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Historical Nationalism:

How Interpretation of China’s Past

is Used to Build Unity in the Present

Ian Lamont
(For graduate credit)
August 18, 2004

Harvard DCE/Archaeology S-171

Archaeology of the Silk Road
Professor Irene Good
China has a history that it can be justifiably proud of. In the course of nearly
3,000 years of recorded history, China has been the source of or a conduit for religious
thought, philosophic discourse, mechanical invention, and cultural and artistic
achievement. It is a record that has had a profound influence on world affairs since
But when it comes to explaining its own history, China has two problems it must
contend with. One deals with China’s own historical identity: What does it mean to be
Chinese? Traditionally, “Chinese” has referred to the members of the Han race speaking
dialects of the Chinese language. But what about the non-Han peoples, the so-called
“national minorities” who inhabit China’s frontier regions, including Tibetans, Uighurs,
Kazakhs, Miao, and other aboriginal peoples? How can their history be explained?
A related question concerns the historical definition of China. When recounting
Chinese dynastic history, modern China nation goes beyond simply noting that aspects of
Chinese civilization are thousands of years old. The People’s Republic of China actually
traces the mantle of the Chinese “nation” to the long period of rule by successive
dynasties, beginning with the Xia (circa 22nd–18th century BC).
But what about the outer areas of modern China that were in ancient times
independent of Chinese imperial control? Non-Han peoples inhabited these areas.
Sometimes relations with Han dynasties were peaceful and based on trade or tribute.
However, at other times local groups’ attitudes toward the Han and dynastic power could
be characterized by apathy, ambivalence, greed, mistrust, or outright hostility. Frontier
wars between “barbarians” (yi) and imperial forces were regular occurrences from as
early as 1800 BC1 to the Qing dynasty. How is this history explained in China now?
Moreover, how can China — which defines its own modern history in the light of
Western and Japanese imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries — explain the actions of
former dynasties and its current government toward minority peoples? Can the invasions
and annexations of non-Han kingdoms be considered imperialism?

The Xia dynasty was possibly destroyed by pastoralist barbarians. David Christian, A History of
Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia (Malden, Mass: Blackwell , 2000) p. 102

In recent decades, a nationalist paradigm has arisen to address these issues. In a
nutshell, Chinese nationalism holds that the promotion and survival of the nation-state
surpasses all other individual or group interests, including ethnic and religious identity.
When applied to the definition of “Chinese,” all inhabitants living within the modern
borders of China — including the members of 55 officially designated national minorities
— have equal status. Furthermore, Chinese nationalism holds that national minorities and
Han Chinese are united in their support of the Chinese nation-state, and have been since
Chinese nationalism has a pronounced effect on the way various scientific and
social disciplines related to the study of history are conducted, and evidence is
interpreted. Take, for example, theories concerning the origin of man. In the West, the
“Out of Africa” hypothesis prevails. It holds that mankind originated in Africa, and
spread out to Europe and Asia. In China, however, researchers have spent a great deal of
effort promoting sinocentric theories, which maintain China’s modern inhabitants
descended from hominid forms which arose within China’s modern boundaries, rather
than from migrating bands of humans or humanoids from points further west.
While one may suppose such debates are confined to scholarly journals and
academic symposia, state-run media and other official sources within the PRC — ranging
from the local tourist offices which create explanatory plaques at historical sites to state-
controlled newspapers — play an important role in disseminating information about
China’s history to the Chinese public. While much of the information tends to be factual
(e.g., “Archaeologists from central Hubei Province recently unearthed more than 20
ancient kilns of the Song [960-1279] and Yuan [1271-1368] dynasties.”2) prominence is
given to news or history that appeal to nationalist sentiment. Moreover, gatekeepers’ (i.e.,
state-run news services and other official sources) interpretations of research or historical
artifacts emphasize evidence and theories that support the idea of a multiethnic China,
united since ancient times.
The following essay will explore the connection between nationalism and
historical research in China, paying special attention to physical evidence of the past
(bones and buildings, as opposed to written records) relating to the history of China’s

“China Archaeology News: Weekly Briefs,” Xinhua News Agency, April 10, 2000

national minorities. My hypothesis contends that physical evidence of the past has been
used to:

• Support the idea of a united, long-standing “Chinese nation” that has

existed since the start of Chinese civilization; and
• Establish ethnic minorities as a part of the Chinese race, and long-term
supporters of the Chinese nation.

This paper is by no means intended to be an empirical study, but rather my

interpretation of others’ research and source evidence such as media excerpts. In my
conclusion I will suggest a direction for future study, and discuss some of the difficulties
related to this topic.
A few notes concerning Chinese media: I frequently cite the Xinhua (“New
China”) News Agency, which is the main state-run media organization in the People’s
Republic of China. It operates like a Western “wire service” such as Reuters, but is not
independently run, and cannot publish news that contradicts or undermines official
central government policies. Bylines are not used. Articles are published in Chinese, and
distributed to the People’s Daily, China Central Television, and other national and local
news outlets, which may publish the stories in their entirety or edit them down for space
or time constraints. Xinhua news copy tends to be dull, but as it reflects the official line
on a number of topics, it is a daily staple of China’s print and broadcast media.
I am uncertain if Xinhua translates its daily repertoire of stories into Tibetan,
Mongolian, Uighur, or other non-Chinese languages spoken in China.3 Even if it does, I
suspect many members of national minorities seldom read or hear Xinhua content in
newspapers or broadcast media, as minorities are concentrated in remote areas of China’s
frontier regions, outside of the distribution footprints of mass media outlets. Furthermore,
many minority peoples — especially older generations — are illiterate owing to limited
educational opportunities. This is a significant issue: If one of the goals of nationalist
mouthpieces such as Xinhua is to bring ethnic minorities closer to the Han majority, they

Xinhua’s website neglects to say if it translates content for minority nationalities who may not
understand Chinese. “About Xinhua,” Xinhua News Agency, available from

will have a tough job if Tibetans, Uighurs, and others have no access to media in their
own languages, or cannot comprehend what is being said.
However, Xinhua does translate some articles into English. In many instances I
cite Xinhua’s own translated articles. In a few cases I cite Chinese-language news
articles, scholarly research, and policy papers that have been translated by Western
academics or the BBC Asia-Pacific monitoring service. My Chinese ability is not good
enough to read the original Chinese versions of the stories, but I do not believe this
limitation will prevent me from supplying evidence to support my hypothesis.

Historical Nationalism in China

“The major goal of archaeology in East Asia is to enhance
understanding of a nation’s past, by increasing its temporal depth.
In other words, construction of national identity is the prime
business of archaeology in East Asia.”
— Fumiko Ikawa-Smith 4

In the past several decades, nationalism has become the glue that holds China
together. It is perhaps the only thing that can — with Communist ideology in decline, and
the PRC’s 1.3 billion citizens increasingly divided by geography, language, education,
economic opportunity, social class, and culture, the government has turned to nationalism
to maintain a sense of identity and unity. China’s leadership, ever-conscious of the fate of
the Soviet Union, knows that a failure to unite the people could not only result in the
toppling of the Chinese Communist Party, but potentially lead to the breakup of the
China’s leaders have skillfully manipulated an array of issues to build nationalist
sentiment in a way that brings China’s citizens together without causing them to turn
against the government. Causes that trigger nationalist feelings amongst the populace
have ranged from the Olympic games to the reunification of Taiwan.
In addition to these contemporary issues, China’s leaders and official media have
also turned to history to boost nationalist sentiment. I call this “historical nationalism.”

Fumiko Ikawa-Smith, “Construction of national identity and origins in East Asia: a comparative
perspective,” Antiquity, September 1999

I believe that historical nationalism exists in two distinct forms in China. One
form constantly reminds citizenry of China’s exploitation at the hands of various Western
countries and Japan, which invaded and partitioned China in the 19th and 20th centuries.
China was not only able to repel foreign imperialists, but was, thanks to the guidance of
the Chinese Communist Party, able to restore the dignity of the Chinese people. This oft-
repeated story of victimization and triumph over adversity has helped define the Chinese
nation-state to its people.
Another form of historical nationalism in China deals with the remains of past
eras, such as documents, buildings, artifacts, and human remains. Key relics of the past
are presented in a way that boosts a sense of common identity among China’s 1.3 billion
citizens, and creates support for the Chinese nation.
However, this second form of historical nationalism encounters a fundamental
problem. Even though China’s leaders promote a common identity, China does not have
a homogenous population. While more than 90% of its citizens belong to the Han ethnic
group, 108 million people — more than the population of Mexico — belong to “national
minorities.” Most of these groups speak non-Chinese languages at home and live in rural
or frontier areas outside of China’s main population centers. They often have different
physical characteristics and/or dress, and maintain their own cultural and religious
They also have histories that are different from that of the Han ethnic group. The
forebears of almost every minority population at some point lived in areas outside of Han
control. Minority groups had their own social and political systems that were not part of
Han dynastic rule. The relationships between these groups and the Han were sometimes
positive, with frequent cultural and economic exchanges. At other times these
relationships were strained, or hostile. These groups occasionally raided Chinese
outposts, or even warred with Chinese troops. Only in the late imperial period — and in
certain cases, the Republican or Communist eras — were these minority groups absorbed
into the imperial sphere, migrated into Han-dominated areas, or were conquered outright.
As we shall see, dealing with the rough spots in these historical relationships while
building support for among minorities for the modern Chinese nation is a tricky issue for
Chinese historians and gatekeepers.

How Old Is China?
“In the West, scientists treat the Chinese fossil evidence as part of
the broad picture of human evolution worldwide; in China, it is part
of national history — an ancient and fragmentary part, it is true, but
nonetheless one that is called upon to promote a unifying concept of
unique origin and continuity within the Chinese nation.”
— John Reader5

China traditionally views its civilization as being 5,000 years old. This is a
convenient number, rounded up from the approximate date of the life of the mythical
Yellow Emperor around 2700 B.C. Han dynasty historian Qian Sima described the
Yellow Emperor as the father of Chinese civilization in his Historical Records, and the
legendary figure has since become an important cultural symbol to Han Chinese.6
The use of this timeline for Chinese history raises an issue that is central to this
study: Chinese civilization may have arisen 5,000 years ago, but different groups of
people inhabited China long before this period. Historical nationalism in China blurs the
distinction between the traditional definition of Chinese civilization and what existed
before. It interprets fossil remains and other evidence in a way that suggests Han and
national minorities have a shared ancestry that is based within the current political
boundaries of the Chinese nation.
In other words, the entity “China” did not start when the Republic of China was
founded in 1911. Nor did it come into existence at the start of the mythical Xia dynasty in
the third millennium B.C., or at the earlier 5,000 year mark. Rather, China is as old as the
first humans who existed within its modern boundaries.
Where did these humans come from? Western research generally cites the “Out of
Africa” theory, which holds that successive waves of hominid species, including homo
sapiens, migrated out of Africa into the Eurasian landmass. However, in the People’s
Republic of China, two sinocentric views of human evolution predominate. Jia Lanpo and

John Reader, Missing links: The hunt for earliest man (London: Penguin Books, 1990) p. 111
In the late Qing period, the Yellow Emperor was used as a rallying point by early nationalists, as
they attempted to distinguish the Han Chinese from the Manchu rulers of China. Kai-Wing Chow,
“Zhang Binglin and the Invention of the Han Race,” in The Construction of Racial Identities in
China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997) p. 46

others contend that East Asia, not Africa, is the origin of modern man. A more radical
variation from the sinocentric camp — upheld by Wu Rukang — suggests that mankind
evolved independently in Africa and China. Other researchers, including Han Kangxin
and Pan Qifeng, have cited fossil evidence and refined these theories to suggest “a
gradual emergence of a Han population into which many different minority groups would
have merged.”7
Zhao Tongmao has taken the sinocentric theory of evolution a step further, by
attempting to tie China’s national minorities to the Han majority. Zhao’s study of blood
samples of various ethnic groups found that the genetic difference between China’s
ethnic populations is comparatively small. A chart he created put Han Chinese at the
center of the chart, with diverging branches representing other minorities. Zhao’s analysis
found that the Uighurs — a large ethnic group in Northwest China that speaks a Turkic
language — had some European characteristics, but were genetically closer to Han.
According to Frank Dikotter, Zhao’s research suggests that the boundaries of the modern
Chinese nation correlate with the biological characteristics of the Han race and national
Such blood links have become fodder in China’s fight to establish its territorial
claims over formerly independent areas of the country. The Beijing Daily in May 2001
cited the findings of two geneticists who asserted that the present-day Tibetans and Han
Chinese could both trace their ancestry to the Yellow River culture of the Neolithic era.
“All the research strongly suggests the Tibetan people have always been a member of the
Chinese nation. This is incontestable,” the geneticists concluded.9
Archaeological evidence of early human habitation in mainland China come from
several sites. Zhoukoudian near Beijing is perhaps the most well known. It was here that
“Peking Man” was excavated in the 1920s. “Yuanmou Man,” excavated in Yunnan
province in recent decades, is another example. Both sets of remains apparently date from
the mid-Pleistocene period. But China’s official mouthpiece, the Xinhua News Agency,
has regularly backdated the age of the latter in 750,000-year increments to four million

Frank Dikotter, “Racial Discourse in China: Continuities and Permutations,” in ,” in The
Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter (Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, 1997) p. 28
Dikotter, p. 30
David Hsieh, “China bid to put positive light on ties with Tibet,” Straits Times, May 24, 2001

years in the past. The reason: Four-million-year-old human bones not only outdo the age
of remains found in Africa, but also discredit the “Out of Africa” theory, which is
supported by older remains found in Africa compared to Europe and Asia.10
As for the age of Chinese civilization (as opposed to the age of the entity
“China”) in 1997 and 1998 a series of PRC media articles trumpeted the conclusions of
mainland Chinese and Taiwanese historians and archeologists, who supported an earlier
claim by archeologist Su Bingqi “extending the known history of the Chinese nation to at
least 10,000 years.”11 The basis of the historians’ conclusions was archeological sites
outside of the Yellow River basin, which up until that time had been viewed as the
traditional birthplace of Chinese civilization. According to the Xinhua news agency, the
sites included artifacts from the Xiajiadian culture, the Post-Hongshan culture, and the
Yinhe Rock paintings, all of which were found in the Liaohe River Valley in northeastern
China.12 The article said the West Liaohe River civilization originated 8,000 years ago,
but did not explain how the 10,000-year figure was determined.
In any case, I believe the 10,000 year timeline as stated by Xinhua supports two
specific nationalist goals: One, it establishes the Chinese “nation” as being synonymous
with Chinese civilization. Two, it acknowledges that non-Han peoples played a key role
in establishing civilization in China. Barry Sautman has noted an additional nationalist
accomplishment of the 10,000-year claim: It establishes Chinese civilization as the oldest
in the world, rivaling early agricultural communities in the eastern Mediterranean.13

Barry Sautman, “Peking Man and the politics of paleoanthropological nationalism in China,”
Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp. 95-124
“Scholars Propose to Rewrite History of Ancient China,” Xinhua News Agency, December 16
“Liaohe River Valley Proved to be Cradle of Chinese Civilization,” Xinhua News Agency,
September 29, 1998
Sautman, “Peking Man”

Interpreting Evidence from China’s Imperial Past
“China has been a united multi-ethnic country since ancient times.
In 221 B.C., the first united, multi-ethnic, centralized state — the
Qin dynasty — was founded in China. . . . The central governments
of all dynasties following the Han developed and consolidated the
united multi-ethnic entity. . . . Although there were short-term
separations and local divisions in Chinese history, unity has always
been the mainstream in the development of Chinese history. During
the long process of unification, economic and cultural exchanges
brought the people of all ethnic groups in China close together,
giving shape to a relationship of interdependence, mutual promotion
and mutual development among them and contributing to the
creation and development of the Chinese civilization. Due to their
interdependent political, economic and cultural connections, all
ethnic groups in China have shared a common destiny and interests
in their long historical development, creating a strong force of
affinity and cohesion.”
— National Minorities Policy and its Practice in China,
Information Office of the State Council of the PRC14

China’s government released a white paper on minority policy on the eve of the
50th anniversary of the PRC in 1999. Besides detailing the rights of China’s 55 national
minorities, their importance to the nation, and government efforts to promote their
cultural life and well-being, the document gives a general history of China’s minorities in
relation to the Han majority. The white paper alludes to war, rebellion, religious
persecution, and ethnic strife involving minority groups since the Qin dynasty, but these
“local divisions” are played down. Instead, the history stresses multiethnic cooperation to
defeat “foreign invaders and ethnic separatists” in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Manchuria.15
In this way the white paper reflects the two forms of historical nationalism
described on page five, and applies them to China’s dynastic history (as opposed to
Neolithic or Paleolithic history). But official pronouncements such as this are not the only
way historical nationalism is boosted in China. Certain historical artifacts from the

Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, “National Minorities Policy and its Practice
in China,” domestic version translated by BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific/Politica, September 30,
Information Office of the State Council of the PRC

imperial era are often interpreted in a way that downplays ethnic divisions and plays up a
sense of common purpose across all groups.
A notable example is the treatment given the Great Wall. The Wall, which was
started before the Qin dynasty and greatly expanded during the Ming dynasty (1368-
1644), was intended to keep out non-Chinese barbarians living north of Han settlements.
The wall is now well inside the modern boundaries of the PRC, meaning that some of the
descendents of the ethnic groups that were once feared and hated by the Han are now
national minorities within China.16
How does historical nationalism, with its focus on unity of China’s ethnic groups,
explain an artifact that was clearly designed to keep certain groups out? Luo Zhewen, a
scholar and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, admits
that the Great Wall was indeed used as a tool in conflicts with peoples now considered
national minorities. However, he brings up an interesting point concerning the Wall’s

“After the Qin there were only three dynasties ruled by emperors of
Chinese [Han] nationality that carried out substantial work on the
Wall: the Han, the Sui, and the Ming. Many more of the minority
nationality dynasties (namely, Northern and Eastern Wei, Northern
Qi, Northern Zhou, Liao and Jin) worked on the Wall. Thus the
Great Wall is the joint achievement of all of China’s minority

Sautman calls this interpretation of the Great Wall an effort to “show that the
minorities have always been ethnically Chinese.”18 I believe this opinion is extreme, and
tend to think an interpretation like Luo’s is intended to let minority peoples in China feel

Of course, many of the original barbarian groups the Wall was meant to exclude are no longer
in existence, as they were either defeated by or absorbed into the Han or other ethnic groups, or
migrated elsewhere. Two former barbarian groups from the north that are still around today are
the Mongols and Manchus, both of which are designated national minorities in the PRC. The
former dominate in Inner Mongolia and the independent country of Mongolia, while most
Manchus in Northeast China have lost their distinct culture and language, and have been
absorbed into Han society.
Luo Zhewen, “The Great Wall in History,” The Great Wall of China, ed,. Daniel Schwartz
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1990) p. 220
Barry Sautman, “Myths of Descent, Racial Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities,” in The
Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter (Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, 1997) p. 91

ownership of this powerful symbol of Chinese civilization, even if the minority-
controlled dynasties who built it are no longer distinct national minorities in China.
I would also venture that the people who quarried the stone and lifted the bricks
were likely Han subjects of the minority dynasties. For instance, among the minority
nationality dynasties listed by Luo, the most recent is the Jin (also known as the Ruzhen
or Jurchen, 1115-1234). This group of nomadic invaders controlled areas of northern
China. Although they adopted systems of Chinese administration, they remained close to
their nomadic roots, and the area they ruled consisted of mostly Han Chinese subjects.19
If they did indeed prefer to rule over rather than integrate into Han society, it was likely
that their contribution to the Great Wall consisted of ordering when and where work
should start, rather than the actual physical construction or maintenance of the Wall,
which would require them temporarily abandoning aspects of their nomadic culture.
Another piece of construction which has been given nationalist treatment is Emin
Minaret in Turfan, Xinjiang. The mosque, with its distinctive conic minaret, was
constructed in the 1770s by the son of Emin Khoja, the hereditary Uighur “headman” of
Turfan who had helped put down a rebellion against the Manchu Qianlong emperor.20 A
plaque outside the minaret (in Chinese, Uighur, and English) plays down the religious
purpose of the structure. Instead, it stresses that the Minaret was built for the sake of
“national unity” and to oppose Uighur aristocrats.21 A statue built in recent years also
stands outside of the minaret, depicting Emin Khoja holding a rolled scroll in the air; he
is either presenting a memorial to the throne or receiving an edict. The scene is entirely
symbolic — Khoja never traveled to Beijing to personally present a memorial to the
court. But of all the poses that could have been used to depict Khoja’s life — leader of
his community, military commander, a faithful Muslim, or father — the one that was
chosen stresses his loyalty to imperial authority.22

John King Fairbank. China: A New History (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 1992), p. 115
Robert D. Fiala, “Emin Minaret (1777-1778),” in Asian Historical Architecture, available from
Ian Lamont, China travel journal, entry for June 28, 1996.
Email, James Millward to Ian Lamont, August 3, 2004

From the examples cited above, it may seem that Chinese scholars from various
fields, as well as the media and other organizations in the PRC, are bent on distorting
historical evidence for the purpose of furthering nationalist goals.
This is not the case. Few Chinese archaeologists include nationalist rhetoric in
their writings. In fact, when reading site reports and scholarly papers written by Chinese
archaeologists, one is struck at how dry the writing is — there is no flowery prose
describing the excavated artifacts, and speculation concerning their origin is minimal.
This should come as no surprise, according to Sarah Milledge Nelson, who has
noted that the Chinese approach to archaeology is fundamentally different than Western
practice. In China, archaeologists often operate under the auspices of history departments,
and references to historical texts are common. Furthermore, China’s Marxist legacy
reinforced a paradigm that history unfolded in predictable ways, and explanation about
how a culture evolved or connected with others is not required. In addition, she notes that
artifacts are categorized according to perceived style, rather than by stratigraphic
location, and typographies are not used — features are divided into groups which apply
to a specific site only.23
But, as we have seen earlier in this essay, nationalist theory does intrude upon the
writings of certain luminaries, and in media intended for popular consumption. Chinese
news reporters, constrained by the space limitations and ideological considerations, are
apt to give extra credence to nationalist theories, stress evidence that supports historical
nationalism, or exaggerate the importance of certain historical evidence.24
I would argue that these messages have an effect. Most people in the PRC (not to
mention other countries) believe what they read. This is especially true of mass media. If
scholar Su Bingqi writes in an obscure journal that Chinese civilization is 10,000 years

Sarah Milledge Nelson, The archaeology of northeast China: beyond the Great Wall (London:
New York : Routledge, 1995) p. 7
When it comes to issues of unity, national identity, and ethnic minorities, Chinese journalists
can either toe the official line or remain silent. Anything else will not be accepted by senior editors
or the one-party political system. Articles appraising historical nationalism in a critical way — for
instance, having exiled Tibetans comment on the ideas of the geneticists cited in the 2001 Beijing
Daily article on page seven — would not only be suppressed, they would also end the careers of
the writers who dared question the official line on China’s national minorities.

old, his theory will probably not be noticed outside the academic community. But the
same story interpreted by China’s premier news service will potentially be distributed to
tens of millions of people. Individual mentions may be fleeting, and the logic behind Su’s
theory may not be fully explained or understood, but if cited repeatedly— as it was by
China’s state media in 1997 and 1998 — it will likely be accepted as fact by a portion of
the population.
Actually measuring historical nationalism and its effect upon China’s citizens
would require a very rigorous level of research. Determining a baseline for historical
nationalism and then measuring it via content analysis of Chinese archaeological papers
and media sources, followed up by opinion surveys, would be a possible route. But such
an undertaking would be extremely complex and perhaps impossible — how does one go
about sampling something as subjective as “bias” or “nationalism,” in a foreign country
that is very sensitive to outside examination and criticism?
There are other issues to consider. Which population would be studied in order to
measure the effect of historical nationalism — the Han, one minority group, many
minority groups, or everyone in China? If minority groups are included, what type of
media could be studied, if there are not as many newspapers in the groups’ native
languages compared to Chinese? How does one deal with illiterate members of the
population? How would a control group be determined? What would such a study
require, in terms of human and financial support?
And to what end would such a study be conducted? While there may be
disagreement between some Chinese and outside experts regarding the origin of mankind,
I do not believe Chinese policymakers would dispute that official media and other
organizations help boost historical nationalism among China’s diverse population.
China’s own leaders readily admit the support of minority groups is vital:
“Looking around the globe, we will find that many regional
conflicts and wars are related to the poor handling of ethnic issues
and to foreign intervention in ethnic disputes . . . without the
stability of ethnic minority regions [in China], there will not be
national stability”
— President Jiang Zemin25

Antoaneta Bezlova, “China: Wary Of Ethnic Conflict, Beijing Turns Eye On Minorities,” Inter
Press Service, October 19, 1999

In conclusion, based on the evidence I have seen and the sources I have read, I
believe that historical nationalism does influence the study and interpretation of historical
and archaeological evidence in China. Measuring the degree of historical nationalism in
scholarly research and the media, and its effect upon the masses would be problematic,
but I am comfortable stating that historical nationalism is a real trend in China. At some
point, Chinese academics, journalists, and other individuals with gatekeeper functions
may dare to publicly question the theories and evidence that underly historical
nationalism. But as long as the government feels threatened by dissent and the threat of
ethnic separatism, such voices are unlikely to be heard.


“About Xinhua.” Xinhua News Agency. Available from

Bezlova, Antoaneta. “China: Wary Of Ethnic Conflict, Beijing Turns Eye On

Minorities.” Inter Press Service. October 19, 1999.

“China Archaeology News: Weekly Briefs.” Xinhua News Agency. April 10, 2000

Chow, Kai-Wing. “Zhang Binglin and the Invention of the Han Race.” In The
Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Christian, David. A History of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia. Malden, Mass:
Blackwell, 2000.

Dikotter, Frank. “Racial Discourse in China: Continuities and Permutations.” In The

Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, 1992.

Fiala, Robert D. “Emin Minaret (1777-1778).” In Asian Historical Architecture, available


Hsieh, David. “China bid to put positive light on ties with Tibet.” Straits Times, May 24,

Ikawa-Smith, Fumiko. “Construction of national identity and origins in East Asia: a

comparative perspective.” Antiquity, September 1999.

Lamont, Ian. China travel journal entry for June 28, 1996. N.p.

“Liaohe River Valley Proved to be Cradle of Chinese Civilization.” Xinhua News

Agency. September 29, 1998.

Luo, Zhewen. “The Great Wall in History.” In The Great Wall of China, ed. Daniel
Schwartz. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Millward, James. Email to Ian Lamont, August 3, 2004.

Milledge-Nelson, Sarah. The archaeology of northeast China: beyond the Great Wall.
London: New York : Routledge, 1995.

“National Minorities Policy and its Practice in China” (domestic version translated by
BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific/Politica). Information Office of the State Council of the
PRC. September 30, 1999.

Reader, John. Missing links: The hunt for earliest man. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Sautman, Barry. “Myths of Descent, Racial Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities.” In The
Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan, ed. Frank Dikotter. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Sautman, Barry. “Peking Man and the politics of paleoanthropological nationalism in

China.” Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 60, Issue 1 (February, 2001).

“Scholars Propose to Rewrite History of Ancient China.” Xinhua News Agency.

December 16, 1998.