Open Democracy China's policy regarding ethnic-minority issues has always been problematic. In the early years after the People’s Republic of China was created in 1949, its guiding ideas were largely borrowed from the Soviet Union. by Kerry Brown
'These were framed in talk of different cultural and language rights,
and a benign multiculturalism based on social equality, though China
never went as far as importing the theoretical right of individual
"Soviet socialist republics" to secession (which, in the seven decades
of the USSR, only the foolhardy or doomed ever tried to pursue). An
important influence was Sun Yat-sen’s articulation in the 1920s of five
major groups (Han, Mongolia, Tibetan, Uyghur and Hui Muslim) making
their way, eventually, towards some kind of cultural unity.
days, ethnic policy in China is dominated by a sometimes fierce debate
between moderates and the so-called second generation of thinkers, led
by scholars like Beijing University’s Ma Rong, and Qinghua’s Hu Angang.
For the latter, the whole architecture of autonomous regions and special
rights for China’s fifty-five ethnic minorities
needs to be eradicated. In their view, the country is on a journey
towards an idealised super-unity along the lines envisaged by Sun
Yat-sen. Their critics, including prominent academics like Hao Shiyuan
of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, have effectively accused them
of promoting Han chauvinism under another name, with Han constituting
over 92% of the current national population.
'All this hovers in the background of a lucid and up-to-date book by Nick Holdstock - China’s Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State
- which focuses on the problems of one of the most contentious and
increasingly restive of China’s five autonomous regions, Xinjiang. This
north-west region, constituting almost a fifth of China's total
landmass, matters on several levels. The most obvious is its tangible
resource value: Xinjiang
is a source of over a third of the country’s crucially important coal
and gas. Beyond this, it is a strategic buffer with the central Asian
region and Russia, as well as sharing borders with Pakistan and (for a
mere 14 kilometers) Afghanistan.'