Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging

Ralph A. Litzinger

In Other Chinas Ralph A. Litzinger investigates the politics of ethnic identity in postsocialist China. By combining innovative research with extensive fieldwork conducted during the late 1980s and early 1990s in south-central and southwestern China, Litzinger provides a detailed ethnography of the region’s Yao population in order to question how minority groups are represented in China. In particular, he focuses on how elite members of this minority population have represented their own culture, history, and identity to a range of Chinese and Western observers.

Litzinger begins by describing how during the Republican period the Yao were considered a dangerous people who preferred to consort with beasts and goblins rather than join in the making of a modern nation. He then compares this to the communist revolutionaries’ view of the Yao as impressive rebels and positive examples of subaltern agency. Litzinger shows how scholars, government workers, communist party officials, and Taoist ritual specialists have influenced the varied depictions of the Yao and, in doing so, he advances a new understanding of both the Yao and the effects of official discourse, written histories, state policy, and practices of minority empowerment. In addition to analyzing issues of ritual practice, social order, morality, and the governance of ethnic populations, Litzinger considers the Yao’s role in the cultural reforms of the 1980s. By distancing his study from romanticized depictions of minorities Litzinger is able to focus on how minority representation, struggle, and agency have influenced the history of the People’s Republic, cultural debates within contemporary Chinese society, and China’s rapidly changing role in the global order.

This book will be of interest to Asianists in both anthropology and cultural studies and should appeal more generally to scholars invested in issues of ethnic identity, minority politics, and transnationalism.