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“It is of course important to build transportation and exploit resources in order to develop the southwestern border area. But cultural development is of equal importance. In the past the transportation was difficult in the southwest, and education quite backward. There are many non-Han ethnicities, most of whom have little education. They have no idea of our country, nor our race. Scattered around the border area, they are very susceptible to instigations by foreigners. Today they are Chinese [emphasis original], and the next day they could be foreigners. Under such a fickle mind, they have no idea what our country and race are. This is quite dangerous to our national defense and peaceful life within the rear.”
Ling Shun-sheng, “The Importance of Developing the Southwestern Border Area,” 1938[1]

Ethnicity has been of critical importance to China’s frontier security since early imperial times, and it is one of the defining issues in the formation of China’s nation-state in the twentieth century. The ruling house of the last imperial dynasty Qing (1644–1911) hailed from the Manchu tribe and managed an unprecedented multiethnic empire that not only governed the majority Han population and but also reached far into the heartland of Central Asia. The collapse of the Qing Empire in the early twentieth century was first fueled by a virulent anti-Manchu nationalism centering on the country’s majority Han population. This was demonstrated in Sun Yat-sen’s goals for the Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui) in 1904: to expel the Tartar barbarians and to restore China. (this should not be a separate paragraph) Such an exclusionary vision of “China” soon raised geostrategically awkward questions about the position of ethnic minorities in the future polity and in particular the vast territories they occupied within the Qing, which were already targets of various foreign powers in their own imperial projects. In correction of this divisive potential, the new Republic, founded in 1912, soon proclaimed the principle of “five ethnicities under one union” (wuzu gonghe), which covered five commonly recognized ethnic groups: Han, Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, and Muslims. The national five-bar flag, with “red for the Han, yellow for the Manchurian, blue for the Mongolian, white for the Tibetan, and black for the Moslem community of China,” became a symbol of this new principle.[2]

The magic number five in the political semiology of the early Republic reflected more a customary enumeration of some of the better-known ethnic groups in China than an accurate counting of them. As the nascent Republic deepened its state-building efforts despite the ongoing political instabilities, ethnographic expeditions to remote areas led by professionally trained scholars became a conduit through which the Chinese state got to know its hitherto unfamiliar subjects on the various ethnic frontiers. (this should not be a separate paragraph) This was particularly so after the Chinese Nationalist Party (GMD) came to power in the late 1920s. The Academia Sinica, the GMD state’s reigning national research institute, and particularly its Institute of History and Philology (IHP) starting in the late 1920s sponsored some of the earliest modern ethnographic expeditions by Chinese themselves. The GMD government’s retreat to China’s ethnically complex southwestern hinterland during the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) did not really disrupt the ongoing state-sponsored ethnographic research; in fact, to some extent it even strengthened. Not only did the IHP scholars continue to study ethnic minorities in southwest China during wartime, but in the early 1940s the Ministry of Education also sponsored the Northwest Art and Relics Research Team (xibei yishu wenwu kaochatuan) to expand such ethnographic research into another ethnically diverse region.[3]

Despite the apparent significance of the GMD state’s various ethnographic projects in the historical formation of China’s modern nation-state over the twentieth century, they have curiously evaded systematic attention in the English-language scholarship. So far studies on the history of modern ethnology as a field of knowledge in China have touched on the important roles of foreign missionaries, explorers, and scholars (roles not mutually exclusive) between the late Qing and the Republican period. The massive ethnic-classification (minzu shibie) project carried out by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s is also the subject of one monograph. Yet except for one book chapter on the ethnographic photographer Zhuang Xueben (1909–1984), there has been almost no research on how Chinese themselves, encouraged by a state that was built upon the platform of Chinese nationalism, studied and understood their ethnic compatriots during a politically volatile period. Their invocation of ethnicity, as this paper will demonstrate, had an immense impact on the later understandings of the same concept in the PRC even today, despite the GMD state’s withdrawal to Taiwan in 1949. In a comparative vein, the GMD state’s sponsorship of various ethnographic expeditions echoes the centrality of kindred disciplines such as anthropology and ethnology in different state-formation projects. How Chinese intellectuals charged with documenting the ethnic contours of their own nation-state represented those who were supposed to be Chinese but not quite enriches the scholarly understanding of the power dynamics in ethnographic encounters, which is otherwise based mainly on Western scholarship about indigenous peoples in colonial settings.[4]

This paper mainly draws on the wealth of photographic images produced by the Chinese scholars in the state-sponsored ethnographic expeditions in the 1930s and 1940s. These ethnographic images are now under the care of the IHP, based in Taipei since 1949, and have been recently catalogued and made available online. Such a visual archive of those expeditions, so far underused by scholars, offers a unique vantage point for us to unpack how ethnicity was imagined and presented by Chinese themselves in a way that written texts would not allow us to. The images in this paper are by no means statistically representative. Rather, they are meant to illustrate the point the author discerns through his perusal of a large pool of images and they are of course subject to alternative interpretations.[5]

Unlike most of the colonial anthropometric photos of the racial and ethnic others, Chinese ethnographic images in the 1930s and 1940s visualized ethnicity not so much in terms of inherent bodily traits, but instead emphasized more mobile and fluid elements such clothing and its accessories. In the quest for an inclusionary nationalism based on the amalgamated yet de-ethnicized “Chinese race” (zhonghua minzu) in order to fend off foreign threats, the visual (un)signifying of ethnicity as seen in these images erased the ontological autonomy of ethnicity. In other words, being ethnic was potentially open to anyone willing to don the special clothing, a more important marker of ethnicity than the natural body. This representational strategy of the 1930s and 1940s, shared to a considerable extent by both Han and non-Han scholars in the expeditions, continued to inform the succeeding visual depictions of the ethnic “passing” by the PRC’s top leadership, despite its seeming political irrelevance after the GMD’s defeat in 1949.[6]

Following the chronological order of the GMD-sponsored ethnographic expeditions, this essay begins with Ling Shun-sheng’s fieldwork among the Hezhe people in the lower Songhua River region in northern Manchuria in 1930, one of the earliest of its kind. Ling (1901–1978) studied with the renowned French anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1872–1950) at the University of Paris and received his doctorate in 1929. One year later, he was charged with leading the state-sponsored ethnographic fieldwork on behalf of the newly founded Academia Sinica. The product of this expedition, The Hezhe People in the Lower Songhua River Region (Songhuajiang xiayou de Hezhe zu), was published in 1934 and became a model for ethnographies on other groups in different parts of China.[7]

The timing and location of Ling’s expedition were politically significant. Manchuria (or the Northeast, in Chinese nationalist geography) in 1930 was a tinderbox at the center of political jostling by various Chinese and foreign powers. Zhang Xueliang (1901–2001), the region’s top Chinese warlord, pledged allegiance to the GMD central government in Nanjing only in 1928, but retained much of his own power. The Soviet Union and Japan had maintained their separate spheres of interest in northern and southern Manchuria since the turn of the twentieth century, but Japan’s Guandong (Kwantung) Army was to occupy the whole of Manchuria in 1931. Ling’s study in China’s northeastern frontier at this particular moment marked an urgent desire by the GMD state and like-minded Han Chinese scholars to chart a perilous nation’s ethnic contour. Although it focused on one particular non-Han ethnicity, Ling’s investigation was steeped in “extensive historical analysis that frame[d] the ethnography.” By “distinguish[ing] the Donghu of the ancient Chinese texts from the Tungus,” Ling sought to place the Hezhe firmly in the Chinese ethnic tapestry instead of categorizing them as transnational Tungusic people, an opinion that had been advanced by Japanese scholars and could weaken Chinese claims over Manchuria. Confronted with the mounting threat by Japan, Ling in the early 1930s was thus eagerly embarking on an ethnographic reconstruction of a still Han-centered Chinese civilization, which was, however, dependent on its peripheral region (Manchuria) and peripheral people (Hezhe).[8]

As a keen student of contemporary Western anthropology, which was deeply implicated in the colonial expansion of major powers, Ling was well versed in the anthropometric techniques and left extensive photographic records of this three-month research trip with his team member Shang Chengzu (also named Shang Zhangsun; 1899–1975), who actually took the photographs. Shang came from a Han scholar family in the Manchu banner system and would earn his doctorate in ethnology from the University of Hamburg in 1934. A paired set from this collection of the same ethnic subject against both natural and engineered backgrounds demonstrates the Han Chinese intellectual elites’ half-exoticization of China’s ethnic minorities and their retooling of colonial legacies for nationalist purposes.[9]

This first photo of the set (figure 1) is a full-frontal portrait of a Hezhe man clad in roe deer fur standing in front of a brick house (probably his own). Facing the camera, a novel instrument, and Shang the photographer and probably Ling as new acquaintances, this man is framed in a natural surrounding not alien to him. The dirt ground, the sunshine, the house, and the implement leaning against the wall, the last an inference based on its truncated depiction in the photo, should be reasonably familiar elements in this man’s life. But this image is not particularly ethnographic because such a more or less naturalist framing does not accentuate the man’s ethnicity. The undistinguished landscape could be that of any north China village, the fur garment could also be donned by Han people living in the freezing northeast, and the facial traits of this Hezhe man are not markedly different from those of the Han. The ethnic signifier here is simply opaque.

Fig. 1. Shang Zhangsun, “Zhuo paopi dachang de Hezhe ren” (A Hezhe Person in Roe Deer Fur Coat), 1930, catalogue number 00002421, Tianye zhaopian ziliaoku, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica (hereafter IHPTZZ, courtesy of IHP). Fig. 1. Shang Zhangsun, “Zhuo paopi dachang de Hezhe ren” (A Hezhe Person in Roe Deer Fur Coat), 1930, catalogue number 00002421, Tianye zhaopian ziliaoku, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica (hereafter IHPTZZ, courtesy of IHP).

A quasi-anthropometric second photo (figure 2) reveals that the missing ethnic signifier was partly compensated for by the artificial background similar to, but not quite the same as, those in the anthropometric images. In this photo, the same Hezhe man in the exact same pose is still the focus of the shot, but the photographer has painstakingly replaced the original background in the first photo with an artificial white one. Given the existence of the first photo, the second one is quite likely an engineered product in the photographer’s studio. Ling’s education in France undoubtedly made him familiar with the gridded wall in classic anthropometric shots dating back to John Lamprey in the late 1860s (figure 3), and this is reflected through the artificial white background in Shang’s photo. It represents the power of anthropological knowledge to mark an ethnically ambiguous body that straddles the limbo space between us and them. It was through this manufactured frame that nationalist Han intellectuals asserted their ethnographic authority. The positioning of the same man against a bland white background, the functional equivalent to Lamprey’s grids, served to interpellate and accentuate the man’s ethnic difference. But instead of the rigid grids, the post-hoc white background in Shang’s photo represented much less an urge to measure and classify a body that belonged to an intended ethnic compatriot. The ethnographic authority, unlike that in a Western colonial context, was not meant to establish an absolute chasm between the photographer and the photographed. Besides revealing otherwise obscure ethnic differences, it also intended to situate such differences in a bigger emphasis on the new amalgamated Chinese race.[10]

Fig. 2. Shang Zhangsun, “Zhuo paopi dachang de Hezhe ren” (A Hezhe Person in Roe Deer Fur Coat), 1930, catalogue number 00002388, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 2. Shang Zhangsun, “Zhuo paopi dachang de Hezhe ren” (A Hezhe Person in Roe Deer Fur Coat), 1930, catalogue number 00002388, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 3. John Lamprey, “Chinese Male,” c. 1870, courtesy the Royal Anthropological Institute. Fig. 3. John Lamprey, “Chinese Male,” c. 1870, courtesy the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Viewed together, this pair of photos provides a unique vantage point in demonstrating how Han Chinese intellectuals supported by the GMD state attempted to transform the colonial legacies of anthropometric techniques in signifying ethnicity in a Chinese nationalist context in the early 1930s. Unlike European anthropologists measuring colonial subjects, Chinese researchers on the country’s unsettled northeastern frontier were not able to resort to perceived physical differences to signify an entrenched non-Han ethnicity in China. In lieu of the Western colonial ambition, their command of modern anthropology in service to an aspiring nation-state still afforded them the power, symbolized by the camera and the artificial white background, to document the particular man and Hezhe people in general. Ethnicity was perceived not so much as physical difference, but rather as something external to the ethnic body itself, which, despite its ethnic status, was to be marked into, rather than out of, the national body.

Such elusiveness of ethnicity in the Chinese context in the 1930s was also manifest in photos produced by non-Han photographers during the GMD-sponsored ethnographic expeditions. In 1933, after the Hezhe people’s habitat had been under Japanese control, Ling made another research trip on behalf of the IHP, this time to west Hunan, a province to the south of the middle Yangzi River. The main non-Han ethnic group in the area was the Miao, who, however, were not recognized as one of the five major ethnicities in the Republican political discourse. Although the Miao people had been the subject of ethnographic research by the Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryūzō (1870–1953) and the Chinese geologist-cum-archaeologist Ding Wenjiang (1887–1936) in the early twentieth century, Ling’s team marked the first time the GMD state sponsored research of such a major ethnic group in China’s southwestern hinterland. Among Ling’s associates in the early 1930s was Shi Qigui (1896–1959), a Miao intellectual from west Hunan who produced many photographs for the Han-dominated expedition. To be sure, a few of Shi’s works belonged to the explicitly anthropometric genre similar to that of Shang Chengzu’s. As can be seen in figure 4, the head and upper chest of a Miao man are positioned against a white background, the relaxed substitute for the rigid grids in order to construct his otherwise obscure ethnicity for an ethnographic-cum-nationalist gaze. But Shi also produced some striking photos (figures 5–7) that tacitly resisted the Han ethnicization of his people.[11]

Fig. 4. Shi Qigui, “Tizhi celiang_Xiang Miao” (Anthropometrics: A Miao in Hunan), n.d., catalogue number 00005350, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 4. Shi Qigui, “Tizhi celiang_Xiang Miao” (Anthropometrics: A Miao in Hunan), n.d., catalogue number 00005350, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 5. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00004652, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 5. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00004652, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 6. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00004677, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 6. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00004677, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 7. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00005416, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 7. Shi Qigui, no title, n.d., catalogue number 00005416, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).

All three were of Miao households then living in west Hunan, but there was little other information about who they were. Except for the ethnic clothing of some (not all) women, these photos contain very little that discloses the ethnic identity of those people in it. The first photo (figure 5) captures a family of six, who look like both parents and four sons. None of the family members is dressed in any recognizable Miao garment. The oldest son, with his long air, stands on the far left and wears a Sun Yat-sen suit (also known as the Mao suit), probable symbols of his youthful political enthusiasm. The parents and their younger sons are all wearing silk gowns, common among Han gentry families. In the third photograph (figure 7), the clothing of what appears to be a grandmother with a grandson in her lap is equally undistinguishable from that of well-off Han. The second photo (figure 6), similar to the first, is also a family portrait, but there is a gendered mixture of Han and Miao clothing. The patriarch is in his long gown, a typical outfit for a Han-gentry scholar of his age. His sons and probably grandsons are also in nondescript Han clothing and some kind of new school uniform. The women in the family, however, are all in their ethnic outfits, from the hat down to the embroidered shoes. Although ethnographic photos by Han photographers also had such gendered emphasis on the ethnic clothing, Shi as a Miao intellectual elite seems to be at least equally interested in demonstrating the porous ethnic boundaries through his people in Han clothing.[12]

If clothing leaves some traces of ethnicity in Shi’s photos, the same photos also contain elements that undermine the intended ethnic signification. All three photos were taken in an open space, probably the family courtyard. Thus, the appearance of a mechanical clock on a double-deck side table in all these photos seems quite out of place, because the timepiece and furniture were usually kept within the inner living space. The conspicuous positioning of a modern instrument alongside the supposed ethnic individuals in undistinguishable clothing thus further erodes the explanatory power of any ethnic signifier. Given the steady Han migration to southwest China since the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Sinicization had been pursued by local ethnic elites for “better or more secure social status,” the result of which was to “make the southwest a periphery of China with very unclear boundaries between Han and non-Han peoples in the Qing and first half of the twentieth century.” As Han researchers went around the country looking for ethnic signifiers to furnish narratives a multiethnic nation, Shi’s photo seem to remind viewers that how blurry the ethnic boundaries between Han and the minorities could be and that ethnicity as a social construct was rife with social class divisions.[13]

The uncertain ethnicity did not prevent other Han Chinese interested in the issue from trying to visualize it in other ways. Yong Shiheng, another photographer in the 1933 expedition to west Hunan, took several pictures of select Miao clothing against a white background (figure 8). Compared to Shang Chengzu’s construction of the Hezhe ethnicity through a similar artificial background a few years ago (see again figure 2), Yong’s images provide an even more intensive ethnicized gaze on a disembodied piece of clothing. Such an obsession with the ethnic clothing was not unique to Yong. As the raging Sino-Japanese War drove the GMD government deep into China’s southwestern hinterland, the IHP’s ethnographic research also went further afield. During another research trip to the Miao area in the southwestern province of Sichuan in 1943, the ethnologist Rui Yifu (1898–1991) took pictures of the same woman from the front and back (figures 9 and 10). Although not quite as extreme as Yong’s work, these two pictures, with the woman’s eyes shut and her head lowered in the frontal photo, also minimizes the ethnic body and privileges the ethnic clothing. Instead of emphasizing the inherent corporeal difference as in the colonial anthropometric images, these Chinese researchers resorted to a sartorial signification of this fluid concept. The seemingly inclusive representation for the sake of national solidarity however weakened the ontological autonomy of ethnicity and would, as will be shown later, subject the notion to unexpected appropriations.[14]

Fig. 8. Yong Shiheng, “Miao xinjianiang yifu jia” (Miao Bride Clothing jia), 1933, catalogue number 00000628, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 8. Yong Shiheng, “Miao xinjianiang yifu jia” (Miao Bride Clothing jia), 1933, catalogue number 00000628, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 9. Rui Yifu, “Shengzhuang Miaofu (zhengmian)” (A Miao Woman in Beautiful Clothing, front), 1943, catalogue number 00000871, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 9. Rui Yifu, “Shengzhuang Miaofu (zhengmian)” (A Miao Woman in Beautiful Clothing, front), 1943, catalogue number 00000871, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).
Fig. 10. Rui Yifu, “Shengzhuang miaofu beiying” (Back of a Miao Woman in Beautiful Clothing), 1943, catalogue number 00000872, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 10. Rui Yifu, “Shengzhuang miaofu beiying” (Back of a Miao Woman in Beautiful Clothing), 1943, catalogue number 00000872, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).

A preliminary survey of the relationship between pictures of people and those of landscapes in the ethnographic photographs produced by researchers commissioned by the GMD state confirms such an existential uncertainty of ethnicity. According to the IHP’s online catalogue of its photographic collections from all of the GMD-sponsored ethnographic expeditions in mainland China, images of people outnumber pictures of landscapes by a wide margin. Within the body of landscape photos so categorized, viewers seldom see ethnic peoples. In the mind of the Han photographers, who produced the vast majority of these images, the landscape was thus quite separable from its ethnic inhabitants. Such a dichotomous thinking effaced the organic relationship between the landscape and its people, and deprived the former’s signifying potential for ethnicity.

On the other hand, those photos categorized as of ethnic peoples also undermined such an organic relationship. Most of them were taken at no farther than the middle range, giving us a fairly detailed view of the ethnic individuals and particularly of the clothing photographers wanted to highlight. The simultaneous truncation of the landscape, however, obscures its importance in sustaining the ethnic lifeway. When an ethnic individual does occasionally pop up in a landscape photo, usually taken at a range farther than that of photos of people (figure 11), it is often unlikely for viewers to identify the ethnic nature of either the individual or the landscape because what is captured is just so similar to generic (Han) rural serenity. Therefore, landscape and figure photographs from the GMD-sponsored ethnographic expeditions in most cases canceled out each other and weakened the mutual constitution and signification of the two.[15]

Fig. 11. Rui Yifu, “Qingmiao shuitian zhong zhi xushuijing” (Reservoir in a Qingmiao Paddy), 1940, catalogue number 00000705, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP). Fig. 11. Rui Yifu, “Qingmiao shuitian zhong zhi xushuijing” (Reservoir in a Qingmiao Paddy), 1940, catalogue number 00000705, IHPTZZ (courtesy of IHP).

Without neglecting the differences between researchers on state missions and the state, the genres of ethnographic images analyzed here do offer connections to the GMD’s own ideologies regarding ethnicity. As mentioned above, ethnographic expeditions sponsored by the GMD state drew heavily on exercises by anthropologists from Western colonial powers, but the pervasive nationalist rhetoric to embrace different ethnicities and build up a new, amalgamated and de-ethnicized Chinese race also set apart the Chinese case from its Western counterparts. “In contrast to Western colonial anthropology, which self-confidently took the colonized Other to be the object of its analysis,” ethnographic research in China, similar to Japan, “did not clearly demarcate colonial from national concerns.” In the East Asian context, the aspiring nation-state was using Western colonial techniques to mark its own ethnic borders. Under the dual challenges of ethnic distinction and national unification, Chinese researchers on the country’s various ethnic frontiers moved away from a primordial notion of ethnicity based on inherent physical traits. Instead, they proffered a more fluid understanding that emphasized ethnicity’s contingent association with detachable elements, such as clothing and accessories, as well as the landscape. Ethnicity in this sense seemed less hierarchical and in better service of the nationalist cause. Although the Chinese researchers would not necessarily agree with the GMD, and particularly Chiang Kai-shek’s growing dismissal of ethnic differences in China, ethnicity’s ontological impermanence as revealed in the previous visual analysis actually coincided with the official position.[16]

Following its defeat in the Chinese civil war in 1949, Chiang’s GMD government eventually lost mainland China and withdrew to Taiwan. The succeeding PRC, despite its official rhetoric of eliminating the GMD remnants, curiously carried on the visual legacy of a fluid ethnicity formed in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1956 photo of Mao Zedong (1893–1976) trying on an ethnic hat is quite symbolic here (figure 12). The photographer intended to portray an enlightened leader who cared about ethnic issues, but this photograph could also be understood as a logical extension of those images in the previous two decades that privileged the signifying effects of the mobile ethnic garment. Without an essentialized physical (or cultural) signifier for ethnicity, the supreme national leader, who was a Han himself, could temporarily pose as an ethnic for the conspicuous purpose of national solidarity. Further searches on the Internet indicate that there is a continuing genre of ethnic “passing” by the PRC’s top leaders, among them Zhou Enlai (1898–1976), Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping (figures 13–17). What is obscured in these images is ethnicity’s conceptual standing in and of itself, and by extension the unchallenged Han superiority. It was the photographer and national leader who were in the position to appropriate ethnicity for a multiethnic nationalism under the terms of the Han, not the other way round.[17]

Fig. 12. Lü Houmin, Mao Zedong receiving gifts from representatives of ethnic minorities in 1956), http://www.fotocn.org/60/1956-2314 (accessed August 12, 2016). Fig. 12. Lü Houmin, Mao Zedong receiving gifts from representatives of ethnic minorities in 1956), http://www.fotocn.org/60/1956-2314 (accessed August 12, 2016).
Fig. 13. Zhou Enlai with the Dai ethnics in Yunan, 1961, http://www.mzb.com.cn/zgmzb/html/2016-01/22/content_111042.htm (accessed July 24, 2016). Fig. 13. Zhou Enlai with the Dai ethnics in Yunan, 1961, http://www.mzb.com.cn/zgmzb/html/2016-01/22/content_111042.htm (accessed July 24, 2016).
Fig. 14. Deng Xiaoping with a representative from Xinjiang, n.d., http://chuansong.me/n/359922351866 (accessed July 24, 2016). Fig. 14. Deng Xiaoping with a representative from Xinjiang, n.d., http://chuansong.me/n/359922351866 (accessed July 24, 2016).
Fig. 15. “Jiang Zemin tongzhi he shaoshu minzu tongbao zai yiqi” (Comrade Jiang Zemin with Ethnic Compatriots), 2009, http://www.seac.gov.cn/gjmw/zt/2009-09-29/1254039197314567.htm (accessed August 12, 2016). Fig. 15. “Jiang Zemin tongzhi he shaoshu minzu tongbao zai yiqi” (Comrade Jiang Zemin with Ethnic Compatriots), 2009, http://www.seac.gov.cn/gjmw/zt/2009-09-29/1254039197314567.htm (accessed August 12, 2016).
Fig. 16. Hu Jintao with Xinjiang representatives at the National People’s Congress, 2008, http://www.xjyxh.com/article.asp?articleid=121 (accessed August 12, 2016). Fig. 16. Hu Jintao with Xinjiang representatives at the National People’s Congress, 2008, http://www.xjyxh.com/article.asp?articleid=121 (accessed August 12, 2016).
Fig. 17. Xi Jinping with ethnic youth, 2013, http://news.youth.cn/gn/201305/t20130507_3196376_2.htm (accessed July 24, 2016). Fig. 17. Xi Jinping with ethnic youth, 2013, http://news.youth.cn/gn/201305/t20130507_3196376_2.htm (accessed July 24, 2016).

If such photographic presentation of a fluid ethnicity was paternalistically benign, other appropriations of ethnicity in the PRC contribute to its undoing. As the Republican-era researchers hinted in their photographs, ethnic minorities could be unmoored from the landscape and also enjoy modern amenities just as could the Han. What the earlier researchers probably did not expect was that their somewhat veiled visual messages actually heralded what was going to happen in the PRC, but with mixed results at best. In the name of modernization, waves of Han Chinese, voluntarily or not, were sent to the country’s remote areas in which most ethnic minorities lived. The photographic insinuation of the separateness of ethnic landscape and peoples was increasingly becoming reality: the government could legitimately claim ethnic landscape for national development not always in the best interests of ethnic minorities. As the various incidents of ethnic unrest in China in the past decade remind us, the ethnic underpinnings of the landscape could not be simply brushed away, either by ethnographic photographs or by a developmental state. The pioneering Chinese researchers in the 1930s and 1940s did not directly cause the current developments; however, we continue to live in the unacknowledged shadows of their ethnographic images.


Yanqiu Zheng is a Ph.D. candidate in modern Chinese history at Northwestern University, where he is currently completing his dissertation, titled “Reorienting Orientalism: The Making of Chinese Cultural Diplomacy in the United States, 1926-1974”.

Notes

    1. Lin Shun-sheng, Zhongguo bianjiang minzu yu huan Taipingyang wenhua: Lin Shun-sheng xiansheng lunwen ji (Taipei: Lianjing, 1979), 72. Pinyin is used for the transliteration of Chinese names and places except for those well known in English, such as Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, and for people in Taiwan after1949, who continue to use their own transliteration.return to text

    2. John Fitzgerald, Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 121, 180. The new Qing history in the English language scholarship since the late 1990s has made great progress in revealing the multiethnic nature of the Qing Empire. For a useful review of this body of literature, see Johanna Waley-Cohen, “The New Qing History,” Radical History Review, no. 88 (2004): 193-206.return to text

    3. There is a long history of recording tributary envoys from ethnic tribes and foreign countries in the Portraits of Periodical Offering (zhi gong tu) dating back to the sixth century CE. The Qing Empire also incorporated ethnographic and cartographic surveys in its imperial expansion. But these broadly defined ethnographic traditions in China were not the same as ethnographic expeditions based on modern disciplines of anthropology and ethnology. See Laura Hostetler, Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). For a history of ethnology as a modern discipline in China, see Wang Jianmin, Zhongguo minzuxue shi, Part I, 1903–1949 (Kunming: Yunnan jiaoyu chubanshe, 1997). I am grateful to Dr. Wu Zhe for pointing out Wang’s book to me. return to text

    4. Denise Glover, et al., eds., Explorers & Scientists in China’s Borderlands, 18801950 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011); Thomas Mullaney, Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011); Yajun Mo, “The New Frontier: Zhuang Xueben and Xikang Province,” in Yongtao Du and Jeff Kyong-McClain, ed., Chinese History in Geographical Perspective (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 121–39; Andrew D. Evans, Anthropology at War: World War I and the Science of Race in Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa, Museums, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994). I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out Glover’s and Mo’s works to me.return to text

    5. Due to space limitations, this essay does not address the photographic images of ethnic minorities in popular magazines in China since the 1920s. Instead it focuses on those from specifically ethnographic missions sponsored by the GMD. This is not meant to underestimate the ethnographic potential of images that were not explicitly marked as such. The occasional reference in this essay to paintings that are seldom discussed in the ethnographic context compensates, to some extent, for the narrow definition of ethnographic. For relevant discussions of the nature of the ethnographic, see David Odo, The Journey of “A Good Type”: From Artistry to Ethnography in Early Japanese Photographs (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press, 2015), and Allen Hockley, review of Odo, Trans-Asia Photography Review 6, no. 2 (2016), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.7977573.0006.209 (accessed August 13, 2016).return to text

    6. For the de-ethnicized nature of the Chinese race, see Hsiao-pei Yen, “Constructing the Chinese: Paleoanthropology and Anthropology in the Chinese Frontier, 1920–1950” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2012), 147–65.return to text

    7. For more on the expedition itself, see Qi Qingfu, “Ling Chunsheng he tade Songhuajiang xiayou de Hezhe zu,” Zhongnan minzu daxue xuebao (renwen shehui kexue ban) 24, no. 6 (2004): 33–37.return to text

    8. Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 194.return to text

    9. Despite his training in ethnology, Shang made his name in the field of romantic German literature. See Ye Jun, “Wenzhang you zai wei jin cai: Ri’erman xuezhe Shang Chengzu de yihan,” October 22, 2008, http://www.literature.org.cn/article.aspx?id=37563 (accessed July 31, 2016). Although Ling did not take the photos himself, the fact that they survive in decent number at the IHP archives probably means that he approved Shang’s work.return to text

    10. Elizabeth Edwards, “Photographic ‘Types’: The Pursuit of Method,” in Visual Anthropology 3, no. 2–3 (1990), 244; Philippa Levine, “States of Undress: Nakedness and the Colonial Imagination,” in Victorian Studies 50, no. 2 (2008), 201. Given Shang’s childhood experience in Hamburg in the 1910s, when his father worked at the Colonial Institute, Shang himself was probably familiar with the anthropometric genre.return to text

    11. For more on Shi’s role in the research, see Zhang Zhaohe, “Cong ‘tazhe miaoxie’ dao ‘ziwo biaoshu’: Minguo shiqi Shi Qigui guanyu Xiangxi Miaozu shenfen de tansuo yu shijian,” in Guangxi minzu daxue xuebao (zhexue shehui kexue ban) 30, no. 5 (2008): 37–45; Wu Hexian, “Cong ‘Miaoxiang tanqi’ dao ‘fazhan zijue’: Minguo shiqi Ling Chunsheng deng yu Shi Qigui Xiangxi Miaozu diaocha yanjiu bijiao,” n.d., http://www.taiwananthro.org.tw/sites/www.taiwananthro.org.tw/files/conference_papar/%E5%90%B3%E5%90%88%E9%A1%AF.pdf (accessed August 7, 2016).return to text

    12. Wang Peng-hui, “Shiyi de guozu, shiyi de guozu, shiyi de zu/guo: Xianying Minguo shiqi de xinan shaoshu minzu” (PhD diss., National Taiwan University, 2009), 70; Mo, “The New Frontier,” 131. I am grateful to Su Wei-sin for pointing out Wang’s dissertation to me.return to text

    13. Rui Yifu, Chuannan Miaozu diaocha rizhi 1942-43, ed. Wang Ming-ke (Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 2010), xviii–xx.return to text

    14. As head of the GMD Ministry of Education’s Northwest Art and Relics Research Team in the early 1940s, Wang Ziyun’s watercolor paintings of different ethnic individuals also demonstrate such a sartorial obsession in signifying ethnicity. Wang (1897-1990) studied Western painting in China in the 1910s and sculpture in Paris in the 1930s. See, for example, Wang Ziyun xibei xiesheng xuan (Changsha: Yuelu shushe, 2005), 58, 71.return to text

    15. This is based on the number of photos catalogued as “dijing-shengtai yu shengji huanjing” (landscape: ecological and living environment), “dijing-cunzhai dijing” (landscape: villages), and “dijing-yewai dijing” (landscape: outdoors). It should be noted that this cataloguing, not necessarily produced by the original researchers, might not be exhaustive, either. See Tianye zhaopian, Zhongguo xinan shaoshu minzu ziliaoku, http://ndweb.iis.sinica.edu.tw/race_public/System/frame_1.htm (accessed August 12, 2016). Pang Xunqin (1906–1985), a Chinese modernist painter who studied in France in the 1920s and early 1930s, actually painted a watercolor titled “Waterwheel,” based on Rui’s photo (figure 11), in 1940. Pang’s painting de-ethnicized the original photo and added a modernist touch. It featured two ethnically indistinct women getting water from an idealized field flanked by hills in the background. See Wang, “Shiyi de guozu, shiyi de minzu, shiyi de zu/guo,” 87–88.return to text

    16. Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity, 182; Wu Zhe, “Chiang Kai-shek de Zhonghua minzu lunshu yu Guomin zhengfu de bianjiang zizhi shijian,” in Chou Whei-min, ed., Zhongguo minzu guan de tuancheng (Taipei: Zhengda chubanshe, 2013): 239–87. Ling himself was an important figure in the GMD government’s border administration (bianzheng) bureaucracy, designed specifically to strengthen the central government’s control of the country’s ethnic frontiers, in the 1940s. I am grateful to Su Wei-sin for pointing out Wu’s book chapter. return to text

    17. Interestingly, the author has been unable to locate any photo of Chiang Kai-shek in which he posed in a similar fashion. return to text