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China’s Ethnic Minorities are Advancing


hina boasts a civilization with a history of over 5,000 years. It is a united, multi-ethnic nation. Since ancient times many ethnic minorities which speak different languages and believe in different religions and have various ways of life and customs and habits have lived in the territory of China, together with the Han people, forming a unitary, multi-ethnic state.

China has 56 ethnic groups, among whom the Han ethnic group makes up 91 percent of the country’s total population. The other 55 groups, totaling 106.43 million, account for 8.41 of the total. So they are called ethnic minorities in China. In fact, compared with other ethnic minorities in the world, they are not so small. For instance, the population of the Zhuang ethnic group is 15,489,630; Hui 8,602,978; Uygur 7,214,431; Yi 6,572,173; Miao 7, 398,035; Tibetan 4, 593,330; Mongolian 4,806,849; The ethnic minorities with populations of between one and two million include the Bouyei, Korean, Man (Manchu), Dong, Yao, Bai, Tujia and Hani. The populations of the other 40 ethnic minorities vary from several 100,000 to that of the Hezhe, with only some 1,400 people.

The areas that China’s ethnic minorities reside in account for about 60 percent of China’s total. In the course of a long period of economic and cultural contacts, many ethnic minorities formed their own small residential areas or came to live together with other ethnic minorities. For instance the Man (Manchu) and Hui groups have their own residential areas but also reside with other ethnic minorities.
All ethnic minorities in China have a long history. As early as in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), China had already become a united multi-ethnic state. All ethnic minorities made concerted efforts to create the brilliant ancient culture of the Chinese nation.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the living conditions of China’s ethnic minorities have improved markedly. The Chinese government proclaimed clearly: “The people of all ethnic minorities are all masters of the state. Each ethnic minority handles its own affairs independently.” This indicates that China’s 56 ethnic minorities have set up a new relationship of equality. All ethnic minorities, big or small, and all religions, have become equal members and masters of the state.
The Chinese government carries out the policy of equality among all ethnic minorities. Every ethnic minority has equal rights to handle state affairs. Since the first meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the ratio of deputies from ethnic minorities to the NPC is higher than that of the population of ethnic minorities to the total population. In the 10th NPC there were 415 ethnic-group deputies, accounting for 13.1 percent of the total —5.5 percent higher than the population percentage of ethnic minorities. All ethnic minorities with a population of over one million have a member on the standing committee of the NPC. This fact shows that China’s ethnic minorities are fully represented in the leading body of the state.
At the same time, the Chinese government has created a unique regional autonomy policy. Practice in China in this respect shows that the policy is correct and worth recommending to the rest of the world.
The Ethnic Region Autonomy Law of the PRC
Each ethnic minority has the right to autonomy in its residential area. This right to autonomy is carried out under the Ethnic Region Autonomy Law of the PRC. This policy is the principal lever by which the Chinese government handles ethnic problems. It is also a very important political policy.
Right from the time of the founding of the PRC, the 51st article in the common program of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference stated: “Ethnic regional autonomy should be established in the areas where the ethnic minorities reside. Autonomous territories should be set up based on the populations of the ethnic minorities and the sizes of the areas where they live in concentration. In 1982, the 114th article of China’s Constitution stated: “The organs of self-government of ethnic autonomous areas are the people’s congresses and people’s gobernment of the autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures or autonomous counties.”
The Ethnic Region Autonomy Law of the PRC, promulgated on October 1, 1984, was the first law to state that ethnic minorities handle their own affairs independently. The preamble to the law stated: “Ethnic region autonomy is under unified state leadership, Ethnic minorities practice regional autonomy where they live in compact areas, set up organs of self-government and exercise the power of self-governing.
The Ethnic Region Autonomy Law of the PRC reflects the spirit of the state in fully respecting and ensuring the right of ethnic minorities to handle their own affairs. It reflects the determination of the state to implement the principle that all ethnic minorities are equal, united and prosper together.
The Establishment of Ethnic Autonomous Regions
In China, the areas where the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is practiced can be divided into three levels, namely, autonomous regions (with administrative status equal to that of provincial governments), autonomous prefectures (with administrative status between that of a provincial government and that of a county government) and autonomous counties (with administrative status equal to that of a county government), according to the size of the area they occupy. Autonomous regions are directly subordinate to the State Council, autonomous prefectures are subordinate to the relevant provincial governments, and autonomous counties are subordinate to the local administrative organs. No matter which executive authorities they are subordinate to, all autonomous organs have the right of self-government, and the heads of such organs shall be members of the local ethnic minorities.
In order to safeguard the equal political rights of all ethnic minorities, some of which live in vast areas, while others live in compact communities in small areas, the People’s Republic of China has formulated principles for the establishment of ethnic autonomous regions.
The establishment of ethnic autonomous regions can be based on the pattern of population distribution.
According to The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, in places where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, after due consideration has been given to the relationships among the ethnic minorities and the economic development of those localities, as well as to the historical background, and autonomous area based on one ethnic minority can be established, or an autonomous area based on compact communities of two or more ethnic minorities may be established. Given the pattern of population distribution, the ethnic autonomous areas can be divided to three types: an autonomous area based on one ethnic minority, such as the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture; an autonomous area based on one big ethnic minority, including one or more other ethnic minorities with smaller populations, such as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; and an autonomous area based on two or more ethnic minorities living in compact communities within the autonomous area, such as the Yuanjiang Hani, Yi and Dai Autonomous County, all the ethnic autonomous areas of different types at different administrative levels are based on regions where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. Depending on the actual situation of each locality, ethnic autonomous areas may include cities or towns where Han people or people of other ethnic minorities also live. This is determined by historical trends as well as social needs, and is conducive to harmony between different ethnic minorities and the development of autonomous areas.
Now, in 155 ethnic autonomous organs, the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of the standing committees of the people’s congresses of autonomous areas, and the heads of the autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties are citizens of the ethnic minorities exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned.
Full discussion among ethnic minorities
According to The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the establishment of an ethnic autonomous area, the delimiting of its boundaries and what name this autonomous region is to assume shall be decided after these matters are fully discussed among state organs at a higher level, the state organs of the locality concerned and the representatives of the relevant ethnic group(s). Then their decision shall be submitted for approval in accordance with the procedures prescribed by law. What kind of autonomous area is to be established is of immediate concern to the interests of the ethnic group(s) concerned, so the establishment of the autonomous area, the delimiting of its boundaries and what name it is to assume shall be decided after full discussion by the representatives of the relevant ethnic group(s). Their opinions shall be given full consideration before the decision is made. In this way, the right of self-government by ethnic minorities and of administering local affairs and their own internal affairs is fully respected.
The law also stipulates: Except for special cases, the name of an ethnic autonomous area normally consists of the name of the place, name of the ethnic group and a definition of the administrative status, in that order. Examples are the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Dachang Hui Autonomous County and Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. This regulation not only confirms the local historical name, but also the name of the relevant ethnic group(s) and the administrative status of the area. Other examples are the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region. They are the typical cases, in which the name is the combination of the historical locality name and the name of the local ethnic group, embodying both the principle and the spirit of the regulation. This regulation scientifically reflects the traditional customs and the will of the local ethnic group(s).
Ethnic autonomous areas enjoy the right to formulate self-government regulations and special regulations
The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy stipulates, “People’s congresses in autonomous areas have the right to formulate self-government regulations and specials regulations, and to adopt special policies and flexible alterations in light of the particular political, economic and cultural conditions of the ethnic group(s) in that autonomous area.” By the end of 2003, ethnic autonomous areas had formulated 133 self-government regulations and 384 special regulations. In light of the particular situation in each area, ethnic autonomous areas have made flexible alterations or provide supplementary regulations to 68 provisions in such State laws as the Marriage Law, Inheritance Law, Election Law, Land Law and Grassland Law.
Self-governing power in financial administration
Organs of self-government of autonomous areas have the right to manage local financial matters. All financial revenue belonging to ethnic autonomous areas under the state financial system can be used by the organs of self-government without any restrictions.
Self-arranging, planning and controlling of local economic construction
Under the guidance of state planning, organs of self-government of autonomous areas shall independently arrange and manage local economic construction projects. They can formulate goals, policies and planning, depending on the local features and needs. For example, in the five ethnic autonomous regions, the local governments have formulated a series of policies to promote local economic development.
Self-management of local education
Organs of self-government of autonomous areas also have the right to independently manage work in the fields of education, science and technology, culture, hygiene and sport, and independently protect and regulate the cultural heritage of the local ethnic group(s), so as to develop and promote the local culture.
The right to organize local security forces to safeguard social stability
According to the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy after gaining approval from the State Council, organs of self-government of autonomous areas can organize security forces to safeguard local social stability under the state military system and according to local needs.
The right to use one or more commonly used local languages of ethnic minorities
According to the provisions of the self-government regulations for ethnic autonomous areas, the organs of self-government of such areas may use one or more commonly used local languages when they are performing official duties. At the same time, the organs encourage the cadres of different ethnic minorities to learn each other’s language. Han cadres shall learn local languages, while cadres of ethnic minorities shall learn the Han language as well as learn and use their own languages.
For more than half century, the Chinese government has been taking all necessary measures to train a large number of minority cadres, including specialized personnel in the field of science, technology. The number of minority cadres has totaled over one million in the past 50 years. Most of them have been not only talented people of their own ethnic minorities, but also among the elite of the whole nation.
We can clearly see the positive role of training cadres from ethnic minorities with small populations. For example, there are six cadres per 100 persons in the Elunchun ethnic group, which has a population of only 4,000. These cadres guarantee that the Elunchun people get respect and understanding in all aspects and at all levels.
(Resoure: “China’s Ethnic Groups” Vol. 03 No. 2 June, 2005,Article by Ruan Xihu and Zheng Qian)