Zhonghua minzu (Chinese: 中华民族; Pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínzú), is a Chinese term that refers to the modern notion of a Chinese nationality transcending ethnic divisions, with a central identity to China as a whole. It includes peoples who have historically interacted, contributed and assimilated to various extents with Chinese civilization. It is sometimes translated into English as the "Chinese nation." The boundaries of Zhonghua minzu are unclear, but most Chinese today use the term to include all peoples within the territorial boundaries of China along with overseas Chinese integrated as one national, political, cultural, and perhaps even ideological-moral group.
The roots of the Zhonghua minzu lie in the multi-ethnic Qing Empire, created in the seventeenth century by the Manchus. The Manchus sought to portray themselves as the legitimate rulers of each of the ethnic or religious identities within the empire. By the early twentieth century, the Manchu had succeeded in pursuading the Han intellectual elite to embrace the idea that China was a multi-ethnic state. After the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911, Han intellectuals struggled to develop a historical narrative that would portray China as a single, united people and nation. Zhonghua minzu has continued to be invoked and remains a powerful concept in China into the twenty first century. It continues to be used by the leaders of China in an effort to unify a highly diverse set of ethnic and social groups into one political entity, as well as to mobilize the support of overseas Chinese in developing China.
Zhonghua minzu is a Chinese term that refers to the modern notion of a Chinese nationality transcending ethnic divisions, with a central identity to China as a whole. It includes peoples who have historically interacted, contributed and assimilated to various extents with Chinese civilization. It is sometimes translated into English as the Chinese nation.
The boundaries of Zhonghua minzu are fuzzy but most Chinese today use the term to include all peoples within the territorial boundaries of China along with overseas Chinese integrated as one national, political, cultural and perhaps even ideological-moral group.
Zhonghua refers to the concept of "China" and is the term used in the formal names for both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. Minzu can be translated as "nation," "people," or "ethnic group."
Confusion can arise because the term "Chinese" in Western languages is often used to refer both to Zhonghua minzu and to the Han ethnicity, two concepts which are usually distinct among modern Chinese speakers.
The immediate roots of the Zhonghua minzu lie in the Qing Empire, a multi-ethnic empire created in the seventeenth century by the Manchus. In order to legitimize their rule, the Manchus sought to portray themselves as ideal Confucian rulers for the Chinese, Grand khans for the Mongols, and Chakravartin kings for Tibetan Buddhists. This involved developing clear ethnic or religious identities within the empire. Administratively, the empire was divided into the provinces of China (China proper) and the territories of Mongols, Tibetans, and Muslims, which were not subject to the control of the Chinese bureaucracy. In this fashion, the Qing court intended, and to a large part succeeded, in gaining the loyalty of the large Han Chinese gentry, whose cooperation was essential to govern China, as well as other groups such as the Mongols, who acknowledged the Qing as successors to Chinggis Khan.
By the early twentieth century, partly through the influence of educational institutions, the Manchu had succeeded in getting the Han intellectual elite to embrace the idea that China was a multi-ethnic state. After Manchu rule ended in 1911, the Chinese people never returned to the position that "China" was the property of the Han people.
In the late nineteenth century, the identities which the Qing had promoted were modified under the influence of Western concepts of ethnicity and nationality. Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-sen initially planned to expel the Manchus as "foreign invaders" and establish a Chinese nation-state modeled closely after Germany and Japan. This model was eventually discarded, out of fear that an overly restrictive view of the ethnic nation-state would dissolve the Qing Empire into several different nations, which, it was felt, would give the Western powers an opportunity to dominate China. The unifying and centralizing principles of Japan and Germany were considered examples China should follow, while the ethnically divided Ottoman Empire was seen as an example of what some Chinese nationalists feared.
The term Zhonghua minzu was coined by the late Qing philologist Zhang Binglin ( 章炳麟) and originally referred only to the Han Chinese. Sun Yat-sen adopted a stance of uniting all the ethnic groups within China under the concept of Five Races Under One Union, based on the ethnic categories of the Qing, and expanded the meaning of Zhonghua minzu to encompass this. He wrote, "Some people say, after the overthrow of the Qing, we do not need nationalism anymore. Those words now are certainly wrong.... Right now we speak of the 'union of five nationalities' (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan), but how is it our country only has five nationalities? My stand is that we should incorporate all the peoples within China into one Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu)...and develop the Chinese nation into a very civilized nation, only then will we no longer need nationalism."
The philosophy of Zhonghua minzu was first publicly espoused by President Yuan Shikai in 1912, shortly after the overthrow of the Qing Empire and the founding of the Republic of China. Facing the imminent independence of Outer Mongolia from China, Yuan Shikai stated, "Outer Mongolia is part of Zhonghua minzu [the Chinese nation] and has been of one family for centuries" (外蒙同為中華民族，數百年來儼如一家).
After the fall of the Republic of China and the founding of the People's Republic of China, the concept of Zhonghua minzu became influenced by Soviet “nationalities policy.” Officially, the PRC is a unitary state composed of 56 ethnic groups, of which the Han ethnic group is by far the largest. The concept of Zhonghua minzu is seen as an all-encompassing category comprised of people within the borders of the PRC.
This term has continued to be invoked and remains a powerful concept in China into the twenty-first century. It continues to be used by the leaders of China in an effort to unify a highly diverse set of ethnic and social groups into one political entity, as well as to mobilize the support of overseas Chinese in developing China.
The adoption of the Zhonghua minzu concept has given rise to the reinterpretation or rewriting of Chinese history. For example, the Manchu Dynasty was originally often characterized as a "conquest regime" or a "non-Han" regime, conveniently ignoring the prominent role that ethnic Chinese played in the Qing conquest of China. Following the adoption of the Zhonghua minzu ideology, which regards the Manchus as a member of the Zhonghua minzu, the distinction between non-native and native dynasties had to be abandoned. The Manchus, being as "Chinese" as the Han, could no longer be regarded as "barbarian conquerors," and the Qing empire could no longer be regarded as a "conquest empire."
Rewriting history also meant reassessing the role of many traditional hero figures. Heroes such as Yue Fei( 岳飛) and Koxinga ( 國姓爺), who were originally considered to have fought for China against barbarian incursions, had to be recharacterized as minzu yingxiong (ethnic heroes) who fought, not against barbarians, but against other members of the Zhonghua minzu (the Jurchens and Manchus respectively). At the same time, China acquired new heroes such as Chinggis Khan, who became a "Chinese" hero by virtue of the fact that the Mongols were part of the Zhonghua minzu.
During the years of the Republican era (1911 – 1949), Han Chinese intellectuals struggled to produce a coherent historical narrative that could incorporate the heterogeneous peoples of the Qing empire into the new Chinese nation-state. One effort attempted to produce archaeological and anthropological evidence to suggest that all Chinese people had sprung from a “common origin” (tongyuan), an ancient civilization perhaps based along the Yellow River. A more subjective narrative described the gradual, evolutionary "melding" (ronghe) of several distinct cultures and races into a new national consciousness. Some of these theories became institutionalized doctrines, at the expense of objective scientific research and exploration.
The theory behind the ideology of Zhonghua minzu is that it includes not only the Han but also other minority ethnic groups within China, such as the Mongols, Manchus, Hmong, Tibetans and others that have historically and to various degrees interacted with, contributed to and assimilated with the Han, including the Taiwanese. This theoretical concept is not universally accepted. Supporters of Tibetan independence or Uighur independence, for example, tend to reject the notion that their respective ethnic groups are part of a single people with Han Chinese, or that the concept of Zhonghua minzu should be the grounds for a unified nation-state. They would argue that their peoples have a culture, a history of political independence, and a sense of nationhood which is quite distinct from that of the Han Chinese, and that under the right of self-determination, they have a right to political independence from the Chinese state.
The concept of Zhonghua Minzu is also attacked by supporters of independence for Taiwan, who, while not denying that most people on Taiwan are ethnically Han Chinese, argue that Taiwan has a right to independence because it forms a separate and distinct political community from the Mainland.
The boundaries that determine who is, or is not, a member of the Chinese nation have always been rather inconsistent. For example, whether overseas Chinese are considered part of this Chinese nationality depends on the speaker and the context. The logic often stems from geographic location and political status—a Mongol living in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia would be considered by most to be part of Zhonghua minzu, while a Mongol living in the independent state of Mongolia is almost universally considered not to be. Alternatively, a person of Russian, Korean, or Vietnamese ethnicity with Chinese citizenship would be considered by most Chinese to be a full member of the Zhonghua Minzu, notwithstanding their cultural differences with the majority Han.
The situation of overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore is also interesting, in that they make a clear distinction between being Chinese in a political sense and being Chinese in an ethnic sense, making it unclear whether or not they belong to a group that contains both political and ethnic connotations.
The conceptual boundaries of the Zhonghua minzu are complicated by independent countries such as Mongolia and Korea, with their differing interpretations of historical peoples and states. For instance, the claim of Genghis Khan as a "Chinese" by China is contested by the Mongolians, who regard him as the father of the Mongolian state.
A dispute of a similar nature has arisen over the status of the state of Koguryo in ancient history, with the Chinese claiming it as Chinese on the grounds that much of it existed within the historical borders of China and the Koreans claiming that it was Korean on ethnic grounds.
All links retrieved October 5, 2019.
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