In telling a clear story about the emergence of ethnic categories in modern China, Tom Mullaney
's Coming to Terms With the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China
(University of California Press, 2011) ranges across Saussurean linguistics, census reports, oral histories, and the historiography of laboratory science. Mullaney uses a careful, focused study of the practices of the Yunnan Province Ethnic Classification Research Team to open a much wider set of questions about the ways that key concepts (including ethnic potential, linguistic intelligibility, consent) both shaped and were produced by a project to create and map the 56 minzu
of today's China. In addition to being an inspiring model of what a truly trans-disciplinary study of Chinese history can look like, Coming to Terms With the Nation
is also a darn good story and a fascinating read.
Give the interview a listen to learn more about the importance of language and linguists in shaping modern notions of ethnicity, the history of the 56-minzu
model in China, and the idea behind Tom's ideal bookstore.