Seeking lost codes in the wilderness: The search for a Hainanese culture

Publication Type:
Journal Article
China Quarterly, 1999, (160), pp. 1036 - 1056
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The establishment of Hainan province and Hainan Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1988 is the fulfilment of a long-cherished local desire for greater autonomy, which in turn has aroused great enthusiasm for the development of a Hainanese culture and the search for a Hainanese identity. Hainan is in many ways the most internationally 'open' among Chinese provinces: in the composition of its population by large groups of migrants; in the claim of foreign origin of its indigenous people; in its close ties with the communities in South-East Asia since ancient times; in the incorporation of some vocabulary from European languages into the daily speech of Hainanese villagers; in intense internationalization of its economy in the reform era; and in its position of being 'more special than Special Economic Zones' in managing its relations with the outside world. It seems inevitable that development of Hainan would be profoundly informed by extensive international interaction. Yet the delicacy of the Hainan case is that 'outside impact' means not only impact from outside China, as in the cases of other provinces, but also impact from mainland China itself. There is an indication that the process of modernization and cultural construction on the island is controlled by recent mainland migrants rather than by the native Hainanese. This article is an attempt to understand the construction of a Hainanese culture and the negotiation of Hainanese identity in this unprecedented, stimulating and intricate context.
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