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Additional Comments on China’s Ethnic Policy

Popularity 1Viewed 448 times 2015-5-29 09:34 |System category:News

Additional Comments on China’s Ethnic Policy


While we are on the subject of China’s geopolitical status, we might as well dig a little deeper. It should be fully recognized that problems remain plenty for China in spite of the improved situation. In a word, thorough integration of the frontier must be ensured, in which case Japan is a very bad example – suppose Japan knew when to stop and took some time to digest what it had annexed, Taiwan, if not China’s Northeast (Manchuria), would probably be another Ryukyu (Okinawa). For those who have no clear concept of where the Chinese heartland is, the ethnolinguistic map of China recommended at the end of this post will show you – roughly the greenish brown area.


Disclaimer: the discussion is by no means an instigation of hate among peoples of different ethnics.

There have always been diatribes, to which I also made some contribution, against China’s ethnic policy. However, having read some historical resources, I come to appreciate that the policy is in fact well-grounded, especially the establishment and division of autonomous regions shortly after the founding of the republic. If it wasn’t for the parody of ethnic autonomy in the West by some naïve politician during the tumultuous 1980’s, the effect of the policy would be better now – A timely lesson that constantly reminds us not to let bookish people lead the country( I just can’t help thinking of Gorbachev).

The policy in short is blend in and blur, which in turn assumes three forms.

First, disintegration, i.e. to divide the minority habitats and assign them to the surrounding Han areas. For example, the Tibetan Plateau, where Tibetans concentrate, is divided into five parts, four of which (added up to half of the Plateau) are given respectively to Xinjiang, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Sichuan1, in order to make Tibetans scatter – an open defiance of the idea of Greater Tibet proposed by a Buddhist monk in exile.

Second, dilution, i.e. to assign some Han provinces to adjacent minority regions to balance the ratio of ethnic compositions. An example of this is Inner Mongolia, which also ruled over large tracts of Han land when just founded.

Third, assimilation, the most cursed yet permanent one, i.e. to entice some Han Chinese into changing their identity by giving the minorities certain privileges2, and then assimilate through certain means such as intermarriage. This immensely reduces the danger of self-determination in ethnic minority regions because, as a result of assimilation, the Han Chinese may have well become the majority in these areas. Some separatists may argue for a more rigorous demarcation of ethnicities, which apart from the difficulty in doing so will not be allowed by those Han Chinese who are in for privileges.

In summary, the ethnic policy today has an apparent aim for not racial purity but racial fusion, a safeguard against contingencies of ethnic self-determination.

The places with ethnic issues today roughly coincide with those that were bridled in ancient times by the policy of JIMI (羁縻)3. As has been mentioned before, China proper was mostly the south of the Great Wall whereas Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang, Northeast (Manchuria), Inner Mongolia, and even Deep Southwest were under continual scrambles between the Han Chinese and the ethnic minorities. The Great Unification, technically speaking, had to start from Emperor Qianlong (乾隆)4, who gained genuine control of the contentious regions by war efforts (except for Northeast, the origin of the imperial family). Some Han nationalists, however, would rather give their recognition to P.R.C. as the pioneer of the Great Unification than to Qing Dynasty, which was a Non-Han regime. Anyway, this does not matter now since the potential unstable zones are mostly under direct control of the central government. But a consummate resolution of ethnic issues requires a more strenuous effort as well as a longer time. Below are analyses of current states of the major ethnic minorities in China.

The Northeast used to be the realm of the Manchurians (or the Manchu People) and some other Tungusic tribes, who now seem to be “done”. Even though there remain somewhat ten million Manchurians, one can barely tell the difference from their language, costume, appearance, or lifestyle except from their ID card, which I suppose is the only reminder – this could also be unreliable considering that many Han Chinese conceal their true ethnic identity for obtaining privileges available only to minorities – of their negligible differences. Plus, millions of Han Chinese swarmed into the Northeast after the prohibition of migration was revoked5, a decisive event that has eventually sinicized this place, which has been troubling the Middle Kingdom for almost fifteen centuries.

The minority with the largest population in the Southwest is the Zhuang people, who are also almost “done”. Despite their sporadic rebellions in the past that usually failed without powerful foreign aid, the Zhuang people surely want peace so long as they are not bullied. If it wasn’t for the profit from tourism, no one would truly want to lead a semi-primitive life.

Just as the Huns were divided to two parts – the Southern Huns and the Northern Huns – the Mongolians share a similar ending. Most of the Inner Mongolians, like their predecessors the Southern Huns, chose to affiliate themselves with the agrarian people, while the Outer Mongolians did not, as expected, flee westward like the Northern Huns did. Because the threat to China has been replaced by Russia, Outer Mongolia starts to function as a buffer zone between the two major powers. And because humans are more or less snobbish, few Inner Mongolians will swear allegiance to that barren land.

The Hui people, owning to religious reasons, are still perceived as potential threats by some. But the truth is that they have been so intertwined with the Han Chinese since the inception of Ming Dynasty that they are very much sinicized both linguistically and physically. Because of this, I believe most of the Hui people, except for a few religious extremists, would stand by China should the Battle of Talas6 happen again.

If assimilation proceeds without a hitch, the above peoples are not to be feared because they, like us, are all Mongoloids.

Nevertheless, the Uighurs, obtrusively distinct with a single glance, pose real problems, more of race than of religion. Claiming to be White, they are in fact Eurasians who happen to display physical features more of Caucasians than of Mongoloids, as in stark contrast with another group of Eurasians, the Kazakhs, who apparently look more East Asian and share a more amicable ties with the Han Chinese. Because of this discrepancy it turns out more difficult to assimilate the Uighurs than to dilute them. Zuo Zongtang7 had been transferring people into Xinjiang long before others, such as Mao, who was simply following suit. So far it seems that the situation in Northern Xinjiang is better than that in the south, where the Uighurs, luckily for us, have no powerful allies – the Kazakhs are watching them, too – and where it would be much safer to keep the population ratio of Uighurs under thirty percent.

As another major problem, Tibet is the opposite of Xinjiang in the nature of the issue – a similar race but a hostile environment (too high for the Han Chinese to stay). The main solution, as was discussed earlier, is to partition its land. This, however, does not seem to fulfill the aim of dilution since Xizang (Tibet) Autonomous Region remains the only place where the Han Chinese do not predominate. There is nothing we can do but continue to move more Han Chinese up there by means of financial reward or policy support. As the saying goes, constant dripping wears away a stone.

I just wanted to show everyone, with all these analyses, that the current ethnic policy makes sense and helps with national integrity. If anyone has a better idea – such drastic measure as ethnic cleansing is off-limits; peaceful evolution is the mega-trend here – please propose it for further discussion.



1. To be more precise, the Province of Gansu also has a share of the Tibetan Plateau, which is often neglected due to the meager size of the land.

2. There are a number of privileges for the ethnic minorities, the most controversial of which is that of education, i.e. they get admittance to universities at a lower score. Such policies are interpreted by some Han Chinese as inverted discrimination, on which I suppose many white people in U.S. will gladly agree.

3. See footnote 1 in I   A Comparison on the Geopolitical Features of India and China

4. The fourth Emperor of Qing Dynasty

5. The Manchu people, the founder of Qing Dynasty, used to consider the Northeast Manchuria, the origin of their race, as sacred, so they forbade mass migration of the Han Chinese into the holy realm till the last few days of their rule, when the proliferation of population and the diminution of their authority made the implementation of the prohibition impossible.

6. The Battle of Talas (or Battle of Artlakh) was a military engagement between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate along with their ally the Tibetan Empire and the Chinese Tang Dynasty, then under Emperor Xuanzong. In July 751 C.E., Tang and Abbasid forces met in the valley of the Talas River to vie for control of the Syr Darya region of central Asia. The battle was a major defeat for the Tang and marked the end of their westward territorial expansion, resulting in Muslim control of Transoxiana for the next four hundred years. Control of this region was economically beneficial for the Abbasids because it was on the Silk Road. Supposedly Chinese prisoners captured in the aftermath of the battle brought paper-making technology to the Middle East, from which it eventually spread to Europe.

                                                                                                                                 – From Wikipedia

 7. Zuo Zongtang (November 10, 1812 – September 5, 1885), spelled Tso Tsung-t'ang in Wade-Giles and known simply as General Tso in the West, was a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty. Zuo was a Marquis of the Second Rank. He was born in Xiangyin County, north of Changsha in Hunan province. He served in China's northwestern regions, quelling the Dungan revolt and various other disturbances.

                                                                                                                                 From Wikipedia

He is widely hailed by many Chinese as national hero who managed to not only uphold the Chinese influence in Xinjiang but secure this vast region against the danger of secession under foreign instigation when the collapse of China seemed inexorable.

For a better understanding, please check out the ethnolinguistic map of China, i.e. Pic 6 Ethnolinguistic China, at

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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