How China went from celebrating ethnic diversity to eliminating it | Thomas S Mullaney
VSThe massive detention of Uyghur Muslims by China – the largest of a religious and ethnic group since World War II – is not the inevitable or foreseeable result of Chinese communist policies towards ethnic minorities. I have spent the past 20 years studying ethnicity in China, and when you consider the current situation in Xinjiang through the prism of history, one thing becomes clear: This is not what was ” supposed â€to happen.
In the early 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) clung to revolutionary victory by the fingernails. The post-war economy was in shambles, and the outbreak of the Korean War brought nuclear hegemony, in the form of the United States, to its doorstep. Not the time when most diets would choose to expand their to-do lists. The CCP, however, is committed to officially recognizing more minority peoples than any other Chinese regime in history. While the nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek had reluctantly accepted the official existence of five groups in the 1930s and 1940s, the Communists recognized 55 in total (plus the Han majority), many of which had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
Remarkable time and capital has gone into celebrating and strengthening these groups. Perhaps the largest social survey in human history sent thousands of researchers to minority communities, filling libraries with their reports. Linguists created writing systems for minorities who did not already have them. The scale of the People’s Republic of China’s investment in the groups it has referred to as â€œminoritiesâ€ has been astounding.
Here’s the irony: Chinese Communists don’t believe â€œethnic identityâ€ really exists – not in the long run. Rooted in Marxism-Leninism, the party maintains (at least it did) that class is the only fundamental dimension of human identity. Other collective identities, such as nationality, religion and ethnicity, are enduring but ultimately ephemeral fictions, constructed by those at the top of the economic pyramid to distract the poor from seeking fellowship with others. other proletarians.
Why would the party invest in something it doesn’t think exists? To neutralize it.
While other countries have used denial as a tactic to counter perceived threats of internal ethnic diversity – emphasizing the uniqueness and indivisibility of its nation while recognizing as few minorities as possible, if any – the plan Chinese Communist match was the opposite: to recognize ethnic diversity as irrelevant. To lead him to extinction.
By embracing so many ethnic identities, the aim has been to prevent threats of local nationalism; ensure that the country’s minority nationalities never aspire to national self-determination or nation states. After all, if the state recognized and defended minority groups, what legitimate reason would anyone have for breaking up and forming their own political entity?
A slow-acting disintegration process was supposed to unfold, less a flaming melting pot than a quiet slow cooker. Identities once important enough to declare independence, even to die for, were meant to count less and less in everyday life. The objective was technically do not assimilationist. In a hundred years – even 200 or 500 – there should still be Tibetans, Uyghurs, Miao, etc. But those nicknames shouldn’t matter, except on festive occasions.
The plan has been remarkably effective. For some minority groups, such as the Manchus and Zhuangs, it is not uncommon for individuals to speak only Mandarin flawlessly. Meanwhile, the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou – once sites of some of the bloodiest ethnic violence in world history – have been transformed into “colored” and “harmonious” lands of diverse cultures ready to welcome. tourists in search of authenticity.
This plan is neither benign nor non-violent, let’s be clear. The occupation of Tibet in 1951, the suppression of the 1958 Amdo rebellion, and many other episodes demonstrate just how far the state has gone and will be to maintain control. Additionally, ethnic violence was rampant during the Cultural Revolution of 1966, as Maoist fanatics degraded mosques, dynamited Tibetan temples, and attacked those wearing ethnic clothing – remnants of the “old China” they sought to destroy. .
As violent as these moments were, however, they were episodic and short-lived. Each time, the state reverted to the previous rule of celebration and neutralization.
What happened? How did mass detention, systematic destruction of mosques and imprisonment for showing signs of Muslim religiosity become state policy in Xinjiang? Three reasons, mainly: growing inequalities, the forces unleashed by China’s experience with capitalism and the rise of ethnic scapegoats, fueled by the endemic resentment of the Han Chinese.
The Chinese Communist Party’s ethno-political game plan has always been based on the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor is narrowing, not widening. Among the Han Chinese majority, many fundamental aspects of the ‘Chinese dream’ are out of reach – as even prestigious university graduates huddle in cramped apartments on the outskirts of cities where they cannot afford to live. , for example – resentment and intolerance. increased. It is not uncommon to find people online who are aiming for affirmative action policies and celebrating minorities. While the party has long watched Han nationalism – or “chauvinism” as it still calls it – the extent of this angry Han Chinese unease exceeds anything Beijing has ever anticipated.
Meanwhile, as minority regions continue to lag behind coastal Han provinces, and as lucrative local jobs flow to internal Han migrants, a small subset recovers the ever-present and destabilizing potential of ethnic identity. : separatism, national self-determination, transnationalism and other things that prevent party members from sleeping at night. Even for those who have no separatist ambitions – by far the majority of minorities – capitalist forces have turned ethnic identity into a form of commodity: a product which, in some localities, is their only “cash crop”. Capitalism has made ethnic identity both more volatile and more resistant to the party’s hoped-for disintegration.
It was forest fuel, accumulated over many years of drought, that caught fire in the 21st century. September 11, the 2009 protests that turned into riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang, and the attack on Kunming train station in 2014: these events provided the rationale for Beijing’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs in name of its “popular war on terrorism”. They have triggered a weakening, if not an abandonment, of the ethnic policies which have served the party for half a century and which it has spent a fortune to build.
Will things resume as before? It is doubtful. The CCP’s ethno-political about-face seems to merge with other powerful forces. China’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure bet – the Belt and Road Initiative – runs through the northwest, where Xinjiang is located. Climate migrants will need many places to go when seawater begins to fill the populated Pearl River Delta, among other areas. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s â€œone country, two systemsâ€ approach is de facto dead, and the PRC seems strangely close to considering a military invasion of Taiwan. If the party abandoned the â€œ56 nationalities of Chinaâ€ model, it would only be a long-standing policy abandoned in an already drastic list.
Once again, the situation in Xinjiang was not “supposed” to happen. This may well augur the end of China’s ethnic diversity policies. As for what could replace them, the current outlook looks bleak.