bereft of references
(would you rather have a reference paper bereft of thought?)
a.k.a. Hielie Muga
Department of Anthropology
University of Washington
Minority peoples, called ÉÙÊýÃñxå
in Chinese, constitute around 8 or 9 percent of the population of the PRC.
This may seem like a small percentage, but it is not a small number: it's
now probably over 100,000,000 people, making the minorities of China a
larger population than that of all but about six countries in the world.
In addition, "minority areas" constitute a third to a half of the PRC's
area, depending on how you count, and occupy a majority of the length of
China's borders. Given that the CCP's legitimacy with the population as
a whole would plummet if its territory were reduced to the half or so that
we can refer to as China Proper, and given the strategic and mineral importance
of many minority regions, maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the minority
citizens is an important part of the state's legitimation process in general.
Legitimation among minorities is not only important; it is also difficult. Some of the minority regions were incorporated into the PRC more or less against the wishes of their pre-1949 leaders, and presumably also against the wishes of many ordinary citizens, though that is difficult to determine 50 years later. Many minority peoples have memories of historical states of their own that were not ruled by China or by China-centered empires such as the Qing; most have cultural and linguistic traditions and practices that are very different from those of the majority Han Chinese; all have potential oppositional consciousness deriving from the mere fact that they are recognized and operate in today's China as designated ethnic collectivities.
For these reasons, the PRC state has paid a lot of attention to legitimation among minorities. The impression given in the Western press that minority areas are ruled by force and intimidation is too simple. Sometimes, of course, force and intimidation have been used, and the PLA is much in evidence, for example, in parts of Xinjiang and Tibet. But force is not the primary method of rule in minority areas, anymore than it is in Han areas. Instead, the state goes to great lengths to legitimate itself with the minority populations, both in the language of statecraft and in the policies employed in many areas of administration and development. This paper will be a catalogue of the state's legitimation measures, in the areas of language use and of administrative policy, followed by a very brief assessment of the success or failure of these measures.
THE LANGUAGES OF LEGITIMACY
The idea of a nation-state is perhaps best encapsulated in the saying that it consists of a people, a territory, a language, a culture, and a government that are all uniform and co-terminous, and share a history of common suffering and overcoming. So the legitimation rhetoric of many modern governments emphasizes the uniformity within a set of borders of all these things, which when combined add up to a nation. But China, with so many people and so much territory obviously not having common language and culture, must define itself not as national, but as multi-national. But if it is multi-national, it still needs a basis for unity, a basis lying outside the ideas of cultural and linguistic commonality. It must have a unity of history and a unity of purpose instead.
It strikes me that languages of unity work in two ways, or modes. In the first and most obvious mode, this language asserts unity. It states that China is multinational, that minorities and Han have the same origins, etc. In the second and more insidious mode, language preempts certain vocabulary terms and phrases, precluding the possibility of saying anything against the idea of unity. Vocabulary items are defined and used in such a way that a large number of possible usages are co opted, and there is little choice but to speak in the rhetoric of national unity and minority membership in the collectivity. Orwell must have written about this, but I don't have time to look it up.
Unities of history and purpose are used in the positive, assertive mode in the basic set of phrases and sayings that define the country as multinational, avoiding any thought that China is to be identified with the Han in particular. This strategy begins with language in the constitution, which describes the PRC as Í3Ò»µÄ¶àÃñxå1ú*Ò. The constitution also states that all Ãñxå are equal, and that all have the right to use their own language in education and administration, and to practice their customs, as long as these customs do not interfere with socialism or with modernization. In other official contexts of law and propaganda, phrases indicating inclusiveness and equality all nationalities are common--ÃñxåÍÅ*á£¬ÃñxåÆ*µÈ£¬ÐÖµÜÃñxå are all cliché phrases that appear regularly, to the point where they are repeated at all levels of society in habituated, unthinking ways.
Another kind of language that is repeated over and over is the symbolic language of common origins, and even such phrases as ÁúµÄ´«ÈË and Ñx»ÆxÓËï are explicitly directed not at one particular group, but at every Ãñxå within the borders. Thus language that might be expected to be exclusive, in that it refers only to the descendants of a common ancestor, is made inclusive by the explicit statement that we are all descendants of a common ancestor, and thus have a common destiny. Here is an example of language in its preemptive mode, where usages such as the genealogical ones, which might have been divisive, are defined as inclusive, leaving those who would speak divisively to search further afield for vocabulary.
There is also academic language about origins and history that serves to include all citizens of whatever ethnicity in the category of people who belong to the nation historically. This works both negatively and positively. In negative terms, any words that refer to the idea of a nation can only be applied to China as a whole or to one of the China-centered dynasties, even if they were ruled by non-Han peoples. So terms such as 1ú, Íõ, Íõ1ú, or Íõ3¯ can never be applied to even independent states in the past, if the territory of those states happened to lie within the present boundaries of the PRC. So such entities as the 8-13th century Nanzhao and Dali empires or the recent Tai state of Sipsong Panna cannot be referred to as anything but µØ·*ÕþÈ¨, lest the designation 1ú imply that they were not part of China. Positively, a lot of historiographical effort, both academic and popular, is put into demonstrating, or in some cases, preemptively assuming without any demonstration, the historical connection of what are now the parts of China. For example, Chinggis Khan is spoken of as a great Chinese national hero. In the preemptive mode, this deprives any Mongols who might want to speak divisively of their greatest hero.
In addition, variations on the term Ãñxå, as well as the very ambiguity in the usage of the term, are employed to make the possibility of distinctions at the national level more difficult. Ãñxå means one of the 56 groups that are said to make up China, including the Han and 55 minorities, but it also is used in a much wider sense in the term ÖÐ»ªÃñxå. This term was originally applied, and still is in some unofficial contexts, as a kind of state-nation designator, but it is increasingly used as an umbrella term, a Ãñ xå that includes 56 Ãñxå within it. (The paradoxical and slippery nature of this term is best examined in Almaz Khan's Ph.D dissertation, Washington 1999.) This kind of multivalent use of the term works both in the assertive mode (we are all members of the ÖÐ»ªÃñxå) and in the preemptive mode (you can say all you like that the Yi or the Dulong or the Hezhe are a separate Ãñxå, but all Ãñxå have already been preempted as part of the greater ÖÐ»ªÃñxå, so your strategy doesn't get you anywhere).
In addition to language that compels the incorporation of minority people into the collectivity that is the PRC, the state also uses legitimizing language how good its policies are for its minority citizens. In the socialist period, this kind of appeal was often framed in terms of liberation from the oppressive class conditions of the old society, and there is still some of this in present-day materials. But in addition, there is also specifically developmental language, that points out how PRC policies have brought tangible benefits to minority peoples and minority areas.
A primary way in which the language of progress supports state legitimacy is by making the same kinds of appeals to progress in standard of living, health, literacy, education, and life opportunities. This can be done in several ways. One is to compare the present with the past, and even in the 1990s in many minority areas, this means the past way before the Communists "liberated" China (they still use the term *â·Å). In fact, it is my impression that this kind of liberation by comparing the good new society to the bad old society has really faded altogether in the general rhetoric directed to the country as a whole or to Han and Han areas in particular, but it has not faded in minority areas. For example, in school textbooks used in the 1990s to teach basic reading and writing in the Nuosu Yi language of Liangshan in Sichuan, there are many comparisons between the new and the old society. But the old society is not the feudal landlord regime of Han areas, but the cruel, oppressive "slave society" which has been determined to have been the practice in Nuosu areas before Liberation and the Democratic Reforms of 1956. Children are taught of the horrors of the old society, accompanied by graphic pictures of slaves laboring in chains under threatening skies, contrasted with depictions of the present where the sky is blue, passenger trains and airliners tie the mountains together, and people get bumper harvests. In other lessons, local festivals are described in colorful and sympathetic language, and it is made clear that the reason people can stuff themselves with mutton and beef, instead of celebrating with turnips and beans, is that the Communist Party has an enlightened and benevolent minority policy. Similar appeals are made in Tibet, in Tibetan-language readers, where the feudal serfdom of the past is compared to the liberated society of the present.
The contrast between long ago and now is not the only one made in the language of progress; there is also a lot of attention to the current policies of ¸Ä¸ï¿ª·Å, again flavored locally to appeal to local minority populations. In general, the same terms are used in Han-language minority-directed materials as in materials directed to the whole country, or neologisms invented in the minority languages as equivalents to the Chinese terms. For example, in the 1980s, much Nuosu-language propaganda contained the terms Lyyiet Gashytmga, or "four kinds of crossing over to the new."
Part of the appeal to minorities to be part of China is the rather wide allowances, by world standards, made by the CCP government in the use of minority languages in official contexts. In comparison with Indonesia, Turkey, France, or pre-1990s Taiwan, China from 1950-57 and since 1980 has had very liberal language policies. The constitution guarantees to minorities the right to use their own written languages in school and administration, and a lot of effort has been expended by academic linguists and by language policy planners to standardize and typographize minority scripts, and even to invent scripts (mostly Latin-alphabet based) for minority groups that previously had no means of writing their own languages.
The practical results of such a policy are mixed. For example, Yi writing has been very successful among the Nuosu in Sichuan, where the traditional priestly script was modified and standardized but not discarded, and now is taught as a second language in most schools, and as a primary medium of instruction for all subjects in some of the more remote areas. Many administrative papers are translated into Nuosu (though this has more symbolic than practical value, since all administrators know Chinese), and there are daily newspapers and a monthly pictorial magazine. By contrast, in Yunnan, a kind of compromise between several different local Yi scripts is still experimental, and seems doomed to remain an impractical, if perhaps symbolically important, curiosity. In Tibet, education in Tibetan is becoming ever more common, but a proposal to make Tibetan actually co-equal with Chinese as an administrative language was retracted before it was really ever put into practice, after the monk-led riots of the late 1980s.
One novel aspect of the attempt to use minority languages in education, administration, and mass media is the necessity to create a large number of neologisms for the vocabulary of a modern, socialist state. These words did not exist, for example, in Tibetan before the 1960s, and people who learned Tibetan before that time, or who learned it from exiles in the 70s and 80s, had a terrible time reading official CCP Tibetan when it became available in the 80s and 90s. A Han-Nuosu dictionary published in the late 80s contains words for such previously lexically unavailable terms as nuclear reactor, dictatorship of the proletariat, Christmas, and even whale; these were all invented for administrative and educational purposes. I'm hoping to work together with a Nuosu colleague on an article analyzing this neologistic activity.
In summary, the legitimizing language used by the Chinese state
toward minorities includes minorities in the China community both by assertion
and by preemption, adapts its general rhetoric to local conditions in minority
areas, and modifies and employees minority languages so that they, too,
can express all the concepts of unity and progress.
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS OF INCLUSIVENESS AND PREFERENCE
The Chinese state does not, of course, just talk about equality, unity, and progress. It also formulates and carries out large numbers of policies designed to demonstrate to its minority citizens that they are better off as part of China than as citizens of some kind of hypothetical independent state. In fact, linguistic measures such as those sketched above require backup with policies if they are not to be transparently hollow. Areas in which state policies are designed to legitimate itself in the eyes of minorities are education, local regional autonomy, and preferential or affirmative-action programs.
There is no doubt that the Chinese state has brought education to minority populations that never had modern-style schooling before. There were traditional Chinese schools and academies in some minority areas as part of the gradual sinification process that worked in different areas at different times from at least the Song dynasty on, and many peoples that are now minorities in China had their own traditional forms of formal education, such as the monastic theological and philosophical studies of Tibet and Mongolia, the Islamic schools among both Chinese- and Turkic- speaking Muslims, and the priestly apprenticeship of the Nuosu bimo. But one of the most aggressive policies of the Communist government in minority areas concerned the introduction of modern schooling.
Schooling, of course is intertwined with language policy, as I discussed in the last section. There is undoubtedly more schooling in the Chinese language in minority areas than in the minority languages, but in for most of the larger minorities, education through elementary school, or sometimes even through high school, is available. For legitimation purposes, it is important to have education in both languages. Education in the minority language is superficially and symbolically more important, since it reaffirms the state's commitment to a multicultural polity and society, though some aspects of minority culture are excluded from state schooling. For example, Tibetan language curricula may use stories about lamas and their disciples, but they have to change the actors to teachers and their students. But Han language education is important for allowing mobility for minority children, since a minority-language education doesn't get you very far in most fields in today's China. Withdrawing either kind of opportunities would deligitimize the Chinese state as an educator of minority populations--no minority language education means no respect for minority cultures and renders promises of equality and brotherhood hollow. Only minority-language education would effectively deprive minorities of opportunities to participate in the economic and political equality that is enshrined in the pretty words of the constitution and other documents.
Local administrative autonomy
Part of the rhetoric of respect and equality for minorities involves
a promise of local administrative autonomy, and the constitution of the
people's republic allows for the practice of "local minorities autonomy"
implemented by the establishment of xÔÖÎÇø
at the provincial level, xÔÖÎÖÝ at the prefectural
level, and xÔÖÎ ÏØ at the county level.
The policy of local autonomy seems to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of Communist minority policy. An accurate assessment neither takes the term literally nor dismisses it as a cynical sham. Rather there is substance to the minority local autonomy policy that renders administration different in minority regions, and contributes to the state's legitimacy in minority eyes. But it does not amount to what an ordinary English-speaker would refer to as autonomy. Aspects that do contribute to the state's legitimacy, in terms of its claims to allow minorities respect and equality, are language policy, mentioned above; fiscal policy, which allows for local retention of greater percentages of revenues than in non-"autonomous" areas; and cadre recruitment policy, which reserves most of the senior posts in the government, the people's congress, and the consultative conference, but not necessarily in the party, for members of the minorities for whom the autonomous area is created. This does not mean the ability to create policy, except on very local and concrete levels, but it does mean the ability to implement policy, co-opting many of the most talented and ambitious minority people into the service of the state, as well as legitimating it in the eyes of ordinary people, who see that its representatives are members of their own ethnic group.
Neither too much nor too little should be made of the exception for Party cadres. Some authors have claimed that the cadre-representation policy is a sham, since the Party rules all the other branches of the state. But minority representation in Party leadership posts varies greatly from one area to another. It is low, by all reports, in Tibet and Xinjiang, but in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, almost all county party secretaries are Yi, and a majority of Prefectural secretaries have been Yi, though some have been Han.
For the question of legitimation, the important aspect of local autonomy as actually implemented is not that minorities determine their own destiny; this is clearly not the case. What is important is that it is difficult to conceive of the state as Han state, even though the central leadership has historically been almost entirely Han (only one member of minority, Ulanfu, has been a member of the Communist Party Politburo in 50 years), if most of the state's local representatives, from the prefectural level on down, are members of minorities. In fact, in many areas Han citizens are resigned to entering areas other than administration, since the latter is reserved, for, or at least given preferentially to, members of minorities. So local minority citizens, when they see state policies benefitting themselves, do not see this as Han benevolence, but as at least partly the result of minority participation, which I would think gives the state more legitimacy for accomplishing the same goals than it would have had it relied entirely on Han personnel.
The Chinese state, since the 1980s, in addition to encouraging
minority participation and promoting education and other kinds of developmental
projects in minority areas, has also gone further: it has implemented policies
of preference, or in the American jargon, affirmative action, in favor
of minorities. Affirmative action has operated primarily in three areas:
administrative appointments (dealt with above and not reiterated here),
school admissions, and planned-birth quotas.
School admission preferences for minorities usually involve lower minimum scores on entrance examinations, particularly for technical secondary schools, or ÖÐx¨, which are the primary avenues to professional or state employment in most minority areas, and less importantly to institutions of higher education. I would suggest that the legitimation value of preferential school admissions lies less in any impression it might create of state benevolence than in the potential to create more job opportunities in the state and other sectors for minorities, so that again minorities are looked at as active participants in the state and in the modern economy.
Preferences in the planned-birth program are extended very unequally to minorities. It is not true that minorities are "exempt from the one-child policy" except in the sense that birth quotas for minorities are usually higher than one: typically two in urban and two or three in rural areas, but with enormous local variation. Birth-quota preferences are an attempt, I think, to lessen antagonism toward the state and preclude accusations, seen in so many countries, that the state is practicing genocide by not allowing minority citizens to reproduce. It is to take a way a potential de-legitimizing complaint, rather than to produce positive legitimacy for the state, that such looser quotas have been implemented.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
It seems to me that linguistic and policy measures taken by the
Chinese state in order to legitimate itself in the eyes of minorities have
worked fairly well in the 1980s and 90s in areas where there was not already
the potential for nationalist opposition to CCP rule. What I mean
by this is that we can divide minority areas or minority populations into
two sorts: those which have historically based national claims, because
of the previous existence of a fairly large-scale state: these areas include
most notably Xinjiang and Tibet, but also Inner Mongolia. In these areas,
the Chinese state has not had much of a chance; it is ruled from the center,
and whether its policies are benevolent or not they are liable to be considered
colonialist or imperialist policies, and no amount of rhetoric can hide
that. Thus the Chinese state is not overwhelmingly legitimate in these
areas, and could never be as long as it was ruled from Beijing, had mostly
Han personnel at the national level, and used Chinese as its language of
administration, propaganda, and media. It is impossible to know, however,
the extent of opposition among the ordinary people. My guess is that opposition
to Chinese rule, in the form that the Chinese and the PRC are colonialists,
is very high in Xinjiang, and probably a majority in the TAR, though not
necessarily in other ethnically Tibetan regions.
In other areas, where there are no historical memories of independent polities, the rhetoric and policies of multicultural or multinational legitimacy have worked fairly well, I think. If most of the Southwest is any example (and the Southwest has the largest minority population of any region, including Xinjiang and Tibet), opposition is sometimes directed against Han people in general, sometimes against specific maltreatment of minorities that deprives them of their equal rights as Chinese citizens, but not against the idea of being part of China, and often not against the particular regime. When minority people speak Chinese, they do adopt the rhetorical locutions invented by the state, and they adopt and often create the translations into their own languages. They appreciate the preferential policies (though they often consider them insufficient) and strategize to benefit from them. Antagonism tends to be directed more against the Han than against the state, and the state itself, as mentioned above, is multi-ethnic.
There is, of course, no proof that legitimation strategies work, because it is so difficult to perform controlled comparisons. But my opinion is that they have been successful where minorities have no rational national choice but to be Chinese; they are useless, or at best only marginally successful, where minorities see themselves as a part of a different nation.