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Making the Majority: Defining Han Identity in Chinese Ethnology and Archaeology

Brown, Clayton D (2008) Making the Majority: Defining Han Identity in Chinese Ethnology and Archaeology. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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According to the People's Republic of China, fifty-six ethnic groups combine to form the Chinese nation although the Han, at over ninety percent of the population, constitute China's overwhelming majority. Their numbers now exceed one billion, the largest ethnic group on earth and twenty percent of the world's population. My dissertation project, entitled "Making the Majority: Defining Han Identity in Chinese Ethnology and Archaeology," challenges the putative authenticity of this official category by critically examining its creation and evolution in the modern period. In the early twentieth century anthropology became instrumental in defining the Chinese as a people and composing China's national narrative, or what Benedict Anderson calls the "biography of the nation." While archaeologists searched for Chinese racial and cultural origins in the Yellow River valley of the Central Plain, ethnologists studied non-Han minorities in the rugged and remote frontiers. These scholars linked contemporary minorities to ethnonyms from classical texts, thus imposing on them a legacy of barbarism while Han assumed the role of ethnic Chinese, heirs of historic Chinese civilization, and the heart of the modern Chinese nation. Over the course of the past century social changes and political expediency necessitated revisions of the Han narrative, and popular conceptions evolved accordingly. Today the various Chinese political communities of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, and the PRC all perceive the Han differently, reflecting their divergent visions of the Chinese nation. On the whole, examining interpretations and representations of Han identity across heuristic and spatial boundaries shows that the concept of Han is in fact fluid, evolving, and ultimately political. This study concludes that Han, like "white" or Caucasian in the US, represents an imagined majority—a social construct that continues to inform the negotiation of Chinese identities.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Brown, Clayton Dcdb25@pitt.eduCDB25
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairRawski, Evelynesrx@pitt.eduESRX
Committee MemberBarbieri-Low,
Committee MemberConstable, Nicolencgrad@pitt.eduNCGRAD
Committee MemberSmethurst, Richardrsmet@pitt.eduRSMET
Date: 10 June 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 20 March 2008
Approval Date: 10 June 2008
Submission Date: 14 April 2008
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: anthropology; archaeology; Chinese identity; ethnology; Han; nationalism
Other ID:, etd-04142008-220745
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:37
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:40


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