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  • Contestation and Adaptation: The Politics of National Identity in China by Enze Han
  • Elizabeth Van Wie Davis (bio)
Enze Han. Contestation and Adaptation: The Politics of National Identity in China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xxiii, 207 pp. Paperback $19.86, isbn 978-0-19-062401-9.

China, most often mentioned as a rising economic and political power, has issues of ethnic division. While not overemphasizing these concerns, it is important for those inside and outside of China to consider what causes ethnic unrest or creates ethnic ease. Enze Han, senior lecturer in the Department of Politics and International studies, SOAS, University of London, not only provides a detailed portrayal of five ethnic groups within China but also outlines a thesis where he assesses whether an ethnic group will seek political contestation or adaptation. The book, based on his dissertation, considers the impact of two international factors in ethnic political mobilization.

The author's thesis is "that international factors play a significant role in shaping whether and how an ethnic group is going to mobilize politically to contest its national identity. Only groups that perceive the existence of an achievable better alternative would be willing and able to use political means to challenge the rule of the central state that represents the majority group's interest. [End Page 37] Comparison with the group's external kin relations informs the group in terms of whether a better alternative exists. Presence of substantial external support furthermore provides facilitating opportunity structure and resources for group political mobilization" (p. 5). The author applies these two international elements—international support for the group and an internationally better alternative among external kin—to these five ethnic groups: the Uyghurs, the Chinese Koreans, the Chinese Mongols, the Dai, and the Tibetans.

The Uyghurs are the first, and perhaps best, example of the author's thesis. Although not ignoring the domestic issues facing these Turkic people in the western part of China, the author applies his two-part thesis of international support and external kin doing better internationally than in China. The author finds three main sources of international support for the Uyghurs: from big powers, especially in the West; from Uyghurs living outside of China, especially in Central Asia; and from diaspora activism, again centered in the West. The examples of external kin doing better abroad are from Turkey and Central Asia, where the author argues that Uyghurs have superior economic, political, and cultural rights. Based on these factors, Han asserts that it is not surprising that the Uyghurs have an active political contestation against the Chinese state.

The second example for the thesis is the instance of the Chinese Koreans. After a discussion of the origins of ethnic Koreans in China, the author considers the international forces asserted in his thesis. Although the Chinese Koreans, the Joseonjok, can clearly see their ethnic kin in South Korea doing much better than themselves, the author argues that there is very little international support for this ethnic group, especially from North or South Korea. This example proves the author's argument that both international elements—international support and internationally better-off kin—must be present for an ethnic group to contest the state's authority over them. The Chinese Koreans have the one but not the other.

The third case presented in the book concerns the Chinese Mongols. The issues of how Mongols became an ethnic group in China are put forward, and then the two-part international formula is applied. In the case of the Mongols in China, the author asserts that the group deems their situation as economically, although not politically or culturally, superior to their external kin in Mongolia, thus failing the second condition of his thesis. Moreover, neither Mongolia nor other international actors are robustly supporting the ethnic Mongols in China. Therefore, the chapter concludes that Chinese Mongols remain ambiguous toward their Chinese national identity.

Fourth are the Dai, an ethnic minority in China that are also found in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Burma, and Laos. In applying his two international factors to the Dai, the author finds that the Chinese Dai have no coherent international support to mobilize against...


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