China Table of Contents
Since 1949 government policy toward minorities has been based on the somewhat contradictory goals of national unity and the protection of minority equality and identity. The state constitution of 1954 declared the country to be a "unified, multinational state" and prohibited "discrimination against or oppression of any nationality and acts which undermine the unity of the nationalities." All nationalities were granted equal rights and duties. Policy toward the ethnic minorities in the 1950s was based on the assumption that they could and should be integrated into the Han polity by gradual assimilation, while permitted initially to retain their own cultural identity and to enjoy a modicum of selfrule . Accordingly, autonomous regions were established in which minority languages were recognized, special efforts were mandated to recruit a certain percentage of minority cadres, and minority culture and religion were ostensibly protected. The minority areas also benefited from substantial government investment.
Yet the attention to minority rights took place within the larger framework of strong central control. Minority nationalities, many with strong historical and recent separatist or anti-Han tendencies, were given no rights of self-determination. With the special exception of Xizang in the 1950s, Beijing administered minority regions as vigorously as Han areas, and Han cadres filled the most important leadership positions. Minority nationalities were integrated into the national political and economic institutions and structures. Party statements hammered home the idea of the unity of all the nationalities and downplayed any part of minority history that identified insufficiently with China Proper. Relations with the minorities were strained because of traditional Han attitudes of cultural superiority. Central authorities criticized this "Han chauvinism" but found its influence difficult to eradicate.
Pressure on the minority peoples to conform were stepped up in the late 1950s and subsequently during the Cultural Revolution. Ultraleftist ideology maintained that minority distinctness was an inherently reactionary barrier to socialist progress. Although in theory the commitment to minority rights remained, repressive assimilationist policies were pursued. Minority languages were looked down upon by the central authorities, and cultural and religious freedom was severely curtailed or abolished. Minority group members were forced to give up animal husbandry in order to grow crops that in some cases were unfamiliar. State subsidies were reduced, and some autonomous areas were abolished. These policies caused a great deal of resentment, resulting in a major rebellion in Xizang in 1959 and a smaller one in Xinjiang in 1962, the latter bringing about the flight of some 60,000 Kazak herders across the border to the Soviet Union. Scattered reports of violence in minority areas in the 1966-76 decade suggest that discontent was high at that time also.
After the arrest of the Gang of Four (see Glossary) in 1976, policies toward the ethnic minorities were moderated regarding language, religion and culture, and land-use patterns, with the admission that the assimilationist policies had caused considerable alienation. The new leadership pledged to implement a bona fide system of autonomy for the ethnic minorities and placed great emphasis on the need to recruit minority cadres.
Although the minorities accounted for only about 7 percent of China's population, the minority deputies to the National People's Congress made up 13.5 percent of all representatives to the congress in 1985, and 5 of the 22 vice chairmen of its Standing Committee (23 percent) in 1983 were minority nationals. A Mongol, Ulanhu, was elected vice president of China in June 1983. Nevertheless, political administration of the minority areas was the same as that in Han regions, and the minority nationalities were subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party. Despite the avowed desire to integrate the minorities into the political mainstream, the party was not willing to share key decision-making powers with the ethnic minorities. As of the late 1970s, the minority nationality cadres accounted for only 3 to 5 percent of all cadres.
Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese government in the mid-1980s was pursuing a liberal policy toward the national minorities. Full autonomy became a constitutional right, and policy stipulated that Han cadres working in the minority areas learn the local spoken and written languages. Significant concessions were made to Xizang, historically the most nationalistic of the minority areas. The number of Tibetan cadres as a percentage of all cadres in Xizang increased from 50 percent in 1979 to 62 percent in 1985. In Zhejiang Province the government formally decided to assign only cadres familiar with nationality policy and sympathetic to minorities to cities, prefectures, and counties with large numbers of minority people. In Xinjiang the leaders of the region's fourteen prefectural and city governments and seventy-seven of all eighty-six rural and urban leaders were of minority nationality.
Data as of July 1987
China Table of Contents