China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Images of regional identity emerge as people from different places encounter one another, yet the interactions that precipitate the drawing of boundaries often blur the very same notions of self and other. This paper looks at the region of northern Shaanxi province, an isolated, liminal space between imperial Chang’an and nomadic others that, at times, is seen as a Confucian periphery, and, at other times, a revolutionary center following the Eighth Route Army’s arrival in Yan’an at the end of the Long March. The connection between regional transgression and identity is highlighted in Gao Jianqun’s 1993 novel The Last Xiongnu (Zuihou yi ge Xiongnu), “the epic of northern Shaanxi,” in which a Xiongnu soldier and Han woman give birth to generations of bandits, warlords, and revolutionaries, forming a regional and national spirit that fuses the realism of the settled with the restlessness of the romantic, generating a culture marked by agricultural rootedness with a predisposition toward revolution. The novel presents several instantiations of cultural hybridity. Nomadic peoples and Han meet in the woman’s home village. The songs she sings fuse China’s southern civilized femininity with its northern untamed masculinity. The generations of her mixed descent offspring later engage with additional influxes of outsiders in the twentieth century, including revolutionary soldiers and educated youth (zhiqing). I argue that through these sites of hybridity—village, songs, people—the novel portrays the region as a melting pot where cultural hybridity forms the critical force driving historical development.