From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Asian Ethnicities (1b)—Han 漢族

A year ago on Round and Square (7 July 2011)—Middles: T.S. Eliot's "Marina" 
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Asian Ethnicities" 
Click here for other posts dealing with East Asian ethnic majorities:  
China 1       China 2       China 3       Japan 1       Japan 2       Japan 3       Korea 1       Korea 2       Korea 3
The first three entries (each in several segments) for the Round and Square series "Asian Ethnicities" deal with the majority ethnic groups in China, Japan, and Korea. We are starting with these groups precisely because they permeate all of the nooks and crannies of their respective histories. Indeed, the history of China is often taught (and this is especially true in Chinese schools) as the history of the Han ethnicity. As we shall see, this is particularly problematic in China, since the history of China can better—this is my opinion—be taught as a constant set of interactions with ethnic groups to the west, south, and especially north. It is no less important in Japan and Korea, however. The relative homgeneity of those populations exacerbate the problems, and engagement with various ethnic groups tends to be even further marginalized. I hope to give, in these introductory posts, a way of thinking about majority ethnicity in China, Japan, and Korea. These are by no means my last word on the subject(s). As you can see from the introduction to this series, these are works in process and are meant to be essays in every sense of the term. 

Social and Economic Life 
Han social life is dominated by patrilineage. Although shady accounts of early Chinese history hint at matriarchal relations, patrilineality (reckoning kinship through the family of the father) has been the clear kinship pattern for well over three millennia. Anthropologists emphasize the importance of the marriage alliance in understanding kinship, gender, and family issues in all societies.  Men and women do not live in a vacuum when they interact, but rather function within a complex network of social forces that provide them with opportunities, in some cases, and restricted social movement in others.  At its most basic level, marriage is a way to diversify the social fabric, and in China (as in many societies) the movement of women between families was the social lubricant that kept traditional society moving.   
[b] Exchange RF

The overwhelming importance of these exchanges among and between ethnic groups cannot be overemphasized. The only way to create real integration and continuing social regeneration is through exchange, and this is precisely why marriage lies at the very heart of the social order.  From the perspective of most scholars of marriage, it is not merely a useful social practice.  It is absolutely necessary at all levels of the social order.  Exchange of women (for—even though men could theoretically be exchanged just as easily—that is what it became in most early societies) creates one kind of social integration.  The practices that lead to that integration are not without conflict by any means, but there is in the case of marriage a biological price to pay for keeping kinship systems closed.  Many social theorists stress that the social cost is almost as great.

The way that such exchange takes place—generation after generation for over three thousand years of written records—has everything to do with the history of ethnicity in China. The Han ethnic group came to dominate, in part, because of strategic intermarrying and the strength of sheer numbers. Over the course of many centuries, practices of exogamy (marrying beyond one’s group) combined with patrilineal organization to give sizable advantages to the Han ethnicity. When Han men married women from other ethnic groups, the children would belong to the Han man’s family line. Multiply that process by many thousands of cases and carry it over twenty or more centuries, and the impact is profound.

[c] Wedding (c.1912) RF
This process can perhaps most clearly be seen in the Han ethnic concentration on Taiwan, which provides a concentrated picture of the processes related above. Although some migration took place as early as the Song dynasty (960-1279), the vast bulk of movement from the Chinese mainland began in the seventeenth century. In fewer than five hundred years, the Han ethnicity has become dominant one on the island—an island that consisted almost entirely of indigenous ethnic groups in 1600—and various studies have shown that the result of just five centuries of assimilation and intermarriage has led to significant percentages of the population with mixed Han Chinese and aboriginal bloodlines.
***  ***
They agricultural heartland of China, and the central homeland of Han Chinese economic life, was the Yellow River valley in northern China. For this reason, there is a strong focus on agriculture as a hallmark of Han identity to this day. An angry poem of the eleventh century catches this sentiment powerfully when the writer notes, “our land of sage kings [and masters of agriculture]…has been overrun by hordes of goats and sheep.” The author is perplexed by the changes wrought by northern pastoral groups who had invaded his home territory and used what would have been grain fields for grazing.

[d] Change RF
By extension, and also in response to these incursions, Chinese history is filled with waves of Han Chinese moving southward. What was once a wet and marshy set of lowlands in southeastern China became, by the second millennium of the imperial era, the greatest generator of economic growth in world history to that time. Innovations in rice-growing technology and the practice called double cropping led to one of the most powerful expansions the world had seen. Again, this story is often told in a way that gives credit to the Han migrants, and there is little doubt that the enormous power of the imperial state played a role in spurring economic growth. On the other hand, the very clearing of territories that were seen in Confucius’s day as dark, backward, and miasmatic—a world of fish and turtles, as one northern critic noted—became in several centuries the home of cities with over a million inhabitants and trade by land, sea, and canal that sustained the state and created fabulous wealth.

Han Chinese were the major beneficiaries of this transformation, but it was “collaborative” in ways that historians are only beginning to understand deeply.  Again, this can best be seen in more recent transformations of regions that have had stable ethnic identities for some time. Today’s clashes in the far-west call to mind those a millennium or more earlier in China’s southeast and southwest, when a powerful ethnic group linked to an enormous centralized state began to move in. 
[e] Alliances RF
Click here for other posts dealing with East Asian ethnic majorities:  
China 1       China 2       China 3       Japan 1       Japan 2       Japan 3       Korea 1       Korea 2       Korea 3

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