A year ago on Round and Square (18 July 2012)—Fieldnotes From History: Provincial Elections (n)
Two years ago on Round and Square (18 July 2011)—Le Tour de la France: Reaching France
|[a] Interacting RF|
|[b] Steppe RF|
|[c] Uzbek RF|
And it is fifty-six—not sixty (as the cosmologists might prefer) or seventy. There are fifty-six ethnic groups in today’s People’s Republic of China. These classifications have become a standard that has dominated the discussion of ethnicity in China—and, in profound ways throughout the rest of East Asia—for the last sixty years. Fifty-six discrete ethnic units, like rugs in a vast, open hall.
Think about that. This image of rugs in a great hall works well to clarify our mental picture of the dolls. Asian ethnic groups have all sorts of things that hold them together as independent, self-defined entities—like the swirling, one-of-a-kind designs on a Central Asian rug. First, imagine over a hundred rugs spread neatly through the vast space. Got it? Now, imagine further a rousing event in the big hall. People come and go, assortments shuffle and shift, and great movements shake things up (dancing, festivities, and a few fistfights). At the end of the evening, the rugs have moved, overlapped, folded, and changed their appearances.
|[d] Samarkand RF|
Now imagine twenty or more centuries of those events in that very same hall.
Ethnicity is a lot like that.
|[e] Hong Kong RF|
This last idea also conveys a hidden challenge. Encyclopedic works also contain within their structures a small disadvantage, because individual entries cannot, in themselves, show the dynamics of large-scale movements, patterned change, and historical upheaval. It cannot, in short, tell how the rugs came to be all heaped into piles upon the floor—in the manner of, say, 3,000 years of intermarriage, movement, travel along all directions of the Silk Road, and seafaring will do.
The individual entries masterfully tell bits of that story from the perspective of each group. That is their job. It is the purpose of this introduction to make explicit some of the larger matters that are difficult to see through the lens of individual ethnic group entries. If the title of this volume is Ethnic Groups of North, Central, and East Asia, let’s think of this introduction as “Ethnicity in North, Central, and East Asia”…or even “Asian Ethnicities.” It is as though we are supplementing the high-powered microscope used to create the individual entries and adding to our research a wide-angle lens camera. This well help readers see how entries as disparate as “Tajik” and “Ainu” can be discussed in a wider framework, and how ethnicity has come to play a powerful role in not only contemporary nationalism throughout Asia, but in a burgeoning tourism industry as well.
Click below for other items in this essay:
|[f] Mongolian morning RF|