This essay explores the connections between colonialism, nationalism, and anthropology in China's southwestern frontier. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the pressing problem of national survival encouraged the Nationalist state and anthropologists to collaborate in an effort to civilize and develop the southwestern frontier area. Intensive investigations into the non-Han frontier societies and proposals to assimilate these peoples and their cultures produced during this time helped set the foundation for the aggressive and complete colonization of the area by the Communists later. This essay makes clear how colonial activities, including employing anthropological knowledge as a tool of control, were often legitimized by the state and the intellectual as efforts of “nation building.” The legacy of Chinese colonialism of the frontier—as well as its continuing impact—is reflected in increasing conflicts between the dominant Han and the non-Han and the militant separatist activism of the latter in today's China.

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