Separating People from within in Colonialism and from without in Modern Nation-State: “Customization” of Hong Kong People and “Ethnicization” of Chinese Mongols

Kato Chan, University of Hong Kong

Both colonialists and nation-state builders produced ethnographic knowledge to map out the population in a territory under their domination. This paper examines the way that Hong Kong people and Chinese Mongols were ethnicized through ethnographic knowledge production used by powerholders to strengthen political legitimacy. We focus on one particular aspect of ethnicizing which has not been fully discussed. Most studies focus on how powerholders invented and imposed ethnic categories onto the population, while overlooking how they dealt with the pre-existing traditions. These pre-existing traditions connected local populations to wider cultural and political zones. In the case of Hong Kong, it “had” its traditional ties with the Mainland. The British colonists encountered a population who culturally belonged to a larger population of the Han Chinese. In the case of Chinese Mongols, the new nation-builders had to deal with the imperial connections binding the Mongols, Manchus and Chinese, and transform them for new political purposes. In short, the British colonists were prompted to deal with the “great tradition and little tradition” between China and Hong Kong, while the Chinese state-makers had to deal with the paralleled great traditions left by the Qing Empire. In the case of Hong Kong, we use the sources on construction of history museum to show ethnicizing took the form of “customizing”, separating a small group from its original population by transforming tradition into custom as region-bound practices. In the case of Mongols, we use the sources of ethnographic investigation conducted in the 1950s to show that Mongols were increasingly identified as an ethnic group. The dynamic connections between nomadic and sedentary cultures were downplayed and gave way to a new narrative on “multi-national” unity. This comparative study offers a view on how tradition was treated in different ways in ethnographic knowledge production, serving different political aims.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session P35. Parallels and Divergences in Race and Ethnicity