Monday, August 4, 2014

China's strategy towards its ethnic minorities

Those [55 ethnic] minorities number more than 100 million but as a group are all but invisible to the outside world, their situation complicated by the seeming paradox of being citizens of China without being part of the Chinese people. ...

It’s not hard to figure out why China’s ethnic minorities chafe under the domination of a government that combines Han chauvinism with ideological rigidity, and [British journalist] Eimer provides abundant detail. Even as the Han stream into their homelands, minority groups cannot be educated in their native languages or fully practice their religions, are relegated to menial jobs, and are ruthlessly repressed when they complain about such inequalities. ...

“We say China is a country vast in territory, rich in resources and large in population,” Mao Zedong said in a 1956 speech buried deep in the fifth volume of his selected works but cited by Mr. Eimer as a likely explanation for Chinese expansionism. “As a matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich.” ...

But China always plays a long game, so when a Han informant says that “Uighurs are like pandas,” a species both coddled and endangered, that should bring to mind the fate of the Manchus, another minority discussed by Mr. Eimer. The Han way of dealing with the Manchus was “to make them Han” over time, so that their native language “became redundant, while their tribal culture and customs faded away until they were not more than a distant memory.”

Now, he reports, “it is estimated that barely 100 people can speak the language.” The once-mighty Manchus, who gave their name to Manchuria, are thus today “a people in name only who have been absorbed by the Han.” So, Tibetans and Uighurs beware.
--Larry Rohter, NYT, on becoming Han Chinese