The two articles, Myth and Construction of foreign ethnic identity by Bret Hinsch and Western regions under the Hsiung-nu and the Han by Ma Yong and Sun Yutang are crucial in revealing some key aspects of the relationship between the Han Chinese and their neighboring people in early Chinese history.
Hinsch’s work reveals the significance of ethnic identity in the relationship between the Han and their neighbours. History records show a fluctuating attitude of the Han Chinese people towards their neighbours, the Xiongnu in particular, a nomadic people of the northern region of China as well as the Xianbei and the Korean peoples. Political motive seems to always have been the driving force behind this fluctuation as it is explicitly stated in Hinsch’ s work that the Han would develop opposing myths of the origins of the Xiongnu people depending on their perception at the time of the Xiongnu. It is further evident from Hinsch’s work that ethnicity and ethnic origin were a matter of great importance to the people of Han China as the Han rulers would influence the general Han Chinese people’s perception of the Xiongnu by proclaiming their ethnic origin to be either pure or tainted, depending on their political motive of the time. This fixation by the Chinese people on their ethnic identity is evident even today in mainstream Chinese society as every Chinese citizen’s ethnicity is recorded in their individual passports, so that each and every citizen can be identified by their ethnicity which supplements their overall Chinese identity.
In Yong and Yutang’s work, the emphasis is placed on the cultural exchange between the people of the Western regions of China and the Xiongnu and the Han Chinese people. The authors place emphasis on the artefacts recovered from the ruins of the ancient towns of the Western region and based on these artefacts, they are able to derive the influence the Han and the Xiongnu people had on this region, e.g. the recovery of dyed cloth which had a Buddha surrounded by a halo and a dragon designed on it suggests the presence of Chinese influence on the local handicraft industry. However, there is a significant disparity in the way in which these walled city-states of the Western region were ruled under the Xiongnu and the Han. While the people of the Western region were treated as slaves by the Xiongnu, they greatly benefited under the Han rule with the introduction of the t’un-t’ien agricultural policy and Chinese technology for agriculture. What need’s to be considered in this regard, however, is that the sources studied by Yong and Yatong were Chinese sources from the Imperial libraries of China so this disparate account of the treatment of the Western people by the Xiongnu and the Han is of course very biased. It was political motive which was the reason behind the benevolence of the Han Chinese toward the people of the Western region as their main goal was to strengthen their alliance with them against the Xiongnu who were time and time again viewed as the foil to the Han throughout the early Chinese history.