China's Diverse Majority
University of Washington Press 2015
Agnieszka Joniak-Luthi‘s new book opens with a series of questions that animate the study. They include but are not limited to: What does being Han mean to those classified as Hanzu? What are the narratives of Han-ness today? What other collective identities matter to the Hanzu? What are their roles and meanings? How do they relate to one another and to minzu identity? Is the Han minzu an ethnic group? How can Hanzu seem so united in their Han-ness but at the same time be so fragmented and divided? Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, The Han: China’s Diverse Majority (University of Washington Press, 2015) addresses these questions in a study that argues that the “Han” is a “historically contingent narration.” In offering a history of Han narration, the book charts a shift from premodern (largely Ming and Qing) culturalist modes and markers of Han-ness to modern modes of racialized nationalism. After an early treatment of this historical shift, several chapters of Joniak-Luthi’s book focus on contemporary narratives and markers of Han-ness, looking carefully at the roles of education and language in forming and distributing modern markers that reflect a “nationalist symbolic order.” The book pays special attention to the importance of home-place identities, and to collective identity labels that informants used to identify themselves and others. This should be a must-read for anyone interested in historical and contemporary notions of identity in China.