In the eyes of the Chinese: Affective construction of cultural identity

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Immigrant Institute, Sweden


There are officially 56 ethnic groups in China, and of its 1.2 billion people, more than 95% are identified as Han [China] people (State Ethnic Affairs Commission of PRC 2011). Yet the ways in which ‘Chineseness’ has been researched in the field of communication have mostly employed a geographical focus and been reduced to a singular ethnic, national, and cultural salience (So 2010). This article employs Ahmed’s (2004) model of the “cultural politics of emotion” to examine the political and cultural economy of “being Chinese.” Four focus-group discussions at a university in southeast China were conducted with a total of 27 participants from the northeast, southeast, and southwest of China. I first trace how emotions are effects of social norms and public discourse. I further describe a brief history of how racial and ethnic attitudes have developed in China to provide the context of this study. Themes emerged from the interviews include “blood lineage,” “political solidarity,” and “spatial centrality.” The article concludes with implications that racial consciousness carried in China serves as an example of the need to internationalize intercultural communication scholarship by focusing on non-Western contexts to broaden our understanding of cultural concepts.