“Frontier China” is a perpetual and perplexing phenomenon. Ethnopolitical upheavals in China’s borderlands in the 20th century were just acts of Frontier China during the “national” era. In China’s ancient imperial age, those territorially mobile dynasties often treated their frontiers as “leaves and branches” while seeing China proper as the “trunk and root” of state affairs. In contrast, entering the national era, China’s ethnic peripheries occupied the central stage of the nation’s political life and became key factors in forming the “Chinese nation.” Yet, standard historical narratives about 20th-century China tend to overlook such continuous frontier character of China; China’s ethnic borderlands have either been ignored or considered marginal to the “mainstream” sociopolitical developments in the eastern half of China.
This seminar is designed to expose students to major works in the field and add a frontier dimension to students’ understanding of the Chinese history in the 20th century. In this class the students read selected titles in clusters that address respectively these issues: (1) frontiers and “historical China,” (2) “centralizing nationalism” vs. “separatist nationalism”, and (3) integration, developments, and rights. These titles are mainly but not exclusively about three regions that have been most active ethnopolitically: Mongolia (Inner and Outer), Tibet, and Xinjiang. Aside from grasping the historical processes and issues involved, the students also practice historians’ handicraft and critique scholarly works in the field.
The student’s grade for the class is based on active participation in class discussions, bi-weekly book reviews (one single-spaced page), and a historiographical essay (15 double-spaced pages).