From the Yellow Emperor to Peking Man: The Nationalists and the Construction of Zhonghua minzu

  • James Leibold


The previous chapters examined the arduous process by which the spatial boundaries of a distinct yet fluid Zhongguo/China toponym came to be fixed in relation to the Chinese states struggle against foreign imperialism and domestic warlordism. The global system of fully bounded and competing nation-states transformed the overlapping sovereignties of the Qing borderlands into important sites of political intervention as the Republican state (both in its Communist and Nationalist variants) struggled to impose a single centralizing sovereignty over China’s newly bordered lands and its heterogeneous polities. The. following two chapters shift the focus from politics to culture, from state building to nation building, and from space to time. They explore how the newly rediscovered familiar Other came to shape the cultural and temporal frontiers of the modern Chinese nation-state. The reality of their weak and fragmented authority forced GMD and CCP state elites to employ various narratives of cultural innovation aimed at historicizing, naturalizing, and biologizing an ancient yet finite “Chinese” community, one that would explicitly include the non-Sinic peoples of the Qing frontier. Here, Sink elites sought to reconfigure the meaning of Chineseness, pulling and stretching at its boundaries in the vain hope that it would rather naturally fall into alignment with the rather bloated and fragile sovereignity of the Republican geo-body It is in this context that I seek to explore the numeric imprecision inherent in the new idiom for the nation, arguing that it was chiefly a matter of timing that determined whether the Zhonghua minzu was rendered as “the Chinese minzu” or “the various minzus of China.”


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© James Leibold 2007

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  • James Leibold

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