Friday, April 18, 2014
Han in Xinjiang victims of favorable minority policies
Global Times | March 18, 2012 17:30
By Wang Wenwen
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Counterpoint: Whining from majority about affirmative action misplaced

The steady influx of Han people into Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the so-called marginalization of ethnic minority groups there are among the most contentious issues when talking about Xinjiang.

However, according to my experiences in Xinjiang, discrimination against minorities is not the norm. In fact, as a Han, I sometimes feel I'm the one who's marginalized.

My grandparents came to Xinjiang, like many Han people born in the 1930s, to help in the development of China's Western regions. Like many people who joined the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, they spent their youth and devoted all their life in Xinjiang. However, it is hard for them to build a sense of belonging in Xinjiang and many of those who came still feel marginalized.

In Xinjiang, some locals see the Han as group of inlanders who came to occupy their land and seize job opportunities. They also fear the erosion of their traditional culture. That's where their loathing of the Han comes from.

But from my point of view, this prejudice causes me pain. Take a very common example in everyday life: Drivers from ethnic minorities often refuse to take Han passengers.

The cultural barrier is severe. In a place where Muslim culture dominates, it is difficult for Han people to integrate. The local ethnic minorities speak different languages and have different cultures. It is not uncommon for Han culture to be rejected by some Uyghurs.

In Xinjiang, Han schools and ethnic minorities' schools are separate. Ethnic minority kids can enter Han schools if they want.

But there are very few ethnic minorities in Han schools. Only a small number of minority families choose to send their kids there.

For a long time, ethnic minority students have enjoyed preferential policies in the national college entrance exam. They can enter quite well-established universities outside Xinjiang with much lower scores than the Han students. Some universities restrict the numbers of Han students who can be enrolled, but give privileges to ethnic minority candidates.

More than a few Han students, myself included, feel this is unfair to us at times. We received largely the same level of education as local Uyghur students. Sometimes I wish I spoke a minority language so I could get the extra score to attend a dream school.

Some Uyghur people are prejudiced against Han from a young age, which probably comes from their parents.

I still remember the hostility between Han and ethnic minority students in my high school. A few fights did leave a deep impression on me. The minority students stuck together and the Han ended up beaten. When they saw one of their own fighting a Han student, they would come to help their fellow without asking the reason for the fight.

The atmosphere was tense and sometimes fights broke out for no clear reason. I remember that once we students were required to do health checkups ahead of the national college entrance exam. In the hospital, Han students and ethnic minority students waited in separated lines in order to avoid fights. However, clashes did occur as some Uyghur students beat up a Han student, leaving us nervously watching.

In law enforcement, the punishment of Han is often much stricter. In 1984, Xinjiang adopted an official policy, commonly referred to as liangshao yikuan, which literally means two restraints and one leniency. It orders officials to treat minorities with more lenience than the Han.

But sometimes the minorities believe the sentences they get are still too severe. In a local court close to where I lived, many Uyghur would wait outside early in the morning to accuse the Han of bias against them.

The relationship between the Han and ethnic minorities became more sensitive after the July 5 riots in Urumqi in 2009.

Following the riots, the local government has taken modest steps to ease the tensions between the Han and ethnic minorities. I believe everyone just wants to live a normal life. And I sincerely hope the tricky situation can change.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Wenwen based on an interview with Li Yi, a Han who was born and lived in Xinjiang for 18 years.


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