Reflections on our Seminar

While each semester seems busier than the previous (this semester being no exception), one of the true highlights of this term has been meeting every two weeks for the China Faculty Seminar.  The collegiality at the end of some hard, busy weeks was wonderful, and my colleague Steven Day did an amazing job of selecting scholarly readings about China.  Faculty participants gave rich, provocative presentations each meeting, and we conversed over coffee, treats, and. . .well. . .other beverages!
2013-05-06 18.18.02

For my presentation, I chose the topic of “China and Its Cultural Diversity:  ‘Critical Han Studies’ and the Myth of Homogeneity.”  This was an opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the field of “Critical Han Studies,” which attempts to look critically and historically at the construction of the largest ethnonational population category in China–the Han ethnic group, representing over 1.2 billion people.  (Han is one of 56 official ethnonational populations in China.)  As Thomas Mullaney observes in the introduction to the edited collection, Critical Han Studies, “Encompassing more than 90 percent of the populations of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, ‘Han’ is one of the largest categories of collective identity in the world” (1).  One quickly realizes, perhaps contrary to popular global perceptions, that this is not a homogeneous population.  One reason I was drawn to this scholarship is that I’m reasonably well versed in what has come to be known as “whiteness studies” within American studies circles, and I was interested in theoretical parallels, differences, and connections between the two areas.  I certainly would not suggest that whiteness should be seen as equivalent to Han-ness, and I see limitations in the sorts of analogies that might immediately come to mind.  However, I do find important conceptual/methodological similarities between how U.S. cultural studies scholars have examined the production of ethnic/racial identities and how several Chinese studies scholars are looking at the production of the Han minzu (the modern neologism that seems to slip between “nationality,” “ethnicity,” and at times even “race.”)

Another text I enjoyed reviewing was Thomas Mullaney’s Coming to Terms with the Nation:  Ethnic Classification in Modern China.  And many, many thanks, Steven, for leading such an intellectually productive seminar!


1 Response to “Reflections on our Seminar”

  1. 1 Martin Tracey
    May 14, 2013 at 2:55 am

    One of the most important reasons to care about “ethnic classifications,” I would think, is to be able to identity and then, as appropriate, to defend and advance, the interests of minorities. If that’s right, I suspect one of the analogies between the mega-categories of whiteness and Han-ness is the injurious way that each masks important distinctions …

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