Ethnic Minorities in China

Ethnic minorities in China

China is a home to 56 ethnic minorities and in order to foster peaceful cohabitation, the Chinese government has been introducing a series of policies for different ethnic minority groups, including exemption from the family planning policy, preferential economic measures to help develop regions and merit points system for the gaokao (national college entrance examination).

Rather than fostering inclusive society, these policies, it seems, generate feelings of jealousy, resentment and misunderstanding. For instance, many Han Chinese students seek to change or fake their ethnic origin so they can receive extra points in the gaokao. They view the merit points policy favouring ethnic minorities as constituting unfair competition.

On the other hand, we can see a widening divide between different ethnic groups based on the lack of better jobs for Chinese minorities, such as Uyghur minority, and Han Chinese enjoying preferential treatment. A study conducted by a new University of Melbourne found that favouring the dominant Han ethnic group in a jobs market and crackdowns on Uyghur religious and cultural practices increased tensions between the two groups.

According to Dr Reza Hasmath, a lack of top jobs available to the more than eight million Uyghurs living in China’s Xinjiang region causes a rise in ‘religious and ethnic consciousnesses’. He warns that this could lead to violent dissent between the two groups in an economically important part of the country.

Preferential economic policies pose a similar threat. A village from an undeveloped area but populated with ethnic minorities will receive more funds from the government than a village from a similar area but without ethnic minorities. So, while the Han majority complains about the preferential treatment of ethnic minorities, minorities are concerned with the government policies related to employment.

Professor Xiong Kunxin from the Minzu University of China says that while policies related to ethnic minorities are generally working, improvements need to be made. He suggests for instance, that ethnic minorities studying in big cities should be exempt from the merit point system and Han students studying in remote areas should be awarded extra points.

Should there be policies giving different treatment to different minority groups, or should the Chinese government implement ‘one that fits all’ policy?

Which approach do you think would reduce tensions and conflicts between minority groups and would promote a shared society? Or is there a different option?

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