Organizer and Chair: Terry Kleeman, College and William and Mary
Discussant: E. G. Pulleyblank, University of British Columbia
Modern scholarship has shown that ethnic identity is not a fixed historical reality, but rather a cultural construct, subject to constant change and redefinition due to political, social, economic, and historical factors. Studies of contemporary non-Chinese ethnic groups have benefited from these insights (Gladney 1991; Harrell 1989; 1990), but comparatively little has been done to apply this new scholarship to pre-modern China. This panel will draw upon the methodologies of archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, historiography, and history of religions in order to re-examine the question of ethnic identity in traditional China from a variety of viewpoints.
Mu-chou Poo brings the eye of an Egyptologist to bear on this topic, setting China in relief against the better known cultures of the Ancient Near East through a balanced treatment of philological and archaeological/artistic evidence. With recent studies of the historical memory as his point of departure, Michael Ming-ke Wang takes a fresh look at references spanning a millennium to the Qiang, arguing that the term does not in fact refer to a single, identifiable ethnic group. Nicola Di Cosmo focuses on the historiography of China's northern neighbors, demonstrating the interplay of changing political circumstance and traditional worldview in creating a new discourse on the nomads, expressed in a new type of literature. Terry Kleeman examines the role of religion in the transmission of culture, discussing the place of ethnic minorities within the early Daoist church and the part the Daoist faith played in their cultural assimilation and resistance.
The Ancient Chinese Encounter with Foreigners
Mu-chou Poo, Academia Sinica
This study proposes to investigate the cultural consciousness of the ancient Chinese, as expressed in their attitudes toward foreign peoples and cultures. I shall first examine the terms used in denoting "self" and "other" in the context of cultural contact, the terms and conceptions employed in the expression of cultural identity. I will then discuss some of the documents related to foreign peoples and objects that could offer an insight into the cultural mentality of the ancient Chinese. I will also try to use artistic and archaeological materials to reveal the ways foreign elements are incorporated or accepted. This could provide a compliment or contrast to the picture gained through written documents. Often objects of daily use reveal cultural attitudes or mentalities that go unexpressed or are distorted in written documents.
The aim of this paper is to provide a basis for conducting a comparative study of cultural consciousness in ancient China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Previous scholars have indeed studied the development and characteristics of the cultural mentality of these civilizations in various ways. Few of them, however, approached their subject from a comparative perspective. Yet without comparison, the distinctive features of each culture are not evident. It is only by comparison that one may see what is not there, and can then understand the significance of a particular cultural trait (or its absence). I will, therefore, at the end of this paper, offer some comparative perspectives in this regard.
The Ch'iang: A Drifting Ethnic Boundary of the Ancient Chinese
Michael Ming-ke Wang, Academia Sinica
The Ch'iang are one of 55 officially-designated ethnic minorities in China. During the Han dynasty, people with this name were widely distributed along Han China's western frontiers. The name Ch'iang was mentioned in even earlier Chinese documents, from the oracle-bone inscriptions of the 14th-century B.C. to the works of the 4th-century B.C. philosophers. Thus it has been widely assumed that Ch'iang are an ethnic group with a long history. This article explores the formation of the Ho-Huang Ch'iang in the Han dynasty from two perspectives. First, a series of changes in human ecology which occurred in the Ho-Huang area from ca. 3000-500 B.C. eventually transformed its inhabitants from sedentary farmers into nomadic pastoralists, with a social organization that can best be characterized as "decentralized." This area became an ecological frontier as compared with the agricultural world of the east.
Second, Ch'iang as a word describing "a sense of otherness" for the Chinese became a shifting ethnic boundary. As western populations merged more and more into the Chinese, this ethnic boundary shifted westward, finally reaching the ecological frontier of the Ho-Huang area during the Han period. Since the Chinese could not govern those lands in the Chinese way, and the inhabitants would not adopt Chinese styles of production and social organization, the ethnic boundary has remained fixed ever since. Thus, from the Shang dynasty to the Han, the Ch'iang was not a "people," with continuity in time and space, but rather an ethnic boundary, a concept among the Han Chinese.
In Search of Grass and Water: The Ethnography of the Northern Nomads in Han
Nicola Di Cosmo, Harvard University
The unification of China in 221 B.C. affected the political organization, economic structure, and social makeup of China, but also ushered in a new era of intellectual accomplishments. China's contacts with alien peoples increased as the result of the territorial expansion that followed Qin's triumph. At the same time, knowledge of the lands and people that surrounded China became crucial to the imperial policies pursued by the Chin and Han dynasties, bringing home an awareness of "difference" between China and its neighbors that could no longer be accommodated within the narrow boundaries of mythological and annalistic writings.
Han accounts of the northern nomads, in works such as the Shiji, Yantielun, and Hanshu, are markedly different from those found in pre-Han sources, such as the Zhanguoce, Zuozhuan, Shanhaijing, and Mu Tianzi zhuan. Mythological, fictional, or merely ideological portrayals are replaced by ethnographical and geographical information based on new parameters and interpretative matrices. This process, based mostly on direct observation, reflects a deep transformation in the Chinese understanding of the north that underpinned new political doctrines in the realm of foreign relations.
This "objective," or at least realistic, portrayal of nomadic lifestyle, society, and political organization was not value-free. The former intellectual tradition weighed heavily on the conceptualization of alien peoples, and the ethnography and geography of the Han period was shaped by the intellectual and political climate of the time. This paper provides an interpretation of the development of ethnographic accounts of the northern nomads in early imperial China.
Barbarians and the Dao: Ethnic and Religious Identity in Traditional China
Terry Kleeman, College of William and Mary
Religion is an important component of the complex of cultural, social, historical and political factors that constitute ethnic identity. A key element in defining Chinese identity through the ages has been adherence to a set of practices and beliefs concerning man's relationship to the cosmos and the dead that is subsumed under the rubric of the Rites (li). Consequently, the adoption of Chinese ritual practices and religious beliefs was central to the ongoing process of ethnic redefinition known as sinicization.
Although traditional Chinese beliefs centering on the ancestral cult were at the core of Chinese identity, the more involved, complex, and esoteric religious traditions were often more successful in winning the adherence of peripheral peoples. This was particularly true of Daoism, China's indigenous higher religion. The imposing rituals, sumptuous ritual regalia, erudite scriptures, and extensive pantheon of this faith appealed to indigenous peoples. Moreover, Daoism's merit-based hierarchy and prophecies of an egalitarian millennial future both resonated with their tribal pasts and promised respite from an oppressed present.
This paper will focus on the role of non-Chinese peoples in early religious Daoism. The Ba people of Eastern Sichuan were early adherents of Celestial Master Daoism and constituted an important element of the fledgling church. In the fourth century, descendants of these early followers used ethnic and religious ties to establish a millennial kingdom that sought to realize in this world the egalitarian, theocratic model of the Celestial Masters.