In this well-crafted 2006 study of the relationships between the state and its borderlands, Leo Shin traces the roots of China's modern ethnic configurations to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Challenging the traditional view that China's expansion ...
was primarily an exercise of incorporation and assimilation, Shin argues that as the centre extended its reach to the wild and inaccessible south, the political interests of the state, the economic needs of the settlers, and the imaginations of the cultural elites all facilitated the demarcation and categorisation of these borderland 'non-Chinese' populations. The story told here, however, extends beyond the imperial period. Just as Ming emperors considered it essential to reinforce a sense of universal order by demarcating the 'non-Chinese', modern-day Chinese rulers also find it critical to maintain the myth of a unified multi-national state by officially recognising a total of fifty-six 'nationalities'.