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Monday, July 22, 2013

Asian Ethnicities (9)—Dynamics of Ethnicity (e)

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series Asian Ethnicities
A year ago on Round and Square (22 July 2012)—Fieldnotes From History: Provincial Elections (r)
Two years ago on Round and Square (22 July 2011)—Longevity Mountain: Table of Contents
[a] Rolling RF
In the next dozen entries, I will be posting an initial draft of a book introduction on Asian ethnic groups. It is meant for the blog, and does not represent anything like what will eventually be published. I do so especially because this represents a compilation of my thoughts after a full year of intensive teaching and research on Asian ethnicity. The introduction to this series shows some of my thoughts from last year—before I taught my advanced seminar by the same title as this series. This is something of a culmination of the process, even though I will be now moving in many new directions in the teaching and study of Asian ethnic groups.

Click below for other items in this essay:
Dynamics 1          Dynamics 2          Dynamics 3          Dynamics 4          Dynamics 5 
Dynamics 6          Dynamics 7          Dynamics 8          Dynamics 9          Dynamics 10
East Asia (a)
The work of survival dominates in the history of East Asian ethnic groups, as well. The intensity of concern tends to flow along a northwest—southeast trajectory, and one historian of climatic history has noted that rainfall can be configured from very small amounts—barely tolerant of agricultural life—in the far northwest to abundant and plentiful amounts of water in the far southeast. These general patterns prevail throughout the rest of East Asia. As one moves southeast, the harsh environment of central and northeastern Asia is replaced by an environment far more conducive to agriculture.
[b] Harsh RF

It should never be forgotten, however, that the very same acclimation to farming and subsistence on plots of land—the very backbone of Chinese, Japanese, and much of Korean civilization—held one of the key weak points for agriculturalists in East Asia. The same harsh northern climates that forged a horse riding, sheep-herding society helped facilitate punitive moves against the seemingly indolent and isolated farmers to the south.

China as Center (of a sort)
China dominates discussions of ethnicity in East Asia on profound levels that are sometimes difficult to sort-out after many centuries, and even millennia, of movement and change. For Westerners, a good way to think about Chinese culture (the analogy is partial, but fruitful) is akin to Greek and Hellenistic culture. When Jean Jacques Rousseau read Plato in the eighteenth century, he was surely reading a Greek author. Just as much, though, he was reading part of his own heritage. It was no longer only Greek. It was “Western civilization,” too. In a very similar fashion, a young scholar in Tokugawa Japan in the eighteenth century might read Confucius, the historian Sima Qian, or the philosopher Wang Yangming. 
[c] Internal RF

He, too, was reading “foreign” authors—but only in one sense, and by no means the most important one. In a far more significant way, he was reading his own civilization’s great works, for they were as much a part of Japanese life (perhaps even more so in neighboring Korea) as they were in China. It was bigger than China as nation or empire. It was East Asian civilization, which was merely born in China. China seems “dominant” only if we cannot see the ways in which internal dynamics in Japan and Korea—and in many of the areas to the north and west—worked.

This analogy leads us directly to the largest countries in East Asia—China, Japan, and Korea. In each of them, a kind of cultural dominance (an overwhelming ethnicity) had the potential to destroy diversity and imprint itself as a kind of monoculture. Yet, just as Japan and Korea developed distinctive identities within a larger East Asian culture (while reading the classics from China), so, too, did China’s, Japan’s, and Korea’s ethnic groups both adapt to and gain distinction from the overwhelming numbers of the majority.

Their sheer size should not be forgotten, though. The largest ethnic groups of China, Japan, and Korea so dominate their countries’ histories that they need to be understood “up front,” and not as mere appendages to an “equal” treatment of several hundred ethnic groups. It is not—let this be absolutely clear—because they are “more important.” It is simply that the way each nation-state has developed, and the way in which people have studied ethnicity, is profoundly shaped by three groups, each of which constitute ninety or more percent of their countries’ ethnic definition. These are Han in China, Yamato in Japan, and the Korean ethnic group in Korea. Each has been associated with the very history of each civilization, and it is only in the study of ethnicity that we can begin to piece together how these groups themselves have dominated, assimilated, modified, and changed.

Click below for other items in this essay:
Dynamics 1          Dynamics 2          Dynamics 3          Dynamics 4          Dynamics 5 
Dynamics 6          Dynamics 7          Dynamics 8          Dynamics 9          Dynamics 10

[d] Modified RF

[1] Ray Huang, China: A Macro History (Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe Publishing Company), 25.

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