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Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928.

Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928. By Edward J. M. Rhoads. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000. Pp. x, 394. $55.00.)

Among historians of China, one of the last decade's noisiest debates has centered on "sinicization," the presumed tendency of non-Chinese peoples drawn into Chinese politics and society to assimilate into Chinese normativeness. Nowhere has the sinicization paradigm been so dominant as in the history of the Manchus, whose Qing dynasty governed China (and considerable other territory as well) from 1644 to 1912. Because the minority Manchus were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the Han Chinese, the success of Qing rule owed principally, so the story goes, to their sinicization, which in turn led to their disappearance after the fall of the dynasty. Though this explanation ignored other problems-such as rising anti-Manchu hostility in the late Qing era and the persistence of the Manchus as an ethnic group in China today--it fitted nicely with nationalist mythmaking and so for generations went unchallenged.

Increasingly sophisticated ideas of ethnic formation and more critical approaches to the history of the nation-state, however, have recently put the sinicizationists on the defensive. Edward J. M. Rhoads's superb Manchus and Han complements other new scholarship to drive one more nail into the coffin of sinicization. Carefully documenting their continued social, cultural, economic, and political distinctiveness at both elite and nonelite levels even in the late Qing era, Rhoads shows how Manchus and others in the Eight Banners maintained a separate identity, which, he argues, coalesced into modern Manchu ethnicity by no later than the 1950s. Not all readers will be satisfied with Rhoads's definition of the Manchus as an "occupational caste" of his apparent equation of "minority nationality" with "ethnic group." This is of no matter. The author's insistence that it was the lifeways fostered by the banner system that made banner people "Manchus" is surely on the mark, and his main argument--that Manchu-Han difference in the era of the late Qing dynasty, far from being mere rhetoric, in fact was grounded in realities and perceptions widely recognized at the time--carries the day.

Manchus and Han demonstrates a mastery of the existing secondary literature as well as of contemporary Chinese sources, some of them hard-to-find periodicals that Rhoads has unearthed for the first time. The author has organized his information well and presents it in bright prose, supplemented by a few apt illustrations. Though its five chapters are longish (averaging fifty-seven pages), the book is a pleasure to read. The first chapter, a concise introduction to the Eight Banners, and the fourth chapter, a detailed relation of the fate of the Qing house and Manchus generally in late 1911, are especially worthwhile. Errors are few, perhaps the most serious being the author's claim that Qing emperors did not name their successors until on their deathbeds; in fact, the practice after 1722 was secretly to choose a successor and hide the name in a casket stored in the throne room (130).

For its thorough research and judicious conclusions, Manchus and Han is a valuable addition to the literature on ethnicity and politics in early-twentieth-century China and will be welcomed by specialist and nonspecialist readers alike.

Mark C. Elliott

Harvard University
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Author:Elliott, Mark C.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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