The Pluralistic Unity of the Chinese Nation and China’s Ethnic Policy

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 10:13
text size: T | T

 The theory of the “pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation” was first introduced by renowned Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong in 1988. Speaking at the meeting on the ethnic work of the central government in 2005, General Secretary Hu Jintao stated that “Throughout the long course of history, the various ethnic groups in our country have maintained close ties, relied on one another, and stood as one. This has shaped the Chinese nation as a pluralistic unity in which all ethnic groups have promoted national development and social progress as a whole.” 

 This is an accurate evaluation of China’s historical development as a united but ethnically diverse country. The theory of the Chinese nation as a pluralistic unity has an important bearing on research into China’s ethnic relations and on the formulation of a policy framework covering ethnic initiatives and theory in contemporary China. 

 The fundamental elements of the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation

 The pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation is mainly manifested in three aspects:

 First, the Chinese nation is an ethnic body that is composed of the 56 ethnic groups residing in China. These 56 ethnic groups have merged into an interdependent, unified and inseparable whole. All of the elements that belong to this ethnic body have acquired a sense of national identity that surpasses their inherent ethnic background. This identity is manifested as an emotional bond and a moral obligation that urges all of China’s ethnic groups to stand together and share a common fate. In this plural yet united body, the 56 ethnic groups, as individual elements, represent the lower level of the hierarchy, while the Chinese nation, as a whole, represents the higher level.

 Second, pluralistic unity is the result of a process in which isolated elements went from a scattered state to a unified state. During the process of this transition, numerous scattered elements were brought together by a core cohesive force, that is, the Han. The Han ethnic group has developed and expanded over the course of more than 2,000 years. It itself is the product of integration between a large number of nationalities. As a single element at the base of the hierarchy, the Han can be found throughout China’s geographical territories. As the Han migrated into ethnic minority regions in large numbers, the Chinese language, as spoken by the Han, gradually became a common language used among various different ethnic groups. With this, an invisible network linking together once isolated groups came into being. Dense in the east and sparse in the west, this network laid down the foundations for the emergence of a pluralistic unity. Playing a cohesive role, the Han brought the various elements together to constitute a whole, thus forming the Chinese nation. Thus the elements of this whole acquired national identity at a higher level.

 Third, identity at the higher level does not necessarily replace or cancel out identity at the lower level. Different levels of identity exist in parallel, with no one level undermining the other. Moreover, each element in the whole is able to develop its own intrinsic characteristics on the basis of different levels of identity, which allows the whole to become a multi-linguistic and multi-cultural body. In essence, at the top level is a composite entity characterized by diversity in unity. As such, it is normal for conflicts to occur internally within the whole. However, the whole allows for such differences to exist. Internal factors in the whole interact with each other dynamically, allowing the whole to adapt to constantly changing interior and exterior conditions, and thereby ensuring the continuation and development of the collective.

 The pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation is the inevitable result of a history in which multiple ethnic groups developed under specific conditions in China. Through the course of intimate contact over several thousand years, China’s 56 ethnic groups were drawn together by their common lands, common goals and common cultural traditions. The integration of various nationalities culminated in the birth of the Chinese nation, a family of nationalities characterized by diversity in unity. Therefore, tradition has it that “The Han need the minorities, the minorities need the Han, and the minorities need each other.” Following the founding of New China, this historical tradition was respected and carried forward under the guidance of the CPC’s ethnic policies, allowing it to become an ideological foundation for national unity, ethnic harmony and common prosperity among all ethnic groups in China.

 The theory of the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation and China’s ethnic policy

 Following the founding of New China, both the Party and the government committed themselves to promoting concerted efforts, mutual prosperity and common development among all ethnic groups. On the basis of China’s fundamental conditions, and in consideration of lessons learned from the past, China identified ethnic equality, ethnic solidarity, regional ethnic autonomy, and common prosperity as the key elements of its ethnic policy. With this, China set out to resolve its ethnic issues in its own unique way. We have since developed a relatively comprehensive set of ethnic policies suited to conditions in China. These policies have urged all ethnic groups to unite in heart and mind, peacefully coexist, and stand by each other. In turn, this has brought about economic development, political stability, cultural prosperity and social harmony. During this process, minorities, minority regions and ethnic relations have undergone historical changes, while the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation has been constantly enhanced and bolstered.

    April 5, 2010, a grand ceremony to commemorate Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor) was held at the Mausoleum of Huang Di in Huangling County, Shaanxi Province. More than 10,000 Chinese from around the world gathered to pay their respects to Huang Di, the cultural ancestor of the Chinese nation. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Ding Haitao

 Equality among all ethnic groups is the cornerstone of the CPC’s ethnic policies. Equality is important in the consolidation and development of the pluralistic unity that China enjoys. In the specific context of China, ethnic equality refers to three things: First, all ethnic groups are political equals, regardless of the size of their population, the length of their history, the size of the area they inhabit, their level of economic development, and whether or not they have their own spoken and written languages, religious beliefs, habits and customs; Second, the equality of all ethnic groups is not just limited to political and legal equality, but also includes economic, cultural and social equality; Third, all citizens are equals in the eyes of the law, regardless of their ethnic background. This means that all citizens enjoy the same rights and bear the same obligations. China’s efforts have culminated in the formulation of a unique set of policies on ethnic equality. These policies recognize rights and freedoms in a wide range of aspects, such as personal freedom and personal rights, equality before the law, equal rights in the management of state affairs, equal freedom of religious belief for all, freedom in the use and development of spoken and written languages by ethnic minority groups, and freedom of ethnic groups to retain and change their own customs and habits.

 China’s efforts to address ethnic issues revolve around ethnic solidarity. Ethnic solidarity represents the core content of China’s ethnic policy. It acts as the foundation for the constant consolidation and development of the Chinese nation’s pluralistic unity. The concept of ethnic solidarity not only includes unity between the Han and ethnic minority groups, but also includes unity between different minority groups and unity between the members of the same minority group. Ethnic solidarity is a key foundation of national unity, a prerequisite for social stability, and an important basis for the development of all social programs. China’s various ethnic groups have long upheld a commitment to stand together as one. For this reason, ethnic solidarity continues to be a subject of widespread and deep-rooted public support. The fates of China’s ethnic groups are intertwined, while their cultures share the same origins. Thousands of years of centralized governance have exerted a major influence on the formation and development of ethnic groups in China. Centralized governance made it possible for ties between various ethnic groups to emerge and become stronger. Over time, this led to the formation of a stable body comprising various ethnic groups, that is, the Chinese nation. In modern times, China’s various ethnic groups came closer together in a common struggle to defend the motherland and fend off the onslaught of foreign incursion. As cohesive forces became stronger than ever before, concepts of ethnicity, the Chinese nation, and the country were merged into one. The conflicts and barriers that once divided the different ethnic groups vanished as the people were brought together by a common will to fight against imperialism, ward off colonialism, and pursue national liberation. This further consolidated the unity between China’s ethnic groups, and gave rise to political unity on the basis of patriotism. The spontaneous union between the different ethnic groups soon evolved into a conscious decision to stand together. This transition served to bolster the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation from a higher level. History has demonstrated that the destinies and fundamental interests of all ethnic groups in China are closely connected, and that the various ethnic groups, as plural elements, are inseparable from the Chinese nation as a whole. China’s different ethnic groups identify with the Chinese nation and the state in the same way that they identify with their own distinct ethnic backgrounds. This represents the historical choice that they have made, and constitutes the foundation of ethnic solidarity in China.

 Regional ethnic autonomy is China’s most fundamental ethnic policy. As one of China’s most basic political systems, regional ethnic autonomy ensures that the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation is bolstered and further developed. In China’s system of regional ethnic autonomy, areas where people of ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities establish organs of self-government for the practice of autonomous governance under the leadership of the central government. As a solution to ethnic issues in China, the policy of regional ethnic autonomy was implemented in full consideration of China’s historical development and cultural characteristics, the relationships among ethnic groups, and the distribution of ethnic groups. It conforms to the common interests of all ethnic groups, and is also conducive to their development. In China, regional ethnic autonomy is practiced under the leadership of the central government. Centralized leadership precedes autonomous leadership, which is a direct manifestation of the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation. Regional ethnic autonomy is practiced on the basis of the unique conditions that exist in different ethnic groups and regions. By allowing special issues to be dealt with in line with special circumstances, regional ethnic autonomy has been highly effective in catering to the economic and cultural differences that distinguish minority regions from other regions. This design has allowed ethnic groups to maintain their own individuality whilst developing in step with the rest of the country, and has provided conditions for the pluralistic development of the Chinese nation. China’s policy of regional ethnic autonomy has been met with incredible results over the past 60 years. As a successful attempt that China has made to resolve ethnic issues in its own way, regional ethnic autonomy has bolstered the pluralistic unity that characterizes the Chinese nation. In doing so, it has demonstrated its enormous vitality and superiority as a system.

 The common prosperity and development of all ethnic groups is a key goal of China’s ethnic policies. Common prosperity is able to drive on the development of pluralistic unity under China’s socialist system. Both the Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy clearly specify that the state is legally obliged to provide support and assistance for the accelerated development of ethnic minority areas. Policies and measures that have been adopted to support ethnic minorities and promote the accelerated economic and social development of ethnic minority areas cover seven major aspects: First, ethnic minority areas have been given priority in the distribution of poverty alleviation funds and development projects; Second, dedicated funds have been established to support ethnic minorities and minority regions; Third, dedicated support programs and initiatives to promote economic and technical cooperation have been launched; Fourth, ethnic minorities and minority regions have been given preferential tax policies; Fifth, preferential financial policies have been implemented; Sixth, priority support has been given to the development of ethnic minority groups with small populations; Seventh, special plans for ethnic minorities and minority regions have been formulated and carried out. The incredible economic and social progress witnessed in ethnic minority regions has not only changed the lives of local residents forever, but also significantly deepened the love that people of all ethnic groups have for their motherland. By transcending their own inherent ethnic backgrounds, China’s different ethnic groups have come to develop a strong sense of identification with the Chinese nation. Economic and social development of ethnic minorities and minority areas represents a source of vitality that is bolstering the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation. It is providing a stronger material foundation for the great unity of the Chinese nation.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.23, 2010)

Note:Author: Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress


 Related readings:

 Ethnic Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress

 The National People’s Congress (NPC) directs the work of the Ethnic Affairs Committee. When the NPC is not in session, the Ethnic Affairs Committee is subjected to the leadership of the NPC Standing Committee. The Ethnic Affairs Committee is composed of a Chairman, Vice-Chairmen and other members.

 Under the leadership of the NPC and its Standing Committee, the Ethnic Affairs Committee holds responsibilities to study, examine and draw up bills related to their fields of work. The tasks of the Ethnic Affairs Committee are:

 1. to examine proposals delegated by the Presidium of the NPC session and the Standing Committee of the NPC;

 2. to propose to the Presidium and the Standing Committee bills that are related to its field and within the scope of authority of the NPC and its Standing Committee;

 3. to examine the administrative regulations, decisions and decrees of the State Council, the orders, directives and regulations of the ministries and commissions of the State Council, and the decisions, orders and regulations of the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government that are believed to contravene the Constitution, and prepare reports on the examination;

 4. to look into the questions raised by the Presidium and the Standing Committee, listen to the answers given by the bodies to which the inquiries are addressed, and report to the Presidium and the Standing Committee when necessary;

 5. to carry out research and make suggestions on questions related to its field and within the scope of authority of the NPC and its Standing Committee. In addition, the Ethnic Affairs Committee may carry out research and make suggestions on questions related to its field and within the scope of authority of the NPC and its Standing Committee;

 6. In addition, the Ethnic Affairs Committee may carry out research and offer suggestions on how to strengthen ethnic unity, and it also examines regulations concerning autonomy and local needs submitted by autonomous regions to the NPC Standing Committee for approval and reports to the NPC Standing Committee on this work.

Qiushi Journal | English Edition of Qiushi Jounrnal | Contact us | Subscription Copyright by Qiushi Journal, All rights reserved