Minority Rules

The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural Politics

Minority Rules

Body, Commodity, Text

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 42 b&w photographs, 1 table, 1 map Published: February 2000

Author: Louisa Schein

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies

Minority Rules is an ethnography of a Chinese people known as the Miao, a group long consigned to the remote highlands and considered backward by other Chinese. Now the nation’s fifth largest minority, the Miao number nearly eight million people speaking various dialects and spread out over seven provinces. In a theoretically innovative work that combines methods from both anthropology and cultural studies, Louisa Schein examines the ways Miao ethnicity is constructed and reworked by the state, by non-state elites, and by the Miao themselves, all in the context of China’s postsocialist reforms and its increasing exchange and fascination with the West. She offers eloquently argued interventions into debates over nationalism, ethnic subjectivity, and the ethnography of the state.
Posing questions about gender, cultural politics, and identity, Schein examines how non-Miao people help to create Miao ethnicity by depicting them as both feminized keepers of Chinese tradition and as exotic others against which dominant groups can assert their own modernity. In representing and consuming aspects of their own culture, Miao distance themselves from the idea that they are less than modern. Thus, Schein explains, everyday practices, village rituals, journalistic encounters, and tourism events are not just moments of cultural production but also performances of modernity through which others are made primitive. Schein finds that these moments frequently highlight internal differences among the Miao and demonstrates how not only minorities but more generally peasants and women offer a valuable key to understanding China as it renegotiates its place in the global order.
Based on extensive, multisite fieldwork, this book will interest scholars of Asian studies, anthropology, gender studies, postcolonialism, ethnic studies, and cultural studies.


Minority Rules is an interesting work of interpretative anthropology and should be appreciated as such. It should be read by all sinological anthropologists for its insights on the construction of the Chinese nation.” — Scott Simon , Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“[A] brilliant and sophisticated book. . . . It sheds considerable light on ‘the roles that minority elites themselves play in crafting authoritative discourse’ and the nature of a ‘profoundly ambivalent Chinese consciousness,’ and raises important questions about the nature of the ethnographic enterprise itself.” — Nicholas Tapp , The China Journal

“[A] much needed analysis of historical and actual Miao ethnicities and the problems of cultural identity in 20th-century China. . . . [O]ffers vivid and genuine glimpses into the behaviour of the Han visitors to a Miao village. . . .” — Jacques Lemoine , The China Quarterly

“[A]n engaging and stimulating contribution to Miao nationality studies that will go far to enhance the level of discussion on the position of ethnic minorities within the cultural currents of China.” — Mark Bender , Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

“[S]timulating and insightful. . . . An admirable blend of library research and ethnographic fieldwork, of personal vignette and apt generalization. Schein’s study is a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary analysis that deserves broad readership among scholars of China and of cultural studies in general.” — Stephen C. Averill , The Historian

“In the young but rapidly developing field of ethnicity studies in the People’s Republic of China, Louisa Schein’s Minority Rules stands out as among the most comprehensive and nuanced discussions to date. Theoretically sophisticated and filled with evocative and powerful ethnographic vignettes, it is a model of fine scholarship from the mind of an unusually gifted observer . . . . [A]n excellent book . . . . ” — Chas McKhann , Journal of Asian Studies

"Minority Rules is a superb ethnography that breaks new ground, integrating anthropology and cultural studies, to the benefit of both fields. It is a theoretically and methodologically ambitious book that insistently defies simple characterizations of its subject, the Miao minority of China. . . . Minority Rules is a landmark of contemporary anthropology. . . . It is a wonderful teaching tool for introducing contemporary critical theory to upper level undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and Asian Studies, and a foundational work for any anthropologist or cultural studies scholar interested in the production of identity and culture in the context of global modernities." — Karen L. Kelsky , American Anthropologist

Minority Rules is breathtaking. Combining sophisticated cultural analysis with sharp attention to political economy, Schein illuminates not only the way the Miao have been constructed historically but how they shape their own identities through cultural performances, whether in state theater or for tourists.” — Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Veiled Sentiments and Writing Women’s Worlds

“A highly readable exploration of the cultural politics of reform-era China that deserves a broad readership among anthropologists, historians, and those in cultural studies.” — Ann Anagnost, author of National Past-Times: Narrative, Representation, and Power in Modern China


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Louisa Schein is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Preface and Acknowledgments

1 Introduction

Part I. Nation / Representation

2 Of Origins and Ethnonyms Contested Histories, Productive Ethnologies

3 Making Minzu: The State, the Category, and the Work

4 Internal Orientalism: Gender and the Popularization of China's Others

5 Reconfiguring the Dominant

Part II. Identity and Cultural Struggle

6 Songs for Sale: Spectacle from the Mao to Market

7 Scribes, Sartorial Acts, and the State: Calling Culture Back

8 Displacing Subalternity: The Mobile Other

9 Performances of Minzu Modernity

10 Conclusion




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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2444-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2408-9
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