Call for Contributions : Beyond Exoticism: Rethinking Southwest China

 Call for Contributions.

Beyond Exoticism: Rethinking Southwest China

Guest editors:

Peter Guangpei Ran, Assistant Research Fellow at Institute for Social Anthropology, Nanjing University

Paul Kendall, Senior Lecturer in Chinese studies, University of Westminster

Deadline for abstracts submission: 2 August 2024

Deadline for papers submission: 1 March 2025

Since the 1980s, southwest China has enjoyed considerable academic attention, including a particular focus on representations and everyday practices relating to the many “ethnic minorities” within this region (e.g., Oakes 1998; Rees 2000; Harrell 2001; Mueggler 2001). While important theoretical tools, such as the notion of internal orientalism (Schein 2000), have subsequently emerged, recent years have seen a decline in the profile of southwest China in English-language academia and beyond. At the same time, a major shift in ethnic policy and governance, the deepening of infrastructural development, the intensification of translocal exchanges encouraged by global economy, and the unprecedented measures to tackle environmental issues have all profoundly affected this region, which continues to be remembered, imagined, practiced and contested in discursive and material terms. This special issue aims to renew scholarly attention towards the historical complexity and contemporary transformation of southwest China, as well as put forward new ways of thinking about and researching the southwest as indispensable to wider understandings of China today.

In 1980s China, a wider fascination with culture included the revival and promotion of “traditional” practices in southwest China that were linked to the identity politics of ethnic groups in this region (Mueggler 2002). The celebration and, in many cases, reinvention of ethnic identities was sponsored by the state in defining itself as one united nation with multiple ethnic groups, as encapsulated by the notion of “unity in diversity” (duoyuanyiti 多元一體) famously forwarded by the sociologist Fei Xiaotong (1989). It was in this context that “Western” scholars, for the first time since the 1940s, found their way to southwest China. This rediscovery of the southwest in predominantly English-language scholarship challenged what was then known as China in the Anglophone world by not only addressing the particularities of the southwest, but also speaking to more general processes of ethnicity and cultural encounter (e.g., Harrell 1995; Schein 2000; Notar 2006).

However, recent representations of the southwest have reflected the turning away from – if not total abandonment of – “unity in diversity” in the official guidelines of ethnic minority work (Bulag 2021, see also Frangville 2024, Zhao and Leibold 2019). This turn away from celebrations of ethnic difference complicates the previous emphases of previous research on the southwest, which has been critical of but also to an extent reliant on state- and market-led exoticisations of ethnic minorities. This special issue, meanwhile, treats this discursive shift as an opportunity for new approaches to the southwest that go beyond the critique of internal orientalist discourse and take into account political and social processes that are largely neglected when the analytical lens is solely focused on ethnic representations. As such, we welcome papers which examine the re-positioning of ethnic minorities within new discourses about the southwest, such as the promotion of “ecological civilization” (see Zinda and He 2020), or the recent strategy of “revitalising the countryside” (xiangcun zhenxing 鄉村振興). We also welcome papers on topics that have historically been incompatible with the emphases of ethnic tourism and thus marginalized in discussions of southwest China, such as the Third Front, a military-industrial project launched in the 1960s and recently reimagined as industrial heritage in the southwest (see Lam 2020). Taken together, these approaches can help prompt a revival of the southwest in academia, as well as a rethinking of this region as more than just a collection of tourist and heritage sites where ethnic groups are exoticized.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent to the guest editors Peter Guangpei Ran ([email protected]) and Paul Kendall ([email protected]) no later than 2 August 2024. Please including the following information: name, affiliation, title of paper. Decisions on abstracts will be made by 1 September 2024. The deadline for submission of full manuscripts (no longer than 9000 words) will be 1 March 2025. 


Bulag, Uradyn E. 2021. “Minority Nationalities as Frankenstein’s Monsters? Reshaping ‘the Chinese Nation’ and China’s Quest to Become a ‘Normal Country’.” The China Journal 86 (July): 46–67.

Fei Xiaotong 费孝通. 1989. “中華民族的多元一體格局” (Zhonghua minzu de duoyuan yiti geju Plurality and Unity in the Configuration of the Chinese People). Journal of Peking University (Philosophy and Social Sciences) 北京大學學報 (哲學社會科學版) 04:3–21.

Frangville, Vanessa. 2024. “‘Unity within Diversity’: The Chinese Communist Party’s Construction of the Chinese Nation.” In Jérôme Doyon and Chloé Froissart (eds.), The Chinese Communist Party: A 100-Year Trajectory. ANU Press, 349-72.

Harrell, Stevan. 1995. “Civilising Projects and the Reaction to Them.” In Stevan Harrell (ed.), Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 3–36.

———. 2001. Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Lam, Tong. 2020. “Ruins for Politics: Selling Industrial Heritage in Postsocialist China’s Rust Belt.” In Stefan Berger (ed.), Constructing Industrial Pasts: Heritage, Historical Culture and Identity in Regions Undergoing Structural Economic Transformation.  New York: Berghahn Books, 251–69.

Mueggler, Erik. 2001. The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

———. 2002. “Dancing Fools: Politics of Culture and Place in a ‘Traditional Nationality Festival’.” Modern China 28 (1): 3–38.

Notar, Beth E. 2006. Displacing Desire: Travel and Popular Culture in China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Oakes, Tim. 1998. Tourism and Modernity in China. London: Routledge.

Rees, Helen. 2000. Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schein, Louisa. 2000. Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural Politics. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Zhao, Taotao, and James Leibold. 2019. “Ethnic Governance under Xi Jinping: The Centrality of the United Front Work Department & Its Implications.” Journal of Contemporary China 29 (124): 487–502.

Zinda, John Aloysius, and Jun He. 2020. “Ecological Civilization in the Mountains: How Walnuts Boomed and Busted in Southwest China.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47 (5): 1052–76.