July 11, 2015

"...lucid and up-to-date book by Nick Holdstock - China’s Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State"

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.

'These 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.'

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