Written by Wenshan Jia.

This post discusses China’s Ethnic Policy since the 18th Party Congress. Analysis of literature on evolving theoretical and policy discourses on ethnic relations in China between the founding of PRC in 1949 and the 18th Congress in 2012 reveal the following:

The so-called “first generation” of ethnic policy discourse represented by scholars such as Hao Shiyuan, can be most accurately described as a Stalinist-Maoist model of political-economic empowerment for minority nationalities and their regions. This model begins to reveal its limitations and inadequacies, such as excessively materialistic reinforcement of the sense of uniqueness (and thus separateness) of the ethnic minorities with scant cultivation of their sense of national identification in the contexts of the emerging market conditions of contemporary China, the global rise of China, and globalization in general.

The model has subsequently been challenged by a group of Chinese scholars including Ma Rong, Hu Angang, Hu Lianhe, who have created an alternative “second-generation” model that proposes ethnic blending, the removal of ethnic area autonomy, the reduction of minority nationality-based privileges, and the thinning of ethnic consciousness in order to reinforce the ethnic minorities’ identification with the Chinese nation-state.

However, neither model alone can maintain a dynamic balance between unity and diversity, as illustrated in the unpublished case study of Gannan, an autonomous Tibetan region of Gansu Province, Northwest China by Jia Wenshan and Wei Mengzhi. A dynamic balance between unity and diversity is an essential feature of multiculturalism commonly embraced in today’s international society. It is suggested that a hybrid model resulting from a creative integration of the “first generation” ethnic policy and the “second generation” ethnic policy be adopted in China’s current and future efforts to effectively manage inter-ethnic relations. This hybrid model of ethnic relations, I argue, is more valid and reliable as it is more holistic and capable of addressing a whole range of issues with regard to ethnic relations in China, and indeed elsewhere in the world.

This policy maintains the political autonomy of ethnic minority areas and provides economic equity and empowerment as the “first generation” ethnic policy does. In addition, the hybrid model also embraces the social, cultural and psychological integration of the ethnic minorities into the Chinese nation-state while respecting ethnic diversity.

The fifth generation of Chinese leadership since the 18th Party Congress appears to have adopted such a hybrid model. First, as a sign of political empowerment, national leaders of ethnic minority backgrounds have been promoted to higher and more critical ranks of national government. Nur Bekri, a Uyghur, was appointed Vice-Chairman of China National Commission for Development and Reform and Chief of National Bureau for Energy in December 2014. Yang Jing, an ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the positions of Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, State Councilor, and Secretary General of the State Council in 2014. Bayangqolu, another ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the position of Party Secretary of Jilin Province in 2014. He is currently the only ethnic-minority official serving as a provincial level Party Secretary, a phenomenon which did not exist during the fourth generation of Chinese leadership.

Secondly, according to People.com, between 2011-2013 the central government allocated a total fund of 27.75 billion RMB for 136 border counties (78.7% of which are ethnic minority counties) for infrastructure development, ethnic industries and livelihood programs and achieved a total GDP of 809.7 billion RMB, a 58% increase over that in 2010. Besides the regular financial allocations provided by the Chinese government, the nationwide programme ensured that more economically developed coastal cities, provinces, companies and universities provide special free assistance to ethnic minority areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet. This has been rigorously implemented since 2002, and by 2011 a total amount of 10 billion RMB had been provided to narrow the wealth gap. Since the 18th Party Congress, this program has continued.

Third, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership led by Xi Jinping has been promoting five kinds of identification among ethnic minorities in order to realize the “Chinese dream”. President Xi stated: “We must carry out the Party’s ethnic policy and religious policy, reinforce interethnic unity, and cultivate all ethnic minority members’ identification with the Great Motherland, Chinese Nation, Chinese culture, Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese socialism.” He calls for all ethnic members of China, including Han, to be as united as “seeds of a pomegranate”.

Last but not least, besides being more focussed on unity than their predecessors, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership has been staunchly anti-separatist, particularly with regard to Xinjiang.

While I applaud the adoption of this hybrid model of ethnic relations, I expect further maturation and refinement by accepting these suggestions: To achieve the five kinds of identification is no easy and quick fix. It should not rely upon top-down moral persuasion. Rather, I suggest that more freedom of thought, discussion, and innovation at the grassroots level be afforded so that identification can take root and bear fruit. I also suggest that elite designs be done scientifically. For example, all ethnic minority members could carry a hyphenated identity such as Mongol-Chinese with Mongol as the label for ethnic identity and Chinese as the national identity just like informal conventions in the US. Laws could be passed to use such labels in official documents, media, and formal occasions. Last but not least, the Chinese education system is advised to rethink and redesign its mission to incorporate harmonious interethnic relations as an inseparable part of its mission and thus as a core part of the entire curriculum at all levels of schooling.

Wenshan Jia (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst) is Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Intercultural/Global Communication, School of Journalism & Communication, & Research Associate, The National Academy of Development & Strategy (NADS), both at Renmin University of China.  Jia is also tenured Professor of Communication & China Studies at Chapman University, California, USA.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Academy for Intercultural Research and a standing council member of All China Association for Intercultural Communication . He is the recipient of both the Wang-Fradkin Professorship for 2005-2007, the highest award given by Chapman University for faculty research, and the Early Career Award from the International Academy for Intercultural Research. He served on the National Communication Association’s Task Force of Internationalization and has a publication record of 10 books and more than 60 research articles and book chapters mostly  on intercultural communication and Chinese as well as ethnic relations in China. He is currently working on a book titled Global Communication for an Inclusive World Order with Routledge/NY. Image credit: CC by KittyKaht/Flickr.