Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China

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"We all know that China has 56 official ethnic groups, but until now none of us knew precisely why. Thomas Mullaney has now given us a big part of the answer, with his pioneering investigation into the process of Ethnic Identification in Yunnan. Like all good history, Mullaney's story also illustrates a larger point, in this case the way modern states classify things and why it makes a difference."—Stevan Harrell, author of Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China

"Ethnic identity is a key sociopolitical concept for the 21st century. Mullaney's marvelous history not only provides a deep account of Chinese ethnicity, it also deploys strikingly original tools to think with. It is both a delight to read and a body of work for many disciplines to ponder."—Geoffrey C. Bowker, co-author of Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences

"The details of the far-reaching Ethnic Classification Project of 1954 have so far remained shrouded in mystery, but thanks to declassified archives, hitherto undiscovered documents and interviews with surviving members of the Yunnan expedition, Mullaney's splendid account throws light not only on one of the most sweeping registration documents in the history of the modern state, but also on how the Qing empire became the nation we know today as 'China.'"—Frank Dikotter, University of Hong Kong

"This is the most brilliant study yet of how nationality, or 'ethnicity,' is created in a specific, and highly contingent, series of historical events. The details provide an intrinsically fascinating account of Chinese bureaucratic planning for the nation, with its unexpected recourse to British imperial planning. They also remind us that every case of this sort of thing is likely to be different from every other one."—Ian Hacking, author of Making Up People

"A fascinating tale about the politics of the census and the making of modern China. This book is critical reading for anyone interested in ethnicity, identity, and the role of social scientists in policy formation."—Francine Hirsch, author or Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This rich, nuanced and erudite book is a great accomplishment."--The China Journal

"A very important contribution to our understanding of the birth of the modern Chinese nation."--Journal of World History

"An exemplary piece of scholarship. . . . Tackles broad historiographical questions with a manageable and concrete set of new data."--British Jrnl For the History of Science

"Brief but elegantly argued. . . . Mullaney makes brilliant sense of mountains of data."--Hist Stds In the Natural Sciences

The China Journal - Elena Barabantseva University of Manchester

“This rich, nuanced and erudite book is a great accomplishment.”
Journal Of World History - Jeff Kyong-McClain

“A very important contribution to our understanding of the birth of the modern Chinese nation.”
British Jrnl For The History Of Science - Howard Chiang

“An exemplary piece of scholarship. . . . Tackles broad historiographical questions with a manageable and concrete set of new data.”
Hist Stds In The Natural Sciences - Ruth Rogaski

“Brief but elegantly argued. . . . Mullaney makes brilliant sense of mountains of data.”
Pacific Affairs - Sara A. Newland

"Mullaney's excellent book teaches us a great deal about the genesis of multiethnic China..."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520272743
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Series: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas S. Mullaney is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables


1. Identity Crisis in Postimperial China
2. Ethnicity as Language
3. Plausible Communities
4. The Consent of the Categorized
5. Counting to Fifty-Six

Conclusion: A History of the Future

Appendix A: Ethnotaxonomy of Yunnan, 1951, According to the Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
Appendix B: Ethnotaxonomy of Yunnan, 1953, According to the Yunnan Nationalities Affairs Commission
Appendix C: Minzu Entries, 1953–1954 Census, by Population
Appendix D: Classification Squads, Phases One and Two
Appendix E: Population Sizes of Groups Researched during Phase One and Phase Two

Character Glossary

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