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Dikötter, Frank (2002) 'Race in China.' In: Goldberg, David Theo and Solomos, John, (eds.), A companion to racial and ethnic studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 495-510.

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While over 50 different “minority nationalities” (shaoshu minzu) are officially recognized to exist in the People's Republic of China (PRC), well over 90 percent of the population are classified as Han, a term translated in English as “ethnic Chinese” or “Chinese of native stock.” Despite the existence in China of cultural, linguistic, and regional differences which are as great as those to be found in Europe, the Han are claimed by mainland officials to be a homogeneous ethnic group (minzu) with common origins, a shared history and an ancestral territory. “Han” and “Chinese” have become virtually identical, not only within official rhetoric and scholarly discourse in the PRC, but also in the eyes of many foreign scholars. Eric Hobsbawm, in an influential book which highlights the extent to which nations are social constructs rather than universal givens, perpetuates the notion of a Han majority by noting that China is among “the extremely rare examples of historic states composed of a population that is ethnically almost or entirely homogeneous” (Hobsbawm, 1990:66). Only recently have some researchers started to refute the notion of an ethnic majority, and attempted to describe China as a mosaic composed of many culturally diverse groups within the so-called “Han” (Moser, 1985; Gladney, 1991). While references did exist in traditional China to the descendants of the various Han dynasties (206BCE-CE220), the representation of the “Han” as an ethnically integrated majority is a modern phenomenon intrinsically linked to the rise of nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century. The idea of a Han majority can be considered to be a modern invention used by nationalist elites to forge a sense of common identity among the various population groups of China in contradistinction to foreign powers who threatened the country and to the Manchus who ruled the Qing empire until its fall in 1911.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of History
ISBN: 9780631206163
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2007 13:17

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