Tamara T. Chin examines how relations between China and the Xiongnu transformed the discourse of China’s imperial frontiers during the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e .–220 c.e .), and particularly how early Han dynasty political debates about the Han-Xiongnu “peace through kinship” (heqin 和親) treaty shaped Sima Qian’s ethnography. She shows that Sima Qian, whose description of the Xiongnu introduced empirical ethnography into the Chinese tradition, represented the Xiongnu from multiple perspectives and drew attention to political bias in Han discussions of the Xiongnu. His portrait of “Han customs” provided a comparative ethnography of Han and Xiongnu kinship that exposed the tensions in early Han-dynasty disputes over the meaning of the metaphor of heqin kinship. Later historiography, though modeling itself on Sima Qian’s work, lacks both his unease about Han bias and his self-reflexivity in representing foreigners.


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pp. 311-354
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