Accepted Paper:

Ways of knowing the past: territory and memories of Li and Han ethnicity in the island of Hainan  
Ze Chen (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares accounts of ethnic unity/enmity in Li and Han ethnic communities in the southwestern island of Hainan, Southern China. It explains how politics of memorizing/forgetting past sustain the ethnic boundaries in present.

Paper long abstract:

The paper examines the ways of knowing/forgetting the past demarcating the ethnic boundaries in the domain of family, which sanction the inter-ethnic intimate relationships. In imperial China, the over centuries interaction between Li highland ‘anarchists’ and Han plain ‘civilian’ did not brought about the cultural similarity, also it produced the rigor ethnic segregation after frequent military conflict. Till present, the knowledge of the ancestors or ancestor worship, maintained an ethnic marker of which efficacy lies on Li’s inability of telling the past. My investigation on the memories of the past in two communities, informed that the Han’s imagined unity was less about inherited the literati tradition than surviving from the threat of the others. Han’s knowledge of their community history intertwined with popular memory of ‘Li plunders’ forged an illusory unity among the Han families, which commonly sanctioned the inter-ethnic intimate relationship. The Han identity could not merely construct through the narratives that project pride of being the descendants of ‘Grand scholars, bureaucrats’, also the stories of surviving which implies the fear of the others. Contrast to Han’s fictional presentation of their past, Li communities present counter narratives through more materialistic way: single lineage village, deeds of ancestral territories and modern war hero remind their past of dominance on the island. Nonetheless, these accounts were still invalid way of informing the history, thus, they rather in favor of contrasting Han’s ‘historical fantasy’.

Panel Cre05
Making accounts count: imagination, creativity, and (in)coherence