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On the ‘Raw’ and the ‘Cooked’ Barbarians of Imperial China

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This paper examines the terms ‘Raw’ and ‘Cooked’ (sheng and shu) as applied to China’s own Barbarians. First, a review of the more general Chinese conceptions of ‘barbarians’ suggests that the very idea of the civilisation of China (Zhongguo, the ‘central state’) necessarily and continuously required ‘the barbarians’ on the periphery as its corollary. Next, five cases from late imperial Chinese ‘inner frontiers’ (in Hainan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Taiwan and Hunan) are discussed as actual examples of how certain ‘barbarians’ were divided into the ‘Raw’ and the ‘Cooked’. The vast expansion of the imperial state brought about the incorporation of large numbers of former outsiders, but in certain cases people were split into those set to become regular (e.g. liang, ‘good’) Chinese subjects, and those still beyond the pale of civilisation (e.g. the ‘Raw’). Noting how the ‘Raw’ were persistently designated ‘Raw’ even as they, too, actually became deeply implicated in the civilised realm, the paper suggests that these late imperial ‘last barbarians’ were made to persist because of their precious position at the very foundation of imperial sovereignty.


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