In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Chinese Approaches to Ethnic Diversity
  • Robert P. Weller (bio)
Thomas S. Mullaney , Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011, 256 pp.
Pitman B. Potter , Law, Policy, and Practice on China's Periphery: Selective Adaptation and Institutional Capacity. London: Routledge, 2011, 272 pp.

The two books reviewed here clarify how China addresses the problem of internal diversity. All states have to address this issue to some extent. Multiethnic empires like the Qing chose a strategy that recognized the separate political, legal, and social rights of communal groups (Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and the rest), as long as those groups accepted the overarching authority of the emperor.1 The Qing also drew in part on a far older Chinese vision of the imperium as a set of increasingly distant tribute zones, where people became less politically integrated and less civilized as one moved out from the center. While not all Chinese dynasties viewed themselves in this way, the Qing shared this broad mode of governance with many other empires in world history.

In Europe, the horrific religious warfare that tore the continent apart in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fostered an alternative vision of the state as nation rather than empire. In 1555, the Treaty of Augsburg adopted the crucial formula cuius regio, eius religio (whoever rules, his is the religion): [End Page 259] the ruler determined the religion of the state. The treaty explicitly granted people of other religions the right to move to another state unmolested. That is, it envisioned a vast religious cleansing that would lead to states with no important religious diversity—the state as single nation. The bloodshed did not really end until the Westphalian Peace of 1648. Those agreements adopted the same formula but allowed more diversity by permitting followers of other religions to worship together publicly a few hours per week, and in private as frequently as they wished. Nevertheless, Europe continued to move in the direction of the nation-state with its vision of a culturally, religiously, and socially unified population separate from the unities of other states. By the nineteenth century, this had unfolded into a vision of the state as organizer of a people unified by race, language, and culture. Cleansings of all kinds have followed, targeting Jews, Roma, Tutsis, Bosnians, Armenians, and so many others. Even places that imagined themselves as far more diverse, like the United States, expanded on the Westphalian principle that religious diversity was acceptable only if privatized and noncorporate.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the nation-state system became increasingly entrenched around the world as the only way to participate in diplomacy. China also had to learn to reimagine itself as a nation-state. In the Mudanshe Incident of 1871, for example, which Emma Teng discusses in Taiwan's Imagined Geography, aboriginal people on Taiwan's southeastern coast apparently slaughtered most surviving sailors of a Japanese shipwreck. When Japan demanded compensation, the Chinese government replied that the wreck had occurred on ungoverned, savage territory and thus China had no responsibility. When Japan countered that it would claim this unclaimed territory, however, China was forced to redefine its boundary as a hard line around a closed space, instead of a gradual decline out to barbarism.2 It had no choice but to be a nation-state.

Part of the issue here was that boundaries could no longer be fuzzy or ambiguous: "savage territory" in Taiwan was no longer a political possibility. Either it fell within China's borders or it did not. The same was true of ethnic and other communal groups, whose people were either citizens or not. France took this concept to its extreme in 1808, when it demanded that representatives of the Jewish community state whether Jews should be considered as Jews, with their own communal laws and practices, or as French citizens no different from any other citizens. As citizens, they would have [End Page 260] full and equal rights; as Jews, they would have no rights. Religious difference was thus acceptable only if limited to the private sphere—a direct extension of the Westphalian Peace two centuries earlier. As James Scott...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 259-266
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2020
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.