Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP) is 50 this year. The aim of the policy was to lift the economic prospects of Bumiputra (“sons of the soil”). One of the controversies surrounding the NEP concerns the definition of Bumiputra , which officially refers to a person who is Malay or a member of one of Malaysia’s indigenous peoples. But such delineations become blurred when applied to lived realities. “Malay” encompasses multiple ethnic groups that originated in maritime Southeast Asia. Mixed marriages, conversions to Islam and decisions made by various state governments have meant that individuals may encounter difficulties in their self-identification as sons and daughters of the soil. Today, China recognises 56 ethnic groups, including the Han Chinese, who form a super majority of around 92 per cent of the population. However, there are more than 700,000 people in China who don’t fall into any of these “nationalities”, including the Tanka in Hong Kong and other coastal areas of southern China, the Macanese, the Sherpa, the Kaifeng Jews, and many others. They live in an in-between world where their official statuses are any one of the official ethnic groups that they are slotted into, but they have a distinctive culture and sometimes their own language. The Mongols ruled China for around 100 years as the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Traditional scholarship avers that the population was divided into four classes. Naturally, the Mongols were at the top, followed by the Qari, who included Arabs, Persians, Turks, Syriacs, and any other group that did not belong to the bottom two classes of people. Far from being ‘sissies’, Chinese men who wore make-up were admired The third class were the Han people, not to be confused with the Han Chinese. The Han people included the Khitan, Jurchen, Koreans and other peoples who lived north of the Yangtze River. The bottommost class were the Southerners, or the Han Chinese. The Han and Southerners were despised, especially the latter, who were subjected to all manner of prejudice and abuse. However, historians are now saying that the categorisation wasn’t all that straightforward. In fact, there were no contemporary records that the Mongols had actually classified their subjects in such a way, at least not officially. There were also individuals who defied or moved across categorisations. Past and present attempts to classify people into different groups often run into problems. Despite the persistent efforts of politicians and bureaucrats, it is impossible for human beings, with all our vexing complexities and stubborn propensity for change, to be placed in neat categories and stay there.