Gladney – Representing Nationality in China: Refiguring
Argues: 'minority' in China reflects objectivizing of a 'majority' nationality
discourse that parallels the valorization of gender and political hierarchies.
Minority is to majority as female is to male.
Widespread notion/representation of 'minority' as exotic, colourful, and
'primitive' homogenizes undefined majority as united, monoethnic, and
Reveals much about project of 'imagined' national identity.
Argues that the objectified portrayal of minorities as exoticized, and even
eroticized, is essential to the construction of the Han Chinese majority, the
very formulation of the Chinese 'nation' itself.
That is, representation of minorities has more to do with constructing a
majority discourse than with minorities themselves.
Chinese representation of minorities have strong parallels with Western
portrayals of the 'East'; this is an 'oriental orientalism.'
Thus, so-called 'peripheral minorities' have played a pivotal role in
influencing and constructing contemporary Chinese society and identity.
This objectification of minorities is more than a response to Western
consumer tourism; it also provides state with symbolic capital.
The Public Display and Commodification of the Minority Other in China
On New Years' Eve show:
“In striking resemblance to the 'tribute' offerings of the ancient Chinese
empires, the minorities performed, sang, and presented ritualized
prostrations as they offered greetings to the studio audience.”
That China is a multinational state is a point critical to China's representation
of itself to itself, and to the international sphere. So is the myth of
Points to pictorial Chinese Nationalities, where ethnic minorities are
represented in natural setting and in traditional dress, while the Han is
represented in modern dress and an urban setting. “The state, through commodifying and representing its minorities as colrful
and exotic, engages in a project familiar to the representation of colonized
peoples by colonial regimes.”
Essentializing the Han
Presentation of Han has 'normal' and 'un-exotic' is critical for understanding
construction of present-day Chinese identity.
Argus that han minzu is a modern phenomenon, arising from the shift from
empire to nation. This first gained popularity under Sun Yatsen.
It is surprising that the invention of han nationalism has never been
challenged by China scholars.
Han Modernity and the Construction of Primitivity
Chinese Marxist social science is heavily influenced by stage evolutionary
“In China, minority studies became an avenue for proving Morgan (and it was
believed, Marxist thought in general) to be right, over and over again,
through the examination of minorities as representatives of earlier forms of
society, 'living fossils' of savagery and barbarism. The Han, as representative
of 'higher' forms of civilization, were clearly more evolved.”
The Han “are defined to be in the cultural and technical vanguard, the
manifest destiny of all the minorities.”
The 'primitivity' of the minorities contrasts and brings out the supposed Han
In the West, it is 'whiten