The rise of China and Chinese identity was inevitable

I have heard that Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism is the most assigned text at American universities. Before I had read the book I had heard it mentioned many times in the media or in print. Anderson’s narrow thesis is fine as far as it goes, but I was underwhelmed overall by its general relevance. Rather, I found Azar Gat’s Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism more interesting and illuminating, in large part because it is a powerful rejoinder to the sentiment that nationalism is a relatively new “invention”, a product of early modernity, first manifesting itself in its full flower with the French Revolution.

This cartoon cutout view is certainly one I would probably have unreflectively parroted in my teens. It seems erudite and counterintuitive. A classic, “well actually…” fact. But the more history I read, the less and less plausible I found the implications of the recent invention of nationalism. The nation-state as conceived between the Peace of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna shapes and dictates modern understandings, but the sentiments and elements that come together to make the nation-state a powerful cultural phenomenon are quite old and widespread. Human tribalism emerges out of our innate cognitive architecture and is further selected through the process of cultural evolution. To some extent, this is extensible and scalable.

With that being said, how natural is the Han Chinese identity, which has come to the fore and will determine the course of this century? This is the ethnic-national group which makes up 90-95% of China’s current population. They are Chinese qua Chinese in a fundamental sense. People united by the written Chinese language, speaking related dialects which diverged over the past 2,000 years and bound together by a historical-cultural tradition with 3,000 years of continuity.

If you read History and Geography of Human Genes one of the peculiar results from the analyses within is that North Chinese cluster with Japanese, Koreans, etc., while South Chinese cluster with Southeast Asians. This did not turn out to be true. Most specifically, the South Chinese have a greater affinity for Southeast Asian groups (e.g., the Vietnamese Kinh) than North Chinese, but they are not closer to Southeast Asians than they are to North Chinese (the furthest southern dialect groups, such as those of Guangdong, are about equidistant to Vietnamese).

But what about the North Chinese? Are they simply Sinicized Mongols? It is clear that some of the North Chinese exhibit shifts toward West Eurasians. I think this is mostly through Mongols and Turks, who have a minor West Eurasian component. But, I believe that both North and South Chinese will be shown to have 50% or more of their ancestry attributable to people who founded the Erlitou culture of Henan. The Han exhibit signs in their genomes of massive demographic expansion in the Holocene. Some of the geographic variations we see today are due to differentiation driven by isolation by distance. Another proportion of it is through admixture with the substrate (e.g., the Yue have left a noticeable cultural imprint on parts of South China, and I suspect it’s a genetic impact as well). And finally, some of it is through admixture with newcomers. This is particularly true in China north of the Yangzi, which has been impacted by barbarian peoples since the rise of the Zhou and the interactions with the Rong and Di.

But China is too large, extensive, and long-lasting, to imagine it has a strong ethnic core with a genetic coherency in the way Finland has a strong Suomi core. Rather, genetics may more usefully be pointing to the powerful integrative and anti-centripetal forces at work across Chinese history. Hakka moved south, while southern families moved north again with the rise of the Sui-Tang. The 20th-century century has been characterized by the demographic Sinicization of Inner Mongolia and Manchuria, which had for most of Chinese history been outside of the domains of China proper.

Though I think one can argue that Classical China really crystalized during the Han Dynasty, my reading of works such as Li Feng’s Early China indicate that the root of later developments really dates to the Zhou Dynasty. Confucius’ valorization of the Duke of Zhou may simply reflect the importance of the Zhou revolution in setting the tone of what China became. If the Shang were the Mycenaeans, the Zhou were the Classical Greeks. The Shang Dynasty and the Mycenaeans spoke the language and worshipped the gods of the people who would succeed them, but they lacked the spirit which would define Chinese and Greek civilization. For China, that spirit is reflected in the ideas, the canon, of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Though Classical Greek civilization and culture has persisted in a form, to a great extent it was adopted, synthesized, and transmuted. The integration of Greek philosophy into Christian theology preserved Greek thought, but it also transformed its import and made it so that that cultural inheritance was not defining or exclusive to the Greeks. This is far less the case with Classical China. An intellectual in the year 1900 arguably expressed the living tradition which had its genesis during the Spring and Autumn Period. It is as if the Platonic Academy had maintained its institutional integrity for 2,000 years. Or, if the civilian Roman senatorial elite had not been dissolved between the 4th and 6th-century A.D., to eventually be replaced by illiterate barbarian warlords (there was a bridge period of barbarians who exhibited some of the best aspects of Romanitas).

All this to say that China and Han identity is not a purely contingent construction of the 19th-century or a response to modernity and European hegemony. This is more clear to me after having read The Han: China’s Diverse Majority. The author engages in an ethnography and intellectual history, teasing out the parameters of the Hanzu self-identification promoted by Chinese nationalists in the 19th and 20th-century. The argument goes that this identity superseded and suppressed deep regional divergence, between north and south, Mandarin dialect and non-Mandarin. The Han does not address this position directly, but the intellectual history outlined makes it clear that what we substantively think of as the Chinese people had a self-conception even before the Han Dynasty. Just like the Egyptians or Indians, the early Chinese thought of themselves as the center of the world, as the civilized people par excellence. They did not think of themselves as a nationality at parity with other groups. Rather, they saw other groups as barbarians who could still be civilized, and so become Chinese.

Perhaps a useful analogy here might be a “what-if” scenario where the Latin Western Roman Empire did not fall permanently in the late 5th-century but resurrected itself. But even here I think it understates the integrative and unitary nature of Chinese self-conception even before the Han Dynasty. The Latinization of Iberia and Gaul seem to mostly been due to acculturation. I believe that Sinicization was accompanied by demographic expansion.

The People’s Republic of China is not just an imagined community. It is an outgrowth of a political and social unit that has been evolving for 3,000 years.

Finally, I think at this point it is useful to end with a comparative exercise that compares the attitudes of the civilizations of the Eurasian oikumene to a very important and universal human phenomenon: religion. The “Greater West” (The West + Arab-Turkic-Persian Islam), India, and China, overlap and differ in very particular ways.

The Greater West has developed exclusive and socially universal religious confessionalization to a very great extent. Exclusive, insofar as on paper religious confessionalization is in its mature state is not about pluralistic competition, but the solidifying of a monopoly. Universal, in that the religious identity cuts across class and ethnicity in a very cohesive fashion.

Modern India, and to some extent premodern India, seems to have developed strong confessional identities which are somewhat exclusive. Or have become so. People die because they are Muslim or Hindu, and the boundaries are sharp and stark. But, Indian society is not so universalizing. Within Hinduism, the Sanata Dharma, there are a wide range of practices and beliefs. Buddhism is part of this broader tradition and has engaged in confessionalization and universalizing very early on. But, like Hinduism, it tends not to seek exclusive monopoly on society.

Finally, we have the situation in China. Though “world religions” have been prominent historically, the Chinese do not develop exclusive or socially universal attachments. A single religion does not bind society together, and individuals can “consume” religious services and beliefs from a wide array of systems. It is sometimes said that in East Asia religion is unimportant. This is false. Rather, religion is not homogeneous or monopolistic. And often confessional identities are weak.

I bring this up because though there are deep human universals, there are also striking cultural differences. Indians often scoff at the Chinese tendency to convert to Christianity in the West, suggesting that perhaps the Chinese lack cultural pride. This is a false inference because the issue that Indians do not understand is that Chinese society does not tie itself to a strong confessional religious identity. Chinese identity at the core does not have to do with supernatural belief systems. Similarly, Westerners are often perplexed by the open-minded latitudinarianism of many Hindus. But Westerners do not internalize that Hindu religious beliefs are less about individual identity and more about collective communal customs and ties. Undergirded often by a monistic metaphysical system, Indians see little need to convert the world to become like themselves, because even within India communal diversity is the norm, and universalizing tendencies in religion has been marginal until lately.

We’re going into an interesting century. Whether that’s good or bad, I’ll leave to you.

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43 thoughts on “The rise of China and Chinese identity was inevitable

  1. A thing that could make a bit difficult to see if “nationalism” was always important or not is the potential circularity in the concept of “nation”; explaining better – if we define “nation” as “the community that most individuals see as the main focus of political allegiance”, of course that “nationalism” was always strong, but this is little more than a tautology.

    If we search for any other meaning of “nation”, well, we soon end in dead ends; common language? Nobody considers USA and UK the same nation; common language and geographical continuity? Many Scotts consider themselves a different nation than England, almost all Swisses seem themselves as only one nation, and I bet that nobody in Miranda do Douro sees himself as anything other than Portuguese. Common history? Catalonia and Basque Country have a common history with the rest of Spain (and don’t have almost any common history of their own, besides the revolts against Spain/Castilla)

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  2. I think its important to realise where the Chinese were coming from. To begin with, they are Sino-Tibetans ethnolinguistically and while we don’t know for sure how this language group was formed, all speakers have genetic and physical characteristics in common which, like Indo-Europeans, make them look like there was one common root, one source population.
    I would even say it makes sense to compare Indo-Europeans and Sino-Tibetans.
    Because the story of the Chinese success can best be described as if the Indo-European unity in Europe was never lost, but a strong Central group and cohesion prevented further splitting after the first ones, like with Tibetan and Burmese.
    That this was possible is because of the Chinese landscape. The Han Chinese are those Sino-Tibetans which settled the Yellow River and became farmers. All other Chinese people descend from this very people at least in part and only a minority (up to future studies) will prove to be “just assimilated” without significant admixture. If at all, only in the very South.

    The reason is the river system and that its just unlikely that different people would share the river habitat for too long. The fate of China was therefore decided by the competition of the Yellow River and the Yangtse people.

    My view is that steppe-pastoralist influenced original Sino-Tibetans, stronger and better organised Yellow River people, did overtake the Yangtse tribes and this is the foundation of modern Chinese. If you look at the later development, if China was split, this was most of the time between the river habitats. Its just almost “unnatural” that in such highly organised farming societies one river system should be split.

    As long as the Yellow River people were united and strong, they could control the more Southern river systems. Because of this strong-united power base at the dawn of civilisation, the Chinese were able to develop a centralised and unified identity which survived even the break off of its natural center later. Yet that caused the further dialectal and cultural regionalisation within the Chinese people.

    But in a similar situation in Europe, with an earlier, pre-civilisational and geographically much more fragmented Europe, the Indo-European unity was quickly lost and never regained, not even in Roman times at all.

    So whats peculiar about China is that the expansion of the Northern old Chinese and their mixture with locals didnt result in a break up into many independent kingdoms for long, but that they were kept together by dynasties and common cultural traditions ever since.
    Because of the geographical structure of the country with its river systems and the timing of the expansion at the dawn of civilisation.

    Indo-Europeans were in comparison too early and spread over a much more partitioned subcontinent.
    But the spread of old Chinese to the Southern river systems will prove to be like Bell Beakers in Iberia.

    The reason people like Vietnamese are so close to the Chinese is also that Vietnam almost became Chinese but the regional identity was stronger. Genetically, physically and culturally, the influence of the Yellow River and Yangtse people is very obvious.
    Similarly the Thai are the result of a rival kingdoms elite evading the Chinese by moving South.

    So most definitely the Chinese have a very clear ethnic base. What’s remarkable is that they didnt split up after mixing and settling down after conquest. But that was because of the strong centers in the North primarily which were able to keep up one rule at least “long enough”.

    But I’m curious for more genetic studies which will prove the ultimate origin of Sino-Tibetan language, how it took control and adopted farming and animal husbandry at the Yellow River, and the way the old Chinese expansion took place in detail, including replacement rates for different people and regions.

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  3. @Miguel: Just forget about states and fill in ethnicity.
    The main issue I came across is that if there is no reason to keep up a unity and no means to communicate it, people split up into ever smaller units.
    That’s a question of organisation primarily.
    However, a reason to stick together is a common foe, or generally speaking very different neighbouring ethnicities.
    If a German tribe is surrounded by just other German tribes, the very notion of being German might not be as important as in a frontier region.
    Because like so often, what you have in common becomes every more apparent and important if you meet people which just really differ.
    Like movies which want to communicate “one humanity” work the best if a group of humans, even if they are extremely diverse, fight an non-human beast or aliens and the like.

    So its with frontier settlers too. Some might even realised the first time that such different people even existed. That’s why frontier colonisers, especially in the face of a common threat, might have a strengthened or new identity in the colonised country.

    Also most people are glad to find people which understand and think like them in a foreign place. That’s just natural. So for example German merchants in Medieval Italy considered themselves and were considered just that in their own “German quarter”.
    If there were empires with many ethnicities, so what?
    The people in the regions had clear identities, always. And they were not so stupid to don’t see who was closer kin.
    Rather, like always, you have hierarchical and parallel identities in more complex, developed societies. And what was and is more important to you depends on the situation in question.
    Like if the Central power wants to eliminate your regional people because of an uprising, you might even repress your higher level shared identity. That’s just situational.

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  4. It is as if the Platonic Academy had maintained its institutional integrity for 2,000 years. Or, if the civilian Roman senatorial elite had not been dissolved between the 4th and 6th-century A.D., to eventually be replaced by illiterate barbarian warlords (there was a bridge period of barbarians who exhibited some of the best aspects of Romanitas).

    Perhaps a useful analogy here might be a “what-if” scenario where the Latin Western Roman Empire did not fall permanently in the late 5th-century but resurrected itself.

    The importance of the late Platonic Academy is overemphasized in my opinion, the late Platonic Academy (which was not a direct continuation of the original one) is the only major philosophical school closed during the reign of Justinian I, the other major philosophical schools of the time continued their activities in the Byzantine Empire.

    Also, the Senate of the Byzantine Empire continued without interruption save for the sack of Constantinople in the 4th Crusade until the mid 14th century, when it had lost it usefulness under the Ottoman pressures on the significantly diminished Byzantine Empire (which was no longer an empire in practice due to its significantly diminished size).

    Thus even though the Senate of the Western Roman Empire had ended by the 7th century and the West had a diminished contact with the Byzantine Empire and the East in general and the philosophical schools there during the medieval era, things were not uniform in the West, there were periods of intense contact with the Byzantine and Islamic worlds even during the medieval times, which triggered in the West periods of renaissances, the last of which being the main Renaissance. It is the living and unbroken Classical tradition of the East that made the West what it is now. We can conceive of the East (Byzantine and Islamic) as China and the West as Japan, Korea or Vietnam in their relation to the Classical tradition and in its transmission.

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  5. @Onur: In its late phase Byzantines were like a stopper for the occident and an archive at the same time. Byzantium kept all of Europe in a century long dependence with its control of the Eastern long distance trade and its coinage, most notably the solidus.
    Europe was sparse in gold (natural currency was always silver) and dependent on Eastern luxury goods for its elite. The situation Byzantium created was like a centuries long period of deflation from which only they profited.

    I didnt liked how especially the Venetians were so keen to destroy Byzantine rule and to take over, blamed them for their greed and the horrible consequences in the East.
    Yet, for the occident to really strive and develop, to open the stopper and plunder the archive was definitely highly important and accelerated the whole development of the continent drastically.
    The late Byzantines show which dreadful consequences a monopoly and dominant position of a single player can have for a whole continent.

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  6. Actually not just the late Byzantines, but since the fall of Rome they abused the leverage. It was a bad mistake to make a gold currency the way they did in the West. But when they lost coinage, they were economically dependent from Byzantion. The history of the Roman currency reflects the original Romans demise.
    Interestingly the Chinese were not as stupid.
    They used their centralised copper coin and were among the first to use paper money. This made their whole economy and taxing system more stable and even more important than stability: Independent.

    One of the biggest mistakes Western Rome ever made was to give away its full control of long distance trade and especially the currency. During its rise they didnt even used silver! When they gave trade to the Easterners and introduced a strictly precious metal currency, they ruined their own power base in the West on the long run.
    Never make something a currency of your state which you, as a state, cant control. The Chinese didnt forget that truth and, this speaks for the intelligence of the founders, even started with that knowledge.

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  7. “I have heard that Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism is the most assigned text at American universities.”

    It is sad this book is so popular. But, I’m not surprised it is. It shows how the study of history in universities has been politicized.

    The idea nations, ethnic groups are imagined has become popular because of anti-nationalism politics not an honest pursuit for truth. Left-leaning historians don’t like nationalism. They have figured out that the best way to convince people into not being nationalist is by deceiving them into thinking nations don’t exist in the first place.

    This strategy is working in Sweden.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea9M5H_4M4A

    This is not just happening in Sweden. Really, governments & academia are trying to deceive everyone in Europe their ethnic group or being European in general is only imagined.

    The more I study history, genetics the more I see this belief that nations are imagined is false. Almost every nation, ethnic group formed organically and has shared ancestry. It’s never simple, it’s never what extreme nationalists say but the formation of nations is almost never as “imagined” as the so called experts say it is.

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  8. The rise of the Abrahamic religions brought another foundation for forging identities: religion. Until the rise of nationalism beginning from the 19th century, religious/denominational identities were stronger than ethnic, sub-ethnic, tribal or racial identities both in the higher and lower levels of the society in parts of the world where the Abrahamic religions were dominant. This is not to say that people did not make ethnic, tribal or racial distinctions and forged identities also based on them, but they were neither stressed nor had practical influences as much as religious/denominational identities. What nationalism did was more a changing of the emphasis (from religious group to ethnic group) than creating new identities, but obviously not all modern ethnic or national identities were forged before the rise of nationalism, some of them were indeed forged by the respective nationalist movement for that identity in modern times (I do not want to give examples in order not to trigger flame wars from the members of the relevant ethnicities/nations).

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  9. @Onur: Actually the opposite is minimum as often true in the cultural sphere of universalistic religions: Religious sects and differences created to express and represent ethnoregional interests and differences.

    Like the obvious relation of Shia Islam to the Persian ethnocultural sphere. Or Hussite reformist Christians which became at times and in some places a nationalist movement with mass killings and large scale massacres of Germans.
    Or the Lutheran reformation which became almost a national German and Northern Germanic religion, if the counter-reformation of the emperor and his allies wouldn’t have split the German regions again.

    There are many more examples of that kind, some more, some less obvious. But nobody can deny that the Islamic State and al-Nusra got a lot of their strength because of ethnoreligious conflicts again. So is the Huthi movement a mix of religious and ethnic issues, or the Northern-Southern Sudan, Uyghurs, Burma and so on. Sometimes between, sometimes within a universalistic religion.
    Christian became just less important in the recent decades or even centuries, because Christianity lost a lot of its political implications and importance – in general.

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  10. @Obs

    Iran was not even converted to Shia Islam by Persians. It was the Turcoman Safavid dynasty of distant Kurdish origin that converted Persians under their rule to Shia Islam by force and using Arab Shia clergy imported from the Levant. Until then the overwhelming majority of Persians had been Sunni. In fact, those Persians who did not fall under the rule of Safavids have remained overwhelmingly Sunni and call themselves Tajik today to differentiate themselves from Shia Persians. So the modern Persian-Tajik distinction is based in religion. In fact, a lot of the modern ethnic distinctions are based in religion rather than the other way around, the best known case is the situation in ex-Yugoslavia.

    As for Uyghurs, what is now Xinjiang came under Chinese rule only during the recent centuries, that region had Islamized long before that and its Islamization has nothing to do with any conflict with China or the Chinese.

    But your German example is a good example. Indeed the origin and success of the Protestant Reformation is largely attributable to Germanic involvement. In fact, the Great Schism would also be unthinkable without the Germanic influence in the Roman Church. Also the spread of Arian Christianity in Europe before that was a Germanic phenomenon.

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  11. Well, but the Persian sphere of influence stayed Shia, other places did not and the identification is quite strong I’d say.

    Ex-Yugoslavia is a special case for many reasons and Croatians, Bosniaks and Serbs are not just different by religion, but have a quite distinct history going back for very long times. So they are ethnolinguistically closely related, but its much more than just religious confessions, even if the the denominations became the primary marker.

    The Protestant reformation was not just Germanic, not at all. But the Lutheran just fit with the German spirit of the day and became a more Germanic denomination quite fast. Which is quite understandable, since he wrote a German language bible.

    As for the Arian Christians, that was originally even less ethnic than Shia Islam, because it was pure chance the Germanic tribes got Arian missionaries. They just sticked to it, in part probably to make themselves distinct. In a similar way I see it in Persians.
    They didn’t invent it, but they stayed with hit.

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  12. Indeed the origin and success of the Protestant Reformation is largely attributable to Germanic involvement. In fact, the Great Schism would also be unthinkable without the Germanic influence in the Roman Church. Also the spread of Arian Christianity in Europe before that was a Germanic phenomenon.

    the germanization was an accelerant. but it seems unlikely to be a sufficient or necessary condition. i am convinced by the data that the spread of printing press resulted in the conditions for rapid and epidemic spread of heresy, which had generally been an elite affair.

    protestantism never became a majority religion anywhere where the local prince did not support it.

    (one of the weirder facts about the reformation is some of the most radical thinkers were italian, and generally took refuge in central and northern europe)

    the arian connection with being a barbarian was a coincidence, not tied to ethnicity. the proselytization to the large gothic tribes in the balkans occured during the reign of valens, who was an arian. if it had occurred under a nicene emperor, they probably would have been nicene (the later a german groups all converted to nicene christianity).

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  13. If we search for any other meaning of “nation”, well, we soon end in dead ends; common language? Nobody considers USA and UK the same nation; common language and geographical continuity? Many Scotts consider themselves a different nation than England, almost all Swisses seem themselves as only one nation, and I bet that nobody in Miranda do Douro sees himself as anything other than Portuguese. Common history? Catalonia and Basque Country have a common history with the rest of Spain (and don’t have almost any common history of their own, besides the revolts against Spain/Castilla)

    to be precise my post here was to elucidate how artificial and socially constructed the hanzu identity is. this identity being constructed explicitly by chinese nationalists in the late imperial period to mimic european models of nationality.

    in fact, i would argue that the chinese had nation-state features in their social-political culture before eurpeans did. european monarchies were mutli-ethnic and multi-national. the chinese elite had a unified orientation.

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  14. @Obs

    Persians and the other non-peripheral peoples (so excluding Kurds and Baloch) who came under the Safavid rule were converted to Shia Islam by force and it was a quick process due to the sheer brutality in its enforcement. Dissenters were killed, so people had no choice but to convert. Among the spreads of Shia Islam in history, it is the most top-to-bottom one and the one most disconnected from the spirit of the populace.

    Only a part of the people who identify today as Bosniak are descended from the Christians of the medieval Bosnian Church, many are instead descended from Orthodox Serbian or Catholic Croatian converts. The Serbian and Croatian identities also have some fluidity and religion has played a big rule in this as well.

    I did not say the Protestant Reformation was just Germanic, let me quote myself: “Indeed the origin and success of the Protestant Reformation is largely attributable to Germanic involvement.”

    As for Arian Christianity, again let me quote myself: “Also the spread of Arian Christianity in Europe before that was a Germanic phenomenon.” I see no analogy with the Persian case, Arian Christianity did not spread among Germanic tribes by force or by any centralist state, Germanic tribes preferred it to differentiate themselves from the Latin-speaking Roman Church Christians.

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  15. I would even say it makes sense to compare Indo-Europeans and Sino-Tibetans.

    most of the extant IE language groups diversified 3,500 to 5,000 years ago. seems too close for tibetan and chinese.

    That this was possible is because of the Chinese landscape. The Han Chinese are those Sino-Tibetans which settled the Yellow River and became farmers. All other Chinese people descend from this very people at least in part and only a minority (up to future studies) will prove to be “just assimilated” without significant admixture. If at all, only in the very South.

    i lean toward the proposition that the culture of henan is the primary root. i say this in the post. but, it could also be the fact that some of the yangzi societies were fused in with the henan cultures during the early period and so it might be hard to distinguish the two groups? until ancient DNA comes back it will be hard to know.

    chinese y haplogroups are not star-shaped at that time depth, suggesting more constant and continuous growth organically.

    My view is that steppe-pastoralist influenced original Sino-Tibetans, stronger and better organised Yellow River people, did overtake the Yangtse tribes and this is the foundation of modern Chinese.

    this is a common view. the zhou were barbarians from the northwest.

    But in a similar situation in Europe, with an earlier, pre-civilisational and geographically much more fragmented Europe, the Indo-European unity was quickly lost and never regained, not even in Roman times at all.

    genetically the indo-europeans (“steppe”) seems to have been the minority (though substantial) contribution in the southern peninsulas. so a better analogy is if the yue and other southern peoples were the primary genetic contributors to the modern south chinese, with a large north chinese overlay.

    but the chinese expansion to the south occurred far later and so could have been more thorough.

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  16. Thus even though the Senate of the Western Roman Empire had ended by the 7th century and the West had a diminished contact with the Byzantine Empire and the East in general and the philosophical schools there during the medieval era, things were not uniform in the West, there were periods of intense contact with the Byzantine and Islamic worlds even during the medieval times, which triggered in the West periods of renaissances, the last of which being the main Renaissance. It is the living and unbroken Classical tradition of the East that made the West what it is now. We can conceive of the East (Byzantine and Islamic) as China and the West as Japan, Korea or Vietnam in their relation to the Classical tradition and in its transmission.

    the period between the 7th and 9th century in byzantium was one of regression/retrenchment, and the renaissance of the 10th century (where major copying efforts helped preserve greek playwrights) saw the emergence of a very different culture from that of late antiquity. basically secular civilian culture became sharply attenuated.

    the byzantine senate is but a name. and the last consuls were in the 6th-century.

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  17. Of course the initial spread of Arian Christianity among Germanic tribes was through Roman involvement. But I am not talking about the initial spread but the general trend in the spread.

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  18. Of course the initial spread of Arian Christianity among Germanic tribes was through Roman involvement. But I am not talking about the initial spread but the general trend in the spread.

    the tribes and groups which entered during the 4th & 5th century were arian, when that sect had a lead among the germans. arianism didn’t really make any headway among other german groups who entered the roman world as pagans. it never became an ethnic religion (the vandals weirdly wanted to spread it among their subjects).

    the analogy with protestantism is very weak.

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  19. @Razib

    The conquering Germanic tribes in the Roman lands kept their own customs and law, so converting to a different sect from that of the general Roman populace would complement their desire to keep their distinction and higher status as conquerors and elites. Hence I think it is no coincidence that the early trend in the spread of Christianity among Germanic tribes was towards Arian Christianity. But of course this is very different from the spread of Protestant Reformation, I made analogy because of their common Germanic connection, but the processes and conditions involved are very different.

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  20. @Razib

    the period between the 7th and 9th century in byzantium was one of regression/retrenchment, and the renaissance of the 10th century (where major copying efforts helped preserve greek playwrights) saw the emergence of a very different culture from that of late antiquity. basically secular civilian culture became sharply attenuated.

    the byzantine senate is but a name. and the last consuls were in the 6th-century.

    Still, the Byzantine and Islamic worlds remained the main reservoirs for the West to draw things related to the Classical tradition given the very little that survived in the West itself.

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  21. Roman fell, and was no more, but …

    Europeans live in their houses, speak their language, worship in their churches, and are governed by their laws.

    This is more true in Italy, Iberia, and France than in the rest of Europe, and, not very much so in Eastern Europe and Russia. But it is an important fact in Western Europe and its epigones on other continents.

    Two of most important Roman political ideas, republic and empire live on and still drive much of the worlds politics.

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  22. Razib: But, I believe that both North and South Chinese will be shown to have 50% or more of their ancestry attributable to people who founded the Erlitou culture of Henan.

    Many questions from a population structure point of view, which I feel not so confident answering without ancient dna (although fair play to those that want to give this a try!).

    Were the Chinese of the Warring States period descendants of the Erlitou culture mainly, and speakers of a language which evolved as a single language community until that point…? Or was much of China (certainly North and Central China) in fact composed of speakers of diverging Sinitic tongues which really dated closer to the expansions of Sino-Tibetan as a whole, thousands of years earlier? And also, demographically, of a population expansion at this time. The linguistic work tends to suggest that Sino-Tibetan has had an early branch point of Sinitic and Tibetan, and then much replacement and homogenisation within Sinitic since that time.

    Will we by genetics really be able if Erlitou was ancestral to much of China, rather than an earlier wave of Sinitic / Sino-Tibetan speakers, or even still earlier waves comprising other language families as well?

    It seems a reasonably good bet that the ancestors of those who are today Han Chinese were probably closer in a purely genetic, technical sense to being a single closer single population across their demographic history since Out of Africa, than is the case in West Eurasia, and that this could probably also be the case at even say 6000 kya…. But whether the decisive time of expansion of Han-like ancestry relates to the proto-civilized late Bronze Age culture of Erlitou or an earlier demographic expansion seems hard to place. In general we’ve not found the most obvious civilizations in West Eurasia really were the ones which always demographically expanded (if anything, shown more drawing in?), and the expansions have usually been earlier…

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  23. @Onur: The Bosniaks were always people in between the West and the East, long before the Ottoman conquest. Before they became Muslim, many were Bogomils. So they were heretics before Islam and largely independent from Croatians and Serbs in this no man land.

    @Razib: The Bogomils and Albigenser, Catharer in general, should not be forgotten. Those sects, there were more, prove the potential of heresy before printing.
    A lot of it had to do with influences from the Near East, revival of philosophy and general education, the development of a Bourgeois class even.
    Obviously this was more developed in Italy, were you could meet all those factors.
    And there was a general problem with the bible and the liturgy being all in Latin. Very bad Latin even and there are stories of priests which did not understood anything they were reading in Latin.
    Some even constructed strange theories because of their inability to understand Latin.
    So this was a demand more from the roots.
    In Germany many aristocrats wanted to understand and spread “the true word of god”. That was a motivation.
    Another motivation was the political and economic pressure, the constrictions caused by the corrupted Catholic kraken.
    They wanted to be the heads of their regional churches. And this goes back to the investiture dispute.
    The emperor on the other hand had limited real snd economic power, but the organisation of the church behind his back. And the Habsburgs were well controlled by the Catholic church. Especially with their Spanish realm it was a problem to break up with the Pope. Anyway, there was much more to it than the printing press, which however could be widely used. Eventually by both sides in the propaganda war.

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  24. Concerning the development of the Chinese, they are Yellow River people. But how old Chinese proper is, when they did take the Yellow River over, that will be interesting to investigate, because the Neolithic prehistory of the region is quite long.
    This might also explain in part why the Chinese are not star like in their yDNA, because this was a longer process and the final move was done by an elite minority which united related Yellow River people.

    The Yangtse was colonial territory for already developed old Chinese, this is very clear from the non-Chinese influences there, the historical accounts even and physical characteristics.
    Its also remarkable that it seems the Yangtse people were not just no Chinese, but no Sino-Tibetans at all.
    But from genetics and physical anthropology we know they were not completely different, not like the very South and South East Asia before the East Asian expansions – as you know there were many, not just Chinese.
    So this makes the question of where Sino-Tibetans came from really interesting. But probably its simple and the river people were just largely isolated ethnolinguistical units for long times, even if ancestrally related and with some cultural and genetic exchange probably. But a lot is unclear in this respect, at least to me.

    Obvious is however that there were multiple waves of ancestrally East Asian people conquering and colonising the South East of Asia and beyond.
    The Chinese were just the last wave of huge importance, not even the last at all.

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  25. Razib have you seen any work done on the population genetics of Taiwan’s indigenous groups?

    In a Taiwanese history book I am reading (the intended audience is teenagers and perhaps Taiwanese history teachers) the authors quoted the north vs. south study you mentioned in the post to posit that Fujianese and Hakka are not genetically that close to northern Han, and then posited that the Fujianese/Hakka immigrants who settled in Taiwan after 1600 were the likely descendants of the people who lived in the communities that the Austronesians originally came from. This struck me as incredibly improbable (and very much motivated reasoning: the purpose of the book is to present a Taiwanese nationalist history that deemphasizes the story of mainland Chinese civilization as much as possible), but it is not my field. Have you seen any studies done on the population genetics of these populations?

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  26. “in fact, i would argue that the chinese had nation-state features in their social-political culture before eurpeans did. european monarchies were mutli-ethnic and multi-national. the chinese elite had a unified orientation.”

    Incorrect. Byzantium or more accurately Romania had early features of a nation-state. They had a centralised bureaucracy, taxation, governance, currency, language, literary culture and only became multi-ethnic when it expanded but the Greek-speaking Romaic core was overwhelming and remained the same.

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  27. “the byzantine senate is but a name. and the last consuls were in the 6th-century.”

    Incorrect. Heraclius and his son, Heraclius were declared consuls in the 7th century.

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  28. @Obs

    Like I said, only a part of the modern Bosniak population can be connected to the former members of the Bosniak Church. Until well into the 20th century the dominant identity among who are now Bosniaks was the Muslim identity, the modern Bosniak identity largely replaced it during the 20th century in a way containing all the Serbo-Croatian-speaking Muslims regardless of origin.

    In fact, many of the modern ethnic identities in the world are just regional replacements of the long-established religious identities. This is especially the case in the regions of the world outside the Western world, as in the West secularization and nationalization were less top-to-bottom and thus more natural. Nationalism is a response of the humankind to the ever-secularizing modern world where religion and religious identities play a less significant role than before. After all, the empty slots should be filled, humans cannot live without identities that both unify and separate them.

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  29. @Onur: In my opinion one of the main reasons for the revival of religious and nationalist ideas around the world is that the West became one corrupted, almost monolithic block.
    All alternatives to the Neoliberal oligarchic new world order are dead, corrupted or being suppressed.
    So any policy or sentiment which has a problem with this new world system and its thought control has to look elsewhere.
    This is a major reason for a lot of this regional strategies. Its not just their greater real independence and development, but that the West is politically braindead.
    A small oligarchy controls politics to such a degree and mainstream politics don’t even talk about that any more.
    In the past if you had a problem with a Western hegemon to your region, you could plead for help at the competitors, like Fascism or Socialism, or simply the current foe of your foe, even if they both were monarchies or whatever.
    With everything being brought under the control of Western Plutocracy, with the USA on top, thats not even an option any more. And to get “sympathy” from Western intellectuals and politicians didnt really make a difference at all if the system became, in fact, monolithic in real policy.
    So they look at their own roots and regional connections for the strength to resist.
    Add to that the Western self-destruction and self-neglect. How European people ruin and humiliate themselves, while still being blamed for everything, thanks to cultural Marxism.
    Who wants to be like that? If you are clever, you try to abuse that Western degeneracies for your own interests, but thats no role model any more, especially not for males and thinking people.
    Too bad irrational religion works the best to make a resistance.

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  30. @Obs

    Yes, today the nationalist and religious movements are the biggest challenge to the hegemony of the current globalist oligarchy. This is the case everywhere in the world. But the West has a difference in that it is the main target of the globalist elites today since those elites are well aware that if the West falls there will not be any real challenge to their world dominion, so they are trying to do their best to make the Western societies disintegrate by every means possible, their channeling of people from the third world countries to the Western countries is just a part of that project. So the nationalist and religious movements in the West are a greater threat to the world domination of the globalist elites than the nationalist and religious movements elsewhere.

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  31. Incorrect. Byzantium or more accurately Romania had early features of a nation-state. They had a centralised bureaucracy, taxation, governance, currency, language, literary culture and only became multi-ethnic when it expanded but the Greek-speaking Romaic core was overwhelming and remained the same.

    i agree with everything except “Greek-speaking Romaic core was overwhelming.” pretty obvious greek culture was dominant for elite throughout but lots of non-greeks were present i the empire.

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  32. TG, i’ve seen it. there are ami and atyal samples, totally different from han. obv some mixture, but fujianese are very different from taiwanese aborigines. much like north han, though somewhat different.

    the taiwanese aborigines seem to be the root of the austronesian migration.

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  33. “the taiwanese aborigines seem to be the root of the austronesian migration.”

    Yes. But where did *they* come from? They were not the first humans on the island. They displaced those people, who exist only through a couple of bone fragments in a cave and some pottery finds. Author’s hypothesis is that they came from Fujian like, and that Han growth was assimilationist not displacement. But displacement seems to be what the current data is saying, as you’ve written before. The Taiwanese nationalists will be disappointed to learn it!

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  34. “the taiwanese aborigines seem to be the root of the austronesian migration.”

    Yes. But where did *they* come from? They were not the first humans on the island. They displaced those people, who exist only through a couple of bone fragments in a cave and some pottery finds. Author’s hypothesis is that they came from Fujian like, and that Han growth was assimilationist not displacement. But displacement seems to be what the current data is saying, as you’ve written before. The Taiwanese nationalists will be disappointed to learn it!

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  35. “i agree with everything except “Greek-speaking Romaic core was overwhelming.” pretty obvious greek culture was dominant for elite throughout but lots of non-greeks were present i the empire.”

    Incorrect. During what we might call Byzantium proper, from the beginning of Heraclius’s reign, Byzantium constituted of an overwhelming Greek-speaking Roman core. Later in the 10th century, it expanded to include Armenians, Bulgarians and some others but they were largely absorbed and assimilated. It was hardly an empire of subordinate groups living under the heel of a dominant group. It remained strongly monocultural.

    These books may help:

    https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674986510
    https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674365407

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  36. Yes. But where did *they* come from? They were not the first humans on the island. They displaced those people, who exist only through a couple of bone fragments in a cave and some pottery finds. Author’s hypothesis is that they came from Fujian like, and that Han growth was assimilationist not displacement. But displacement seems to be what the current data is saying, as you’ve written before. The Taiwanese nationalists will be disappointed to learn it!

    i think yes austronesians are probably from the mainland. but they are very distinct from fujianese.

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  37. @Razib

    the period between the 7th and 9th century in byzantium was one of regression/retrenchment, and the renaissance of the 10th century (where major copying efforts helped preserve greek playwrights) saw the emergence of a very different culture from that of late antiquity. basically secular civilian culture became sharply attenuated.

    That is because during the 7th century the Byzantine Empire was split into two between the northern parts remaining under the Byzantine rule and the southern and richer and economically more resourceful parts passing to the Islamic Arab rule due to the Muslim Arab conquests (the European parts that passed to Slavs during the same time were mostly lower in importance and development), that is why I am usually talking about the Islamic world in addition to the Byzantine Empire when talking about the sources of the transmission of the Classical tradition to the West (also bear in mind that the Islamic world also included the very rich and civilized Mesopotamia taken from the Sasanids, would have a thriving stronghold in Iberia as Andalus and importantly would in the end include the core Greek regions of the Byzantine Empire too with the Muslim Turkic conquests beginning from the late 11th century).

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  38. Obs:

    You said: “As for Uyghurs, what is now Xinjiang came under Chinese rule only during the recent centuries, that region had Islamized long before that and its Islamization has nothing to do with any conflict with China or the Chinese.”

    Lets define “recent”. The northern part of Xinjiang has been under Chinese control since the Han Dynasty, in about 100 BCE. After that all of these dynasties controlled the area, at least for a time, Sui (partially), Tang, Yuan, Ming, and Qing. Hell the Yellow Emperor is fabled to have ascended to Heaven on the Kunlung Mountains, which go through modern Xinjiang. So, no Xinjiang is directly tied to Chinese culture for at least 2,000 years. Even the capital, Urumqi, is not a Uighur word, it is Mongolian.

    That area has had Han Chinese, Mongolic tribes, Turkic tribes, and also Indo-European speakers (in the past) for centuries; it is still quite ethnically diverse today.

    The formation of the modern Uyghur ethnicity happened in the Tarim Basin, in southern Xinjiang, which was rarely under Chinese control. The Chinese have had contact with the region since the Spring and Autumn Period (end of Zhou), around the 7th century BCE.

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  39. @Dragon Horse

    The person you quoted is me, not Obs, so a reply to you by me would be appropriate.

    It was the Karakhanids who largely converted the Tarim Basin (the southern parts of what is now Xinjiang) to Islam and they conquered the region from the polities of the historical Uyghurs and various Saka groups (the Tocharian languages were probably already extinct then), not from China. There was no Chinese political control in any part of the Tarim Basin during or immediately before its Islamization. Like you already said, the Tarim Basin was rarely controlled by China.

    As for Dzungaria (the northern parts of what is now Xinjiang), it too was rarely under Chinese control, it was mostly ruled by various nomadic polities.

    I never denied the long-lasting Chinese contact with either the Tarim Basin or Dzungaria. But it does not mean political control. Until the recent Chinese acquisition of those regions, they were rarely under Chinese control. They were parts of the Central Asian world or worlds (sedentary or nomadic), the Tarim Basin is still so to a large extent.

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  40. Re, population movements in China, and when those happened (before Han political expansion, during it; late, early) we certainly know that the people who set off from South China to MSEA and ISEA around 2500 bce were different from people in South China today.

    But we don’t know
    a) that they were at this time unaffected by this huge demographic expansion that accompanies Sino-Tibetan at least 4000 bce, and probably 5000 bce. (Our proto-Austro- populations at 2500bce may have been quite admixed by much earlier initial farming expansions!)
    b) after 2500 bce South China then remains in genetic stasis until the Han expand there (indeed I’d maybe the genetics of the Hmong-Mien and Tai-Kadai groups there today might argue against this, tentatively?).

    It be odd to me if the expansions of Sino-Tibetan farmers that linguistics and adna (Oakaie, Chokhopani) suggest only affected genetically the western parts of East Asia (Tibet, Western China, Himalayas, Northern Myanmar) until the expansion of Han Chinese civilization. And yet there are no deeply diverged forms of Sino-Tibetan in the eastern parts of China, despite survival of linguistic minorities…

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  41. “In a Taiwanese history book I am reading (the intended audience is teenagers and perhaps Taiwanese history teachers) the authors quoted the north vs. south study you mentioned in the post to posit that Fujianese and Hakka are not genetically that close to northern Han, and then posited that the Fujianese/Hakka immigrants who settled in Taiwan after 1600 were the likely descendants of the people who lived in the communities that the Austronesians originally came from.”

    There was a study/book that said that Fujianese/Hakka Han and other South Coast Chinese resemble certain non-Han minority groups that have affinities with Mainland SE Asians, but these groups are autosomally very different from Taiwanese aborigines and other Austronesian speakers (i.e. Island SE Asians). https://www.google.com/books/edition/_/MKhEAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=Fujian

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