The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

Generation and Dynamism of Discourses on Family, Ethnicity and State in China

Research period: April 2012-March 2015 / Core project: Anthropological Studies of Inclusion and Autonomy Coordinator HAN Min

Reserch Theme List

Research Objectives

In China, concepts of household, family, ethnicity, and state function as frameworks generating complex social relationships. Throughout Chinese history, these concepts have been important elements of both continuity and discontinuity in Chinese social structure. Some of the concepts are indigenous, molded by Chinese themselves. Others have been imported and institutionalized in China. As China has changed from empire to republic and then to a socialist state, from a primarily agricultural to an industrializing and urbanizing society, the concepts mentioned above have been construed by multiple social actors responding to diverse circumstances.  In recent years, these concepts and the systems related to them have been constructed as discourses regulating social relationships and patterns of behavior in the various contexts of development, welfare, migration, tourism, and cultural heritage.
Our objective in this research is to bring together scholars from Japan, China, Korea, and America in an international collaborative research project using ethnographic methods to explore the dynamics of change in the concepts of family, ethnicity, and nation-state in China since the birth of the People’s Republic of China and its socialist governmental regime.

Research Content

Our objective is to explore the dynamics of the discourses surrounding human relations and social behavior, paying particular attention to the concepts and systems related to family, ethnicity, and state. We will examine this broad topic from three particular perspectives.

  1. Individual and family
    Starting with existing research on Chinese kinship, which is focused primarily on genealogy and norms, we will investigate ethnographically the discourse related to family, in the contexts of relationships between modern Western and Eastern, socialist Soviet and Chinese. We will draw attention to the social actors contributing to family discourse, as well as to those who act on its prescriptions. We will also consider the construction of Chinese selves, approaches to mourning the dead, migration and social welfare in relation to blood ties, ancestors, lineage, Confucianism and “raw or cooked” (closer or more distant) social ties. These will be examined through analysis of the narratives and behavior of ordinary people. Comparing the other East Asian societies and overseas Chinese communities, we will clarify the distinctive features of the Chinese family.
  2. Ethnicity
    Starting from the Huayi distinction, China’s traditional concept of the relation between Han Chinese and other peoples, we will investigate the formation and functioning of ethnic discourse in the context of the People’s Republic, urbanization and cultural industries. Our goal will be a comprehensive exploration of the aspects of ethnic discourse, including language, beliefs, art, cultural heritage, tourism and migration, from the perspectives of the creators of this discourse, those who apply it, and those who research it.
  3. Nation-state
    Here we will draw attention to the ways in which relationships between state/society and nation/civilization are maintained in China. We will look at annual and life cycle rituals, tourism and cultural industries in relation to continuities and discontinuities among Chinese civilization, modern Western civilization, and the socialist view of civilization, aiming to clarify the dynamics of discourse surrounding the concept of the nation-state.

The research described above will make effective use of previous Minpaku joint and core research projects. Through international collaboration and investigation of Chinese concepts of family, ethnicity, and state, it will develop a theoretical model for “The Anthropology of Inclusion and Autonomy” from the perspective of research in China.