China’s Communist Party Formally Embraces Assimilationist Approach to Ethnic Minorities

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Silent change in education policy, workers in minority areas follow Xi’s call to build ‘collective consciousness’

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The change followed a meeting of senior officials in Beijing to discuss ethnic policy in late August, where party leaders accepted the new direction for the first time in a formal setting.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the meeting, “To make joint efforts of all ethnic groups to form a modern socialist country is an important aspect on ethnic issues in the new era,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the state-run Xinhua news agency. He said the way to reduce the possibility of ethnic conflict is to take steps to “build up the collective consciousness of the Chinese nation”.

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Policy change is increasingly visible in personnel moves. In September, the party appointed a new chairman, Wang Lixia, to serve as the head of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Ms. Wang, an ethnic Mongolian born in northeastern China’s Liaoning province, became the first head of government born outside the region since the 1970s.

The National Commission on Ethnic Affairs, the agency that enforces ethnic policy, did not respond to a request for comment.

For the past several years, the Chinese government has waged an offensive in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, where one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims have been subjected to political education in a network of internment camps – which Beijing has commercialized. Said. training school. Tibetans and Mongolians have also felt increasing pressure to assimilate through changes in education and increased surveillance.

Despite what government documents refer to as “ethnic fusion” in places such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, the Communist Party continued to put lip service to its original ethnic policy. Inspired by the Soviet Union, it offered nominal political autonomy to minority communities, as well as preferential policies such as extra marks on the country’s competitive college-entry exams and exemptions from family planning rules.

Recent developments indicate that Mr. Xi and the party are moving away from that approach more aggressively, scholars say.

Mr. Xi’s speech at the Ethnic Affairs meeting in Beijing in August “marked the formal arrival of the second generation of ethnic policy,” said James Leibold, a professor who specializes in China’s minorities at La Trobe University in Australia.

Tensions between the Han Chinese, who account for more than 90% of China’s population, and some of the country’s 55 other ethnic groups, have been a permanent theme in China since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. The most respected figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed rebellion against communist rule. In 2009, at least 200 Uighurs and Han Chinese were killed during several days of ethnic riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

The Communist Party believed that minority groups would naturally assimilate if given space and sufficient economic support to attract development with the country’s dominant Han Chinese population, but Mr. Xi no longer believed in the feasibility of that strategy. Don’t, Mr. Leibold said.

“It is not that economic development is not important, but economic development alone is not going to solve the problem of ethnic matters,” he said.

Scholars say this change is driven by a rise in conflicts, particularly in Xinjiang, as well as growing resentment among Han Chinese over benefits to minorities, and Mr. Xi’s involvement in promoting the “China dream” of national rejuvenation. its rhetoric, say scholars.

According to officials and government advisers, Mr. Xi is concerned that his goal of completing China’s national rejuvenation by 2049 – the centenary of the country’s founding – could be undermined by ethnic conflict.

This concern helps explain the party’s aggressive actions in Xinjiang as well as more subtle changes taking place elsewhere in the country.

According to government documents, recent changes to early childhood development guidelines underscore and unify scattered efforts to phase out or reduce the teaching of minority languages ​​in schools—a key element in creating a single national identity.

Beijing is also setting precedent in deciding which officials to entrust the management of minority populations. In addition to Ms. Wang’s unusual appointment to Inner Mongolia, Mr. Xi last year appointed Chen Xiaojiang, the commission’s first Han Chinese director since 1954, to replace the ethnic Mongolian head of the National Commission on Ethnic Affairs.

Local governments have taken the lead in adopting certain policy changes. In March, Guizhou province, where about 40% of the population is a minority, announced that it would gradually stop awarding extra marks for ethnic minorities on college-entry exams. Others, such as Liaoning and Fujian, also announced late last year that they would end such affirmative action by 2026.

After Mr. Xi’s ethnic-affairs meeting in August, the country’s top ethnic-affairs body published a commentary, calling for “creating a collective consciousness of the Chinese nation” that should be channeled through the entirety of the country’s education system. Must be knitted, especially for young students.

It also promised to promote exchanges between ethnic minorities and Han Chinese, and suggested encouraging more ethnic Chinese to work in other minority-majority areas of the country – a source of resentment among Tibetans and Uighurs. common source.

“It is necessary to promote the wide exchange and integration of all ethnic groups, to promote the unity of all ethnic groups in ideals, beliefs, sentiments and cultures and to support each other and to have deep brotherhood,” it said. Xi is quoted as saying.

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