Call for Papers: Negotiating Ethnic Belonging along the Sinophone Borderlands

Valentina Punzi's picture

Date: 13-14 September 2021


In the aftermath of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a careful tailor craftsmanship aimed at “stretching the short, tight, skin of the nation over the gigantic body of the empire” (Anderson 1983). A complex demographic mosaic, especially diverse in the borderlands of the new-born communist state, was part of this imperial heritage. 

The subsequent ethnic classification, carried by teams of Chinese anthropologists and ethnologists between 1950 and 1987, created static self-bounded categories of ethno-national groups (minzu) that could hardly accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the situation on the ground. On the one hand, cross-border (kuajing) groups became divided by tighter international borders and sanctioned by countries’ competing classification efforts targeting “indigenous” people. This is the case, for example, of Miao in southwest China and Hmong in Vietnam. On the other hand, small insular communities within the PRC and farther from the international borders were assimilated within bigger minzu categories or denied official recognition altogether. While the top-down project of ethnic classification within the PRC was implemented, bottom-up processes of differentiation and/or assimilation among ethnic groups also emerged and continue to evolve. 

This workshop aims at bringing together the expertise of scholars whose work focuses on the ethnically and linguistically diverse people at the Sinophone borderlands, broadly conceived as both areas across international borders and “grey areas” within the PRC that do not comply to minzu isomorphism. We welcome ethnographic and historical perspectives of analysis but invite the participating scholars to keep their focus on the twentieth and twenty-first century.


We wish to address the formation, transformation, and resilience of ethnic identities as processes of mediation between the PRC’s imposition of the ethnic classification and the bottom-up assertions and rejections of ethnic belonging and the changes happened over time. Rather that seeing these dynamics as opposed to each other, we are interested in unpacking specific case-studies that show in what ways ethnicity is negotiated in the Sinophone borderlands.


Interested scholars are encouraged to submit an abstract (max. 300 words) and a short biography (max. 150 words) in English, until 8 March 2021.


Organizers: Dr. Ute Wallenböck (Palacký University, Masaryk University) and Dr. Valentina Punzi (University of Tartu)