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The Han minzu, fragmented identities and ethnicity

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2013
Author Joniak-Lüthi Agnieszka,
Project Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Chinese Territoriality: Development of Infrastructure and Han Migration into the Region
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Asian Studies
Volume (Issue) 72
Page(s) 849 - 871
Title of proceedings Journal of Asian Studies


This paper focuses on the majority population in the People’s Republic of China – the Han – and their various collective identities. The Han play a pivotal role in consolidating the Chinese territory and the multi-ethnic Chinese nation. Therefore, the governments in the twentieth century have invested substantial efforts in promoting a unitary Han identity. In spite of that, powerful local identities related to native place, occupation and family histories persist. This essay traces these identities and analyzes their intertwine-ness. Further, it discusses the question of ethnicity of both the Han as well as local identity categories, and concludes that while Han enact ethnicity in their relations to other minzu, local identity categories are more social than ethnic. I further posit that moments of confrontation, “degree” of ethnicity, scales of categorization and relationality of identities are notions that should be given particular attention in the studies of ethnicity in China and elsewhere.