Skip to main content

More Than a Category: Han Supremacism on the Chinese Internet

  • James Leibold (a1)

Using the October 2008 slapping incident of historian Yan Chongnian 阎崇年 as a case study, this article attempts to contextualize and critically examine the articulation of Han supremacism on the Chinese internet. It demonstrates how an informal group of non-elite, urban youth are mobilizing the ancient Han ethnonym to challenge the Chinese Communist Party's official policy of multiculturalism, while seeking to promote pride and self-identification with the Han race (han minzu 汉民族) to the exclusion of the non-Han minorities. In contrast to most of the Anglophone literature on Chinese nationalism, this article seeks to employ “Han” as a “boundary-spanner,” a category that turns our analysis of Chinese national identity formation on its head, side-stepping the “usual suspects” (intellectuals, dissidents and the state itself) and the prominent role of the “foreign other” in Chinese ethnogenesis, and instead probing the unstable plurality of the self/othering process in modern China and the role of the internet in opening up new spaces for non-mainstream identity articulation.

Hide All

1 For various accounts of the incident see Jenne Jeremiah, “The perils of studying the Qing,” Jottings from the Granite Studio, 8 October 2008, at; “Historian slapped, ethnic tensions persist China's nationalist narrative,” China Digital Times, 7 October 2008, at; “Historian slapped in the face for pro-Manchu view,” Danwei, 7 October 2008, at; Ceng Luwen, “Zhangguo shijian yinfa xueshu zhi zheng” (“Slapping incident incites academic debate”), 17 October 2008, at (no longer available).

2 Dahan zhi feng, “Wo weishenme zhangguo Yan Chongnian” (“Why I slapped Yan Chongnian”), Hanwang, 21 October 2008, According to Hanwang statistics, as of 24 March 2010, this thread had been viewed over 34 million times; see Please note that unfettered access to Hanwang and other Hanist websites is highly variable. I note where threads on Hanwang and elsewhere on the Chinese internet are no longer available (or at least, not under the original URL), but still provide the URL where I originally accessed the information.

3 “Tianya zatan: Guonei zhuming Manxuejia Yan Chongnian xiansheng Wuxi qianming shou shu bei xi” (“Rambling talk from the four corners: the surprise attack on famous Manchu scholar Mr Yan Chongnian at a Wuxi book signing”), Tianya, 5 October 2008, at

4 See the screenshot posted in reply to Dahan zhi feng, “Why I slapped Yan Chongnian.” As of March 2010, the tide had turned slightly against Huang Haiqing, with 43.8% agreeing that Yan Chongnian deserved to be slapped, 48.7% opposing the slapping but agreeing that people should have the right to express their viewpoints and 7.5% supporting Yan Chongnian, from over 2.5 million votes cast in the same poll. See “Wangyou reyi: ‘Yan Chongnian aida’ dongkou buru dongshou?” (“Netizen hot topic: ‘The beating of Yan Chongnian’: is moving one's mouth inferior to moving one's hand?”), Renmin wang, 15 October 2008, at

5 Xudong, Zhang, “The making of the post-Tiananmen intellectual field,” in Xudong, Zhang (ed.), Whither China? (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), p. 7; Moody, Peter, Conservative Thought in Contemporary China (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), p. 140.

6 Harrell, Stevan, Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), p. 295.

7 Gladney, Dru, Dislocating China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Ebrey, Patricia, “Surnames and Han Chinese identity,” in Brown, Melissa J. (ed.), Negotiating Ethnicities in China and Taiwan (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1996), pp. 1936; Schein, Louisa, “Gender and internal Orientalism,” Modern China, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1997), pp. 6998; Blum, Susan, Portraits of “Primitives” (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

8 Swain, Carol, The New White Nationalism in American (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Crosby, Faye, Affirmative Action is Dead (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Doane, Ashley and Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, White Out (New York: Routledge, 2003).

9 Gladney, Dislocating China, p. 14.

10 Mark C. Elliott, “Hushuo: the northern Other and Han ethnogenesis,” paper presented at the Critical Han Studies Conference, Stanford University, 25–29 April 2008.

11 Leibold, James, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 1929.

12 Kai-wing, Chow, “Imagining boundaries of blood,” in Dikötter, Frank (ed.), The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997), pp. 3452; Dikötter, Frank, The Discourse of Race (London: Hurst & Company, 1992), pp. 97125.

13 Rhoads, Edward, Manchus & Han (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), pp. 173230; Leibold, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism, pp. 37–79.

14 Leibold, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism, pp. 113–75.

15 Ibid. pp. 81–109; Martin, Terry, The Affirmative Action Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).

16 Mullaney, Thomas, “Ethnic classification writ large,” China Information, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2004), pp. 207–41; Xiaotong, Fei, Zhonghua minzu duoyuan yiti geju (The Plurality and Organic Unity of the Zhonghua Minzu) (Beijing: Zhongyang renmin xueyuan chubanshe, 1989).

17 Information Office of the State Council, “Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China,” February 2005, at

18 Gladney, Dislocating China.

19 Zedong, Mao, “Criticize Han chauvinism,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1977), Vol. 5, pp. 8788.

20 Mao Zedong, “The debate on the co-operative transformation of agriculture and the current class struggle,” in ibid. p. 230.

21 Gladney, Dislocating China, pp. 20–21; National Bureau of Statistics of China, “2005 nian quanguo 1% renkou chouyang diaocha zhuyao shuju gongbao” (“Gazette of the principle data from the 1% sampling of the 2005 national census”), The National Bureau of Statistics of China, 16 March 2006, at

22 Harrell, Ways of Being Ethnic, p. 308.

23 Jieshun, Xu, “Han minzu yanjiu chuyi” (“My humble opinion on Han studies”), in Han minzu lishi he wenhua xintan (Nanning: Guangxi minzu chubanshe, 1985), p. 1.

24 Jieshun, Xu and Shaofen, Yuan, Hanminzu yanjiu (Research on the Han Nationality) (Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe, 1989); Zhenguo, Lian, Guoji Hanminzu yanjiu (International Studies on the Han Nationality) (Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe, 1991).

25 Rong, Ma, “Dangqian Zhongguo minzu wenti yanjiu de xuanti yu silu” (“The subjects and approaches of current ethnic affairs study in China”), Zhongyang minzu daxue xuebao, Vol. 34, No. 3 (2007), pp. 1238.

26 Ma Rong, “Shaoshu minzu wenti de ‘qu zhengzhi hua’” (“The ‘politicization’ of the ethnic minority question”), as reposted on Tianya, 21 May 2006, at

27 Gries, Peter Hays, China's New Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 89; Barmé, Geremie, “To screw foreigners is patriotic,” The China Journal, No. 34 (1993), pp. 209–34; Dikötter, Frank, “Racial identities in China,” The China Quarterly, No. 138 (1994), pp. 404–12.

28 Qiang, Song, Zangzang, Zhang and Bian, Qiao, Zhongguo keyi shuo bu (China Can Say No) (Beijing: Zhonghua gongshang lianhe chubanshe, 1996); Xiaojun, Song et al. , Zhongguo bu gaoxing (Unhappy China) (Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2009).

29 Barmé, Geremie, Shades of Mao (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1996); Guobin, Yang, “China's zhiqing generation,” Modern China, Vol. 29, No. 3 (2003), pp. 267–96; Ying, Zhu, Television in Post-reform China (London: Routledge, 2008).

30 In contrast to the perception of a panopticon-style censorship regime in China, a recent study found “a great deal of politically sensitive material survives in the Chinese blogosphere, and chances for survival can likely be improved with knowledge and strategy.” See Rebecca MacKinnon, “China's censorship 2.0,” First Monday, Vol. 14, No. 2 (2009), at

31 Satsuki Shizuka [pseudo. Juni Yeung], “A brief of actual results from Chinese culture renaissance mvt,” Accounts of the ‘Lutenist’ from Beaver Creek @ U of T, 1 October 2008, at

32 Huaxia xuemai, “Shiluo de wenming: Han minzu de chuantong fushi” (“A lost civilization: the Han race's traditional clothing”), as reposted on Xiaoshuoba, 8 August 2007, at

33 Shi Yi and Dong Yiran, “Women weishenma jiaru Hanfu yundong” (“Why we joined the Hanfu movement”), Beijing kejibao, 27 July 2005, as reposted

34 Qinhuang Hanwu, “Women weishenme jiao Hanren?” (“Why are we called Han?”), Hanzu wang, 25 June 2006, at (no longer available).

35 Hu Xinliang, “Meiyou Hanxin, jiu meiyou huifu” (“There is no Han clothing without a Han heart”), Sanyuefeng, spring 2007, as reposted at

36 Zhang Congxing, “Hanfu chongxian jietou” (“Han clothing reappears on the street corner”), Lianhe zaobao, 29 November 2003, as reposted at

37 On the history of the Hanfu movement and the founding of Hanwang, see Wugen qingjing, “Hanwang biannian jianshi (zhengqiu yijian gao)” (“Concise chronological history of Hanwang [draft seeking others' opinions]”), Jixia luntan, 22 November 2008, at; Luo Xuehua, “Hanfu zhuantibao” (“Special report on Han clothing”), Zhongguo xinwen zhoubao, 5 September 2005, as reposted at; Shi Yi and Dong Yiran, “Why we joined the Hanfu movement”; Satsuki Shizuka, “A brief of actual results from Chinese culture renaissance mvt”; Satsuki Shizuka, “Rethinking the Hanfu movement, Oct. '08 (Pt 1: Temporality),” Accounts of the “Lutenist” from Beaver Creek @ U of T, 6 October 2008, at; Satsuki Shizuka, “Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, Nov. 08 (Pt. 2 Organization & Politics),” Accounts of the “Lutenist” from Beaver Creek @ U of T, 7 November 2008, at

38 Wugen qingjing, “Concise chronological history of Hanwang.” For a bibliography of media coverage on the Hanfu movement see Tianchao zhi min, “Sannian lai meiti dui Hanfu yundong xuanchuan de zongjie” (“Summary of three years worth of media converge on the Hanfu movement”), Baidu tieba, 20 February 2007, at

39 Zhao Wengang, “Zhengxie weiyuan tiyi queli Hanfu wei guofu” (“CPPCC member proposes Hanfu as national costume”), Sina, 11 March 2007, at

40 dhws, “Gonggao: Hanwang shi Hanminzu wang” (“Public announcement: Hanwang is the Han race's network”), Hanwang, 8 December 2005, at

41 Zhao Fengnian, “Hanfu chongxian yu Zhongguo de wenyi fuxing” (“The reappearance of Han clothing and China's cultural renaissance”), Han wenhua wang, 8 February 2007, at

42 Li Li, “Hanwang zhangcheng” (“Hanwang constitution”), Hanwang, 27 April 2006, at (no longer available).

43 Shi Yi and Dong Yiran, “Why we joined the Hanfu movement.”

44 Xian, Zhang, “‘Hanfu yundong’: Hulianwang shidai de zhongzu xing minzuzhuyi” (“‘Hanfu movement’: racial nationalism in the age of the internet”), Zhongguo qingnian zhengzhi xueyuan xuebao, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2009), pp. 6571.

45 Wugen qingjing, “Concise chronological history of Hanwang”; Satsuki Shizuka, “A brief of actual results from Chinese culture renaissance mvt.”; Hanwang gushi, “Hanwang 2006 fengyun zhi renwu” (“The people behind Hanwang's precarious 2006”), Maopu, 30 May 2006, at (no longer available).

46 See “Luntan tongji – jiben gaikuang” (“Bulletin board statistics – basic situation”), Hanwang, at

47 Wugen qingjing, “Concise chronological history of Hanwang.”

48 Tianyou Huanghan, “Guanxi dao Hanzu qieshen liyi de wenti” (“On a question that directly affects the interests of the Han race”), Hanwang, 24 Nov 2008, at

49 Lantian, “Yan Chongnian bei da shijian dui Hanfu yundong you he yinxiang? (“What effect will the Yan Chongnian slapping incident have on the Hanfu movement?”), Tianhan, 9 October 2008, at

50 Wuyingdian, “Yan shi zongqinhui jiang Yan Chongnian cong zuji jiapu shang chuming” (“The Yan surname clan association seeks to remove Yan Chongnian from their ancestral genealogy”), Hanwang, 27 November 2005, at (no longer available).

51 kingsreturn, “Liangnan de xuanzhe: Han minzuzhuyi de xingqi he jingshi” (“A difficult choice: the rise of Hanism and what it warns us”), Tianya, 24 October 2008, at; daglock, “Zaitan minzu yingxiong de liang ge pingchuan biaozhun” (“Another discussion of the two criteria for evaluating racial heroes”), Hanwang, 24 November 2008,

52 Zhao Fengnian, “Lun manqing canyu shili de qianzai weihai bing buyuayu taidu shili” (“Discussion of how the latent danger of the remaining forces of the Qing is no less serious than the forces of Taiwan independence”), Hanwang, 23 June 2009, at; kingsreturn, “A difficult choice: the rise of Hanism and what it warns us.”

53 “Yan Chongnian yulu” (“Yan Chongnian quotes”), Tianya, 5 October 2008 at

54 Li Yang, “Da Yan Chongnian yi zuiba suan qing de” (“It was too light to only slap Yan Chongnian on a single cheek”), 10 October 2008, reposted at

55 Wumaodang, “Guanyu ‘Dahan zhi feng’ xiji Yan Chongnian” (“Concerning the ‘Great Wind of Han's’ surprise attack on Yan Chongnian”), Tianya, 8 October 2008, at

56 Tianxia zhi zhong, “Jiekai Beijing deng da chengshi quyi yingshi yulun wenyi zhi geju de gaizi! Bingshan yijiao eryi” (“Lifting the lid on the structure of folk arts, film, public opinion and arts and literature in Beijing and other major cities: only the tip of the iceberg”), Hanwang, 5 February 2009, at (no longer available); Jian weixie jiangjun, “Yangshi baijia jiangtan de lanmu zhipianren ‘Wan Wei’ shi Manren!!!” (“The lead producer of CCTV's Lecture Room ‘Wan Wei’ is a Manchu!!!”), Hanwang, 25 February 2008, at (no longer available); Daming100, “Dui zhizuoren – Hanxing Manren Wan Wei baochi gaodu jingti” (“Yes, the producer – maintaining a high level of vigilance against Wan Wei the Manchu with a Han surname”), Hanwang, 12 October 2008, at (no longer available).

57 Wumaodang, “Concerning the ‘Great Wind of Han's’ surprise attack on Yan Chongnian.”

58 Yidao shandian, “Jingti ‘Mandu’ shili zaidu xingqi gei Zhonghua minzu dailai xin de zainan” (“Guarding against another rise in the forces of ‘Manchu independence’ causing renewed calamity for the Chinese nation”), Hanwang, 12 December 2008, at

59 Zhao Fengnian, “Discussion of how the latent danger of the remaining forces of the Qing is no less serious than the forces of Taiwan independence.”

60 See for but one example, Zhao Fengnian, “Tantan wo ruhe congcong Zhonghua zhuyizhe biancheng han minzu zhuyizhe” (“Why I changed from a Chinese nationalist to a Han nationalist”), Hanwang, 20 October 2004, at

61 kingsreturn, “A difficult choice: the rise of Hanism and what it warns us.”

62 mcbfaa, “Nanyuanbeizhe de minzu zhengce” (“The cross-purposes of the nationalities policies”), Hanwang, 24 November 2008, at

63 Wumaodang, “Concerning the ‘Great Wind of Han's’ surprise attack on Yan Chongnian.”

64 Han independent blog, “Zhongguo gongmin dengji ruxia” (“The status of Chinese citizens is like this”), 25 November 2008, at (no longer available).

65 Yueqiu, “Zu renkou qian nian yi hui” (“The destruction of our race's population in a single century”), Hanzu wang, 7 October 2007, at (no longer available).

66 Anon, “Qiya shaoshu minzu? Zhongguo shifou you gouda Hanzuzhuyi” (“Riding roughshod over the ethnic minorities? Does China possess Han chauvinism?”), Fenghuangwang, 16 September 2008, at

67 mcbfaa, “The cross-purposes of the nationalities policies.”

68 Xuanyuan bingrou, “Guanyu ‘minzu youlie’ wenti” (“Concerning the question of ‘superior and inferior races’”), Hanzu wang, 22 March 2008, at (no longer available).

69 Qingping jushi, “Han minzu jiangde jiu shi xuetong chuancheng” (“The Han race that we talk about is the product of blood inheritance”), Hanwang, 18 December 2008, at

70 Xuanyuan bingrou, “Concerning the question of ‘superior and inferior races’.”

71 HolySinoEm, “Huang Han minzu shi xuetong xiangdui chuzheng de minzu” (“The imperial Han race is a relatively pure race”), Hanzu wang, 11 July 2007, at (no longer available).

72 Ibid.

73 Lanshui, “Guanyu minzu youlie de jidian kanfa” (“Several views on the superiority and inferiority of races”), Hanzu wang, 11 December 2008, at (no longer available).

74 Reply by Jiguang yiyue on 8 August 08 to the original posting Qinhuang Hanwu, “Women weishenmo jiao Hanren” (“Why are we called Han people?”), Hanzu wang, 25 June 2006, at (no longer available).

75 See for example Huang han diyi hanfei, “Han minzu xuetong qianxi” (“A shallow analysis of Han blood”), Hanzu wang, 25 October 2007, at (no longer available). The two most frequently cited articles are Wen, Boet al., “Genetic evidence supports demic diffusion of Han culture,” Nature, No. 431 (2004), pp. 302–05; Shi, Honget al., “Y-Chromosome evidence of southern origin of the East Asian-specific haplogroup O3-M122,” American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 77, No. 3 (2005), pp. 408–19. Contrast these articles with Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca, “The Chinese human genome diversity project,” PNAS, Vol. 95, No. 20 (1998), pp. 11501–03.

76 “Dahan zhi feng zuoke tianya zatan da wangyou wen” (“The Great Wind of Han answers Netizen's questions as a guest on rambling talk from the four corners”), Tianya, 24 October 2008, as reposted at

77 Pye, Lucian, “How China's nationalism was Shanghaied,” in Unger, Jonathan (ed.), Chinese Nationalism (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), p. 87. See also Suisheng, Zhao, “A state-led nationalism,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3 (1998), pp. 287302.

78 The literature here is vast. But for representative examples see Gries, China's New Nationalism; Hughes, Christopher, Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era (London: Routledge, 2006); Yingjie, Guo, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004); Suisheng, Zhao, A Nation-state by Construction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Wu, Xu, Chinese Cyber Nationalism (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007); Callahan, William, China: The Pessoptimist Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

79 Carlson, Allen, “A flawed perspective,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2009), pp. 2035.

80 Ibid. p. 29.

81 Dikötter, The Discourse of Race in Modern China, p. x. See also Sautman, Barry, “Anti-black racism in post-Mao China,” The China Quarterly, No. 138 (1994), pp. 413–37; Sullivan, Michael, “The 1988–89 Nanjing anti-African protests,” The China Quarterly, No. 138 (1994), pp. 438–57.

82 Carlson, “A flawed perspective,” p. 30.

83 Callahan, China: The Pessoptimist Nation, pp. 158 and passim.

84 For more on the ethnic tensions within Chinese Olympic discourse and practice see Leibold, James, “The Beijing Olympics and China's conflicted national form,” The China Journal, No. 63 (2010), pp. 124.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 30
Total number of PDF views: 219 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1855 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd July 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.