Chinese or Non-Chinese?

I have a Chinese professor from Beijing University for my 20th Century Chinese history class who went through the differences between western ways and Chinese ways within the class introduction.

He says that Western scholars consider ethnic minorities within China as non-Chinese but Chinese scholars consider ethnic minorities (Tibetans, Mongols, Manchus) as Chinese.

Doesn’t this just have to do with how these two scholar groups are defining “Chinese”? When the western scholars state that the ethnic minorities are non-Chinese I’m sure they are referring to the ethnic aspect of the ethnic minorities not being Chinese in that sense. But when the Chinese scholars state this, I’m sure they must be referring to the political aspect of these ethnic minorities as being considered Chinese.

Perhaps those Chinese scholars just don’t want to disassociate these ethnic minorities as being “non-Chinese” for political purposes? Surely they don’t think that the ethnic minorities with China are ethnically Chinese? Doesn’t the fact that they label these peoples as “Ethnic minorities” testify to that view that they are “ethnically” not Chinese therefore “minorities” within China?


One thought on “Chinese or Non-Chinese?

  1. Rich

    Aside from their disgusting arrogance in thinking other peoples “belong to” them, I think a big part of the issue is language; English lacks a single concise word for what these Chinese wish to express, which is that they consider Tibetans (and Mongols, Uyghurs, etc.) to belong to the nation of China. Thus it’s not a claim that Tibetan is a sub-ethnicity of Chinese ethnicity, but rather than Tibetan is an ethnicity belonging to the Chinese nation. I don’t speak Chinese but I suspect these concepts would be represented in Chinese as something like 中国人 (zhongguoren) vs 汉人 (hanren).

    Interestingly, like English Tibetan language traditionally lacks any way of expressing these two different notions of “Chinese”. Chinese people are just རྒྱ་མི་ (gyami). However, after invading, China introduced their (poor) Tibetan transliteration of 中国 as ཀྲུང་གོ་ for the new PRC nation, instead of using the traditional word རྒྱ་ནག་ (gyanak) for China. They also replaced the words བོད་མི་ (bhoemi, Tibetan person) and རྒྱ་མི་ (gyami, Chinese person) with བོད་རིགས་ (bhoerik) and རྒྱ་རིགས་ (gyarik) meaning Tibetan and Chinese (“Han”) race, respectively.

    While at the time it allowed the Chinese to assert the unity of the nation to Tibetans without sounding utterly absurd, the deprecation of the traditional name for China has probably worked against China’s interests. What they did was leave Tibetans with a word for “the China that does not include Tibet” that went unused in the Chinese political system, keeping alive the memory of how people once considered things…

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