"The author has ranged far and wide, plucking nuggets of material from dynastic histories, gazetteers, contemporary scholarly treatises, memorials to the emperor, poetry, and artwork. This is a groundbreaking book."—Peter B. Golden, Rutgers UniversityEthnic Identity in Tang China is the first work in any language to explore comprehensively the construction of ethnicity during the dynasty that reigned over China for roughly three centuries, from 618 to 907. Often viewed as one of the most cosmopolitan regimes in China's past, the Tang had roots in Inner Asia, and its rulers continued to have complex relationships with a population that included Turks, Tibetans, Japanese, Koreans, Southeast Asians, Persians, and Arabs.
"Striving to be objective and balanced, the author presents a fascinating look into the ways the Han Chinese conceptualized their non-Han ethnic Other, and vice versa. The concluding argument, that Tang China marks a key shift from ethnic pluralism to a model of Chinese cultural exclusivity, is a thought-provoking one."—Choice
Marc S. Abramson's rich portrait of this complex, multiethnic empire draws on political writings, religious texts, and other cultural artifacts, as well as comparative examples from other empires and frontiers. Abramson argues that various constituencies, ranging from Confucian elites to Buddhist monks to "barbarian" generals, sought to define ethnic boundaries for various reasons but often in part out of discomfort with the ambiguity of their own ethnic and cultural identity. The Tang court, meanwhile, alternately sought to absorb some alien populations to preserve the empire's integrity while seeking to preserve the ethnic distinctiveness of other groups whose particular skills it valued. Abramson demonstrates how the Tang era marked a key shift in definitions of China and the Chinese people, a shift that ultimately laid the foundation for the emergence of the modern Chinese nation.
Ethnic Identity in Tang China sheds new light on one of the most important periods in Chinese history. It also offers broader insights on East Asian and Inner Asian history, the history of ethnicity, and the comparative history of frontiers and empires.
Marc S. Abramson holds a Ph.D. degree in East Asian studies from Princeton University and currently works for the U.S. Department of State.