Representations of dancing minorities have often been viewed in contemporary Chinese studies as examples of a broader discursive practice of “internal Orientalism,” a concept developed by anthropologists in the mid-1990s, based on fieldwork conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s. A historical examination of state-sponsored minority dance in the early PRC (1949–54) suggests that internal Orientalism may not be a generalizable explanatory framework for minority dance and its relationship to PRC nationality discourse. During a time when external military threats to the nascent PRC loomed large, long-standing ethnic stereotypes were perceived as a vulnerability to national security and targeted for reform through new policies of state multiculturalism. Thus, rather than portraying minorities as exotic, erotic, and primitive, early PRC dance constructed minorities as models of cultural sophistication, civility, and respectability. Likewise, rather than envisioning a developmental hierarchy between Han and minority dance, national performing arts institutions established during this period constructed Han and minority dance as parallel modes of ethnic performance categorized together as a new genre, “Chinese folk dance.”

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