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Non-Chinese Peoples in Republican Chinese Historiography: Beasts, Non-Historic Peoples, Homines Sacri

Julia C. Schneider

Pages 231 - 268


This article analyzes how Chinese thinkers and historians approached non-Chinese peoples as part of their image of the Chinese nation and its history in the first half of the 20th century. How did historical narrative patterns develop and rigidify over time? In late imperial times, anti-Manchu revolutionaries imagined a Chinese nation without non-Chinese peoples, whom they regarded as inhuman beasts. They disagreed with the reformist Liang Qichao, who propagated the idea that non-Chinese peoples would be incorporated in the Chinese nation by assimilation. Although both revolutionaries and reformers believed in a hierarchy of peoples wherein the Chinese were superior, their conclusions differed. Less than two decades later, however, such divided opinions can rarely be found anymore. Instead, Republican historians inevitably used the lens of the assimilation theory in their histories of China. They included non-Chinese peoples within the Chinese self through references to their assimilation but at the same time excluded them as “people without history”, a process that can be explained by Agamben’s theory of “inclusive exclusion” and his concept of the homo sacer. Based on more than a dozen general histories complemented by cultural history and historical essays, this paper reveals the narrative patterns Republican historians applied to non-Chinese peoples’ histories to allow them to imagine the Chinese nation and its history as homogenous.


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