National minorities policy and its practice in China (1999.09)

Source: Global Times [13:25 July 11 2009]

I. A United Multi-Ethnic Country 
 
The People's Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic state founded jointly by the people of all its ethnic groups. So far, there are 56 ethnic groups identified and confirmed by the Central Government, namely, the Han, Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, Uygur, Miao, Yi, Zhuang, Bouyei, Korean, Manchu, Dong, Yao, Bai, Tujia, Hani, Kazak, Dai, Li, Lisu, Va, She, Gaoshan, Lahu, Shui, Dongxiang, Naxi, Jingpo, Kirgiz, Tu, Daur, Mulam, Qiang, Blang, Salar, Maonan, Gelo, Xibe, Achang, Pumi, Tajik, Nu, Ozbek, Russian, Ewenki, Deang, Bonan, Yugur, Jing, Tatar, Drung, Oroqen, Hezhen, Moinba, Lhoba and Jino. As the majority of the population belongs to the Han ethnic group, China's other 55 ethnic groups are customarily referred to as the national minorities.

According to the fourth national census conducted in 1990, of the country's total population 91.96 percent belong to the Han ethnic group, and 8.04 percent belong to minority ethnic groups1. A sample survey conducted among one percent of the total population in 1995 showed that 108.46 million people belonged to minority ethnic groups, accounting for 8.98 percent of the country's total population of more than 1.2 billion, a 0.94 percentage point increase over the figure in 1990.

China's ethnic groups live together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. In some cases minority peoples can be found living in concentrated communities in areas inhabited mainly by the Han people, while in other cases the situation is just the other way round. This distribution pattern has taken shape throughout China's long history of development as ethnic groups migrated and mingled. The national minorities, though small in numbers, are scattered over vast areas. Minority peoples live in every province, autonomous region and municipality directly under the Central Government, and in most county-level units two or more ethnic groups live together. Now minority peoples are mainly concentrated in provinces and autonomous regions such as in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi, Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Liaoning, Jilin, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan and Taiwan2.

China has been a united multi-ethnic country since ancient times.

In 221 B.C., the first united, multi-ethnic, centralized state--the Qin Dynasty--was founded in China. Today's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, where minority peoples are concentrated, were prefectures and counties under the jurisdiction of the united Qin regime. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), the centralized feudal state became even more powerful by inheriting the Qin system. The Han Dynasty set up a Frontier Command Headquarters in the Western Regions (a general term for today's territory west of Dunhuang, Gansu Province, since the Han Dynasty) and added 17 prefectures governing the people of all ethnic groups there. In this way, a state with a vast territory embracing the ancestors of the various peoples living in Xinjiang today emerged. In the course of the frequent communication between the Han Dynasty and the surrounding minority peoples, the people of the Chinese nation were called the Han by other ethnic groups, and the most populous ethnic group in the world, the Han, emerged. China as a united multi-ethnic country was created by the Qin Dynasty and consolidated and developed by the Han Dynasty.

The central governments of all dynasties following the Han developed and consolidated the united multi-ethnic entity. The central governments of the past dynasties were established not only by the Han people but also by minority peoples. In the 13th century, the Mongolians established the united multi-ethnic Great Yuan Empire (1206-1368). The Yuan Dynasty practiced a system of xingsheng (province, or branch secretariat, a paramount administrative agency in a provincial area) across the country and appointed aboriginal officials or tu guan (hereditary posts of local administrators filled by chiefs of ethnic minorities) in the prefectures and subprefectures of the southern regions where minority peoples lived in concentrated communities. It established the Pacification Commissioner's Commandery in charge of military and administrative affairs in Tibet, whereby Tibet has became thenceforth an inalienable part of Chinese territory, as well as the Penghu Police Office for the administration of the Penghu Islands and Taiwan. Ethnically, the Yuan Empire comprised most of modern China's ethnic groups. The rise of the Manchu in the 17th century culminated in the founding of the last feudal dynasty in Chinese history, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Qing Dynasty set up the Ili Generalship and Xinjiang Province in the Western Regions, appointed resident officials in Tibet and established the historical convention of conferring honorific titles on the two Living Buddhas Dalai and Panchen lamas by the Central Government. In addition, the Qing Dynasty carried out a series of policies, including a system of local administrators in minority areas appointed by the Central Government, in southwestern China.

Although there were short-term separations and local divisions in Chinese history, unity has always been the mainstream in the development of Chinese history3.

During the long process of unification, economic and cultural exchanges brought the people of all ethnic groups in China closely together, giving shape to a relationship of interdependence, mutual promotion and mutual development among them and contributing to the creation and development of the Chinese civilization.

Due to their interdependent political, economic and cultural connections, all ethnic groups in China have shared common destiny and interests in their long historical development, creating a strong force of affinity and cohesion.

The unity and cooperation among the various ethnic groups have helped to safeguard China as a united multi-ethnic state. In particular in modern times, when China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society and the Chinese nation suffered from imperialist invasion, oppression and humiliation and was reduced to the status of an oppressed nation, in order to safeguard the unity of the state and the dignity of the Chinese nation, all the ethnic groups united and fought unyieldingly together against foreign invaders and ethnic separatists. In the 19th century, the people of all the ethnic groups in Xinjiang together with the Qing troops wiped out Yakoob Beg's reactionary forces and defeated the British and Russian invaders' plot to split China. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Tibetan people and troops dealt a heavy blow on the British invaders at the Mount Lungthur and Gyangze battles. During the eight-year war of resistance against Japanese imperialist aggression (1937-1945), the Chinese people of all ethnic groups shared bitter hatred of the enemy and fought dauntlessly and unflinchingly. It is well known that many anti-Japanese forces with ethnic minorities as the mainstay, such as the Hui People's Detachment and the Inner Mongolia Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Contingent made great contributions to China's victory in the War of Resistance. The people of all ethnic groups fought unswervingly and succeeded in safeguarding national unity against acts aimed at splitting the country, which went counter to the historical trend and the will of the Chinese nation, including plots for the ``independence of Tibet'', for the setting up of an ``Eastern Turkestan'' in Xinjiang and the carving out of a puppet state of ``Manchoukuo'' in Northeast China, hatched or engineered by a few ethnic separatists with the support of imperialist invaders.

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the central governments of the various periods in China each had a sequence of policies and systems of its own concerning ethnic affairs, but under all of them, whether set up by the Han people or an ethnic minority, there was no equality to speak of among ethnic groups. The founding of the People's Republic of China opened up a new era in which all ethnic groups in China enjoy equality, unity and mutual aid. In the big, united family of ethnic groups in the People's Republic of China, on the basis of equality of all rights, the people of all ethnic groups unite of their own accord for mutual promotion and common development and dedicate to the building of a strong, prosperous, democratic and civilized New China.

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