Other Chinas

The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging

Other Chinas

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 21 b&w photographs, 3 maps Published: October 2000

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

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.


“[A] rich and nuanced account . . . . Litzinger’s book a welcome addition to current anthropological work on Chinese minority groups. . . . [his book covers a great deal of ground and a broad range of topics, which makes it useful to those interested in national imaginings, ethnicity, history, place, memory and ritual.” — Robert Snyder , Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

“[A] theoretically sophisticated and wonderfully informed book based on extensive fieldwork in Quangzi Province during the early 1990s.” — V. J. Symons , Choice

“[I]ntrinsically interesting . . . .[A] significant contribution and a rare and welcome quality addition to minority studies in southwest China . . . . [B]ased on substantial fieldwork in China, and the author is thus in a position to provide his readership with a significant amount of original material. Such material is much needed, as research conducted on China’s minorities in one or another of the Chinese languages has rarely been translated. In addition, few ‘western’ anthropologists, to this day, have been able to spend substantial periods of time in remote Southwest China—let alone with non-Han minority groups there. beyond the undeniable sophistication of his argumentation, there lies perhaps Litzinger’s chief contribution to the study of minorities in Southwest China.” — Jean Michaud , Journal of Asian Studies

“[S]ure to become an instant classic of ethnographic China studies . . . . [R]emarkable for its deft and intricate interweaving of national history with the personal histories of local leaders and with the anthropologist’s encounters with these competing accounts during the late 1980s and early 1990s.” — Nicholas Tapp , The China Journal

"Other Chinas is a brilliant read: one of a handful of new books that have made it impossible to continue writing about cultural or intellectual politics in China without taking account of the struggles and histories of minority peoples." — Erik Mueggler, Anthropological Quarterly

"Litzinger’s new approach yields an inspiring and worthwhile book."

— Susan Hangen , American Ethnologist

Other Chinas is a brilliantly executed study of the politics of ethnography in contemporary China. Litzinger engages theories of power, identity, and modernity in a nuanced and sensitive manner, with strategically deployed ethnographic examples on everything from the writing of minority histories, to the longing for ethnic places, to the staging of minority difference. Chinese socialism, and its aftermath, may never look the same.” — Ted Swedenburg, co-editor of Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity

Other Chinas is a theoretically rich and multi-sited ethnography that challenges the dominant notion that the Han subject is always the face of Chinese nationalism. Litzinger demonstrates, with brilliant liveliness, how the paths to and from indigenism have long been at the center of the cultural politics of the socialist state. This book should be read by anyone interested in debates about subaltern agency, the writing of national histories, and the critique of post-socialist modernities.” — Bruce Grant, Swarthmore College

“A masterful work of ethnography and history that sheds new light on politico-intellectual elites and teaches us a great deal about how to think minority politics in any society. Litzinger elegantly reveals the imbrication of Yao identities with Chinese state practice and the writing of selves that takes place even at the margins.” — Louisa Schein, author of Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ralph A. Litzinger is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Writing the Margins: An Introduction

2. Inciting the Past

3. Moral Geographies of Place

4. Remembering Revolution

5. The State and its Ritual Potencies

6. Post-socialist Belonging

Epilogue: Remapping the Margins

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2549-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2525-3
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