Member book, Tam, Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960

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Dear colleagues, 

I'm delighted to introduce my new book Dialect and Nationalism in China 1860-1960, out now by Cambridge University Press. I hope that the topic will be of interest to many of you. 

Book Information

Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2020. Online ISBN:9781108776400 . 262 pp. 


Dialect and Nationalism in China 1860-1960 excavates competing visions of the Chinese nation by centering the history of Chinese nationalism on fangyan, a word that literally means “language of place” but is most frequently translated into English as dialect. My book explores how various people, with various motives, placed fangyan at the center of discourse about the Chinese nation: From nineteenth-century Western sojourners who saw fangyan as a means of access to the Chinese people to late Qing (1644-1911) reformers who saw them as time capsules encasing an ethnic Chinese  past; from Republican period (1911-1949) folklorists who saw them as representatives of authentic Chinese culture, to linguists who saw them as subsidiary branches of Chinese language family; from Communist bureaucrats who saw them as “thought obstacles” that prevented individuals from embracing their patriotic duty, to everyday young people who saw fangyan as their only way to communicate with their neighbors and relatives. Each of these groups, with different motives, attached cultural meaning to fangyan that either perpetuated the state narrative of homogeneity or helped give shape to the pushback against it. These groups, through their evolving discourse, produced two distinct visions of that nation—one that imagined the Chinese nation as exclusively represented by one standard language, and another that promoted a flexible, heterogenous notion of national belonging. By examining how these two notions of Chinese nationhood interacted and shaped one another, my book offers a new framework for the study of Chinese nationalism. It shows that Chinese nationalism neither forced nor required conformity, but indeed, that nationalism thrived even in opposition to forces of homogenization.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: A Chinese Language: Fangyan before the twentieth century

Chapter 2: Unchangeable Roots: Fangyan and the creation of the Chinese National Language

Chapter 3: The science of language in Republican China

Chapter 4: The People's Language: Fangyan under Communism

Chapter 5: The Mandarin Revolution: Fangyan in Maoist China


For further information