Fortress Village - The Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China  
The Institute of History and Philology and the Chinese Nation

Traditionally, the “remote barbarians” of China were simply categorized as war-like people outside the periphery of the state. As early as the Shang Dynasty (or even earlier), there was already interaction between the Han and its neighboring tribes, the Yi, Rong, Man, and Di. However, under the influence of nationalism in China, ethnic minorities came to be included as part of the Chinese nation. Therefore, an important task of scholars in modern China eventually was to determine the exact number of different ethnic groups in China, and explain the relationship between groups and within each group in a historical and cultural context. As a partial result of these academic programs, China was pronounced as containing fifty-six ethnic groups—fifty-five minority groups surrounding the Han. In fact, the “Chinese nation” we see today came about as a result of migrations, wars, and convergences over the centuries. As a result, both historical knowledge and knowledge about distinguishing among different ethnic groups were established through academic researches in the early twentieth century.

The founding of the Institute of History and Philology marked a new era for the growth of China’s humanities and social sciences. However, this development was fueled by nationalism of that time, and inevitably contributed to the construction of a nationalistic China. One of the reasons is that many of the new academic subjects introduced into China at the time, such as linguistics, physical anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, and history, are related to the concept of “nation.” Under such a concept, a nation is defined as a group of people who have a common history and share the same language(s), physical traits (bloodline), and culture. While such traits and their differences are studied in the context of philology, physical anthroplogy, and ethnology, explanations on how they came to be are constructed by examining the past as recorded in historical texts. This reflects the three-part structure of the Institute of History and Philology—History, Philology, and Archaeology (which includes Ethnology).
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