2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Borderlands, Boundaries and Changes of the Nation: Two Early Investigations of Ethnicity in Chinese Frontier Regions

Ming-ke Wang

Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

In the process of China’s nation-state building, one of the most important changes was the huge transformation that occurred on her frontiers, where the previous non-Han peoples living in vassal states or tribal societies in borderlands of the Qing Empire were transformed into ethnic minorities within the Chinese nation. Based on two pioneering ethnological/anthropological fieldwork studies by scholars from the Academia Sinica in 1929 and 1933, this article explains the roles of anthropological knowledge, methods and related fieldwork activities in accomplishing this transformation, which eventually led to the identification and delimitation of many national minorities. And, by analyzing the interaction between these ethnographers/scholars and the minorities they studied, this article explains the micro-social context within which these historical changes occurred. The article concludes by highlighting the significance of studying the micro-social context. Exploring the micro-social context in a time of transition, we can observe how people’s actions were, on the one hand, restricted by various social rules and “structures,” but on the other hand, revealed individual choices and creativity. These observations can help us to gain a better understanding of social and historical dynamics.


Keywords: nationalism, anthropology, field work, national minorities, micro-social context, the study of borders and boundaries