Chinese Approaches to Ethnic Diversity

Robert P. Weller, Boston University

Thomas S. Mullaney, Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011, 256 pp. $50 (cloth), $30 (paper).

Pitman B. Potter, Law, Policy, and Practice on China's Periphery: Selective Adaptation and Institutional Capacity. London: Routledge, 2011, 272 pp. $130 (cloth).

Article Preview

The two books reviewed here clarify how China addresses the problem of internal diversity. All states have to address this issue to some extent. Multiethnic empires like the Qing chose a strategy that recognized the separate political, legal, and social rights of communal groups (Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and the rest), as long as those groups accepted the overarching authority of the emperor. The Qing also drew in part on a far older Chinese vision of the imperium as a set of increasingly distant tribute zones, where people became less politically integrated and less civilized as one moved out from the center. While not all Chinese dynasties viewed themselves in this way, the Qing shared this broad mode of governance with many other empires in world history.