School history textbooks have typically served to reinforce a sense of national identity and national belonging, often through constructing or reinforcing a distinction between the national “self” and foreign “others”. What have often been overlooked in history textbook researches is how ethnic minorities have been portrayed to incorporate them into a multi-ethnic vision of nationality. This paper investigates this issue through comparing the portrayal of minority ethnic groups in two successive editions of China’s most widely used secondary-level history textbooks, published in the 1990s and 2000s. We analyse these changes in the context of broader political and ideological shifts, while also considering the agency of the key editors involved in producing these texts. We find that, rather than exhibiting a steady progression towards greater inclusivity and a more “multi-ethnic” vision of Chineseness, these editions evince a movement away from the latter and back towards a more Han-centric narrative of the national past. We argue that, while shifts in the editorial personnel involved may have contributed to this, a more fundamental factor is the shifting emphasis in ideological or “thought” education in the post-1989 period away from orthodox socialism and towards an increasingly strident and ethnocentric form of patriotism.
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