emily. Creating Chinese Ethnicity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
SUN, Lung-Kee. The Chinese National Character. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
Use these questions to structure in-class discussion in the second class session or the third if the unit is taught over three class sessions. Best presented to students to accompany their reading prior to class, and then brought to class to structure discussion:
Critical Memo Assignment
This assignment can be used at the end of this or any other teaching unit to help students analytically connect the readings in the unit to broader topics (e.g. world politics). The questions and topics for individual readings are intended to be incorporated into class sessions prior to the assignment of the critical memo. These questions and topics are designed to get students to begin thinking more in-depth about the readings for which the critical memo will be assigned. When the memo is assigned, have each student choose one of the readings from the teaching unit on which to focus in the memo. This reading could be a chapter from a book or an article. The three sections are designed to be addressed separately by students in order to encourage 1) conciseness in thinking and writing, and 2) selection and weighting of arguments or support for arguments. Section one is designed to help students think about the connections between readings in a semester-long course. Section two is designed to help students think about the broader implications of the reading about which they choose to write. The final section is to push students to analyze and think critically about the reading they have chosen, but in selective and concise ways. (This assignment is adapted from https://jshare.johnshopkins.edu/ktsai1/web/criticalmemo.html .)
Preparatory Guidelines for Writing a Critical Memo
Questions for individual readings:
Topics for individual readings:
Guidelines for writing the Critical Memo paper
Memos are meant not only to assist you in carefully considering the readings you have done for this course, but also in understanding what they suggest about Chinese politics in particular and world politics more broadly. Memos should not be used to summarize the readings — I want to see evidence that you have thought analytically about the readings in some depth and considered their implications.
Details: double-spaced, typed, 8 1/2”x 11” paper, 4-5 pages (DO NOT GO OVER 5 PAGES).
To write an excellent memo, you need to: