|National Minorities Policy and Its Practice in China|
II. Adherence to Equality and Unity Among Ethnic Groups
III. Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities
IV. Promoting the Common Development of All Ethnic Groups
V. Preservation and Development of the Cultures of Ethnic Minorities
The People's Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic state founded jointly by the people of all its ethnic groups. So far, there are 56 ethnic groups identified and confirmed by the Central Government, namely, the Han, Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, Uygur, Miao, Yi, Zhuang, Bouyei, Korean, Manchu, Dong, Yao, Bai, Tujia, Hani, Kazak, Dai, Li, Lisu, Va, She, Gaoshan, Lahu, Shui, Dongxiang, Naxi, Jingpo, Kirgiz, Tu, Daur, Mulam, Qiang, Blang, Salar, Maonan, Gelo, Xibe, Achang, Pumi, Tajik, Nu, Ozbek, Russian, Ewenki, Deang, Bonan, Yugur, Jing, Tatar, Drung, Oroqen, Hezhen, Moinba, Lhoba and Jino. As the majority of the population belongs to the Han ethnic group, China's other 55 ethnic groups are customarily referred to as the national minorities.
According to the fourth national census conducted in 1990, of the country's total population 91.96 percent belong to the Han ethnic group, and 8.04 percent belong to minority ethnic groups(1). A sample survey conducted among one percent of the total population in 1995 showed that 108.46 million people belonged to minority ethnic groups, accounting for 8.98 percent of the country's total population of more than 1.2 billion, a 0.94 percentage point increase over the figure in 1990.
China's ethnic groups live together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. In some cases minority peoples can be found living in concentrated communities in areas inhabited mainly by the Han people, while in other cases the situation is just the other way round. This distribution pattern has taken shape throughout China's long history of development as ethnic groups migrated and mingled. The national minorities, though small in numbers, are scattered over vast areas. Minority peoples live in every province, autonomous region and municipality directly under the Central Government, and in most county-level units two or more ethnic groups live together. Now minority peoples are mainly concentrated in provinces and autonomous regions such as in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi, Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Liaoning, Jilin, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan and Taiwan(2).
China has been a united multi-ethnic country since ancient times.
In 221 B.C., the first united, multi-ethnic, centralized state--the QinDynasty--was founded in China. Today's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, where minority peoples are concentrated, were prefectures and counties under the jurisdiction of the united Qin regime. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), the centralized feudal state became even more powerful by inheriting the Qin system. The Han Dynasty set up a Frontier Command Headquarters in the Western Regions (a general term for today's territory west of Dunhuang, Gansu Province, since the Han Dynasty) and added 17 prefectures governing the people of all ethnic groups there. In this way, a state with a vast territory embracing the ancestors of the various peoples living in Xinjiang today emerged. In the course of the frequent communication between the Han Dynasty and the surrounding minority peoples, the people of the Chinese nation were called the Han by other ethnic groups, and the most populous ethnic group in the world, the Han, emerged. China as a united multi-ethnic country was created by the Qin Dynasty and consolidated and developed by the Han Dynasty.
The central governments of all dynasties following the Han developed and consolidated the united multi-ethnic entity. The central governments of the past dynasties were established not only by the Han people but also by minority peoples. In the 13th century, the Mongolians established the united multi-ethnic Great Yuan Empire (1206-1368). The Yuan Dynasty practiced a system of xingsheng (province, or branch secretariat, a paramount administrative agency in a provincial area) across the country and appointed aboriginal officials or tu guan (hereditary posts of local administrators filled by chiefs of ethnic minorities) in the prefectures and subprefectures of the southern regions where minority peoples lived in concentrated communities. It established the Pacification Commissioner's Commandery in charge of military and administrative affairs in Tibet, whereby Tibet has became thenceforth an inalienable part of Chinese territory, as well as the Penghu Police Office for the administration of the Penghu Islands and Taiwan. Ethnically, the Yuan Empire comprised most of modern China's ethnic groups. The rise of the Manchu in the 17th century culminated in the founding of the last feudal dynasty in Chinese history, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Qing Dynasty set up the Ili Generalship and Xinjiang Province in the Western Regions, appointed resident officials in Tibet and established the historical convention of conferring honorific titles on the two Living Buddhas Dalai and Panchen lamas by the Central Government. In addition, the Qing Dynasty carried out a series of policies, including a system of local administrators in minority areas appointed by the Central Government, in southwestern China.
Although there were short-term separations and local divisions in Chinese history, unity has always been the mainstream in the development of Chinese history(3).
During the long process of unification, economic and cultural exchanges brought the people of all ethnic groups in China closely together, giving shape to a relationship of interdependence, mutual promotion and mutual development among them and contributing to the creation and development of the Chinese civilization.
Due to their interdependent political, economic and cultural connections, all ethnic groups in China have shared common destiny and interests in their long historical development, creating a strong force of affinity and cohesion.
The unity and cooperation among the various ethnic groups have helped to safeguard China as a united multi-ethnic state. In particular in modern times, when China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society and the Chinese nation suffered from imperialist invasion, oppression and humiliation and was reduced to the status of an oppressed nation, in order to safeguard the unity of the state and the dignity of the Chinese nation, all the ethnic groups united and fought unyieldingly together against foreign invaders and ethnic separatists. In the 19th century, the people of all the ethnic groups in Xinjiang together with the Qing troops wiped out Yakoob Beg's reactionary forces and defeated the British and Russian invaders' plot to split China. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Tibetan people and troops dealt a heavy blow on the British invaders at the Mount Lungthur and Gyangze battles. During the eight-year war of resistance against Japanese imperialist aggression (1937-1945), the Chinese people of all ethnic groups shared bitter hatred of the enemy and fought dauntlessly and unflinchingly. It is well known that many anti-Japanese forces with ethnic minorities as the mainstay, such as the Hui People's Detachment and the Inner Mongolia Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Contingent made great contributions to China's victory in the War of Resistance. The people of all ethnic groups fought unswervingly and succeeded in safeguarding national unity against acts aimed at splitting the country, which went counter to the historical trend and the will of the Chinese nation, including plots for the ''independence of Tibet'', for the setting up of an "Eastern Turkestan" in Xinjiang and the carving out of a puppet state of ''Manchoukuo'' in Northeast China, hatched or engineered by a few ethnic separatists with the support of imperialist invaders.
Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the central governments of the various periods in China each had a sequence of policies and systems of its own concerning ethnic affairs, but under all of them, whether set up by the Han people or an ethnic minority, there was no equality to speak of among ethnic groups. The founding of the People's Republic of China opened up a new era in which all ethnic groups in China enjoy equality, unity and mutual aid. In the big, united family of ethnic groups in the People's Republic of China, on the basis of equality of all rights, the people of all ethnic groups unite of their own accord for mutual promotion and common development and dedicate to the building of a strong, prosperous, democratic and civilized New China.
Among Ethnic Groups
In China, equality among ethnic groups means that, regardless of their population size, their level of economic and social development, the difference of their folkways, customs and religious beliefs, every ethnic group is a part of the Chinese nation, having equal status, enjoying the same rights and performing the same duties in every aspect of political and social life according to law, and ethnic oppression or discrimination of any form is firmly opposed. Unity among ethnic groups means a relationship of harmony, friendship, mutual assistance and alliance among ethnic groups in social life and mutual contacts. To achieve such unity, the various ethnic groups are required to, on the basis of opposition to ethnic oppression and discrimination, safeguard and promote unity among themselves and within every particular ethnic group and the people of all ethnic groups should, jointly and with one heart and one mind, promote the development and prosperity of the nation, oppose ethnic splits and safeguard the unification of the country. The Chinese government has always maintained that equality among ethnic groups is the precondition and basis for unity among ethnic groups, that the latter cannot be achieved without the former, that the latter is the logical outcome of the former and a guarantee for promoting ethnic equality in its true sense.
Equality and unity among ethnic groups as the basic principle and policy for resolving ethnic problems have been clearly defined in the Constitution and relevant laws.
The Constitution of the People's Republic of China stipulates: ''All ethnic groups in the People's Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minorities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China's ethnic groups. Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited.'' Citizens of all ethnic groups in China enjoy all equal rights accorded to citizens by the Constitution and law. For instance, they have the rights to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnic status, race and religious belief; their personal freedom and dignity are inviolable; they enjoy freedom of religious belief; they have the right to receive education; they have the right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages; they enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration; they have the right to engage in scientific research, literary and artistic creation and other cultural pursuits; they have the right to work and rest, and the right to material assistance from the state and society when they are disabled; they have the right to criticize and make suggestions regarding any state organ or functionary; and they have the freedom to preserve or change their own folkways and customs(4).
The Chinese government has adopted special policies and measures to effectively realize and guarantee the right to equality among all ethnic groups, which is prescribed by the Constitution and law, in social life and government activities. As a result, a favorable social environment has been created for ethnic groups to treat each other on an equal footing and to develop a relationship of unity, harmony, friendship and mutual assistance among them.
Protection of the Personal Freedom of Ethnic Minorities
Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the economic and social development of the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities was unbalanced; some areas were in society under the serf system, some under the slave system and some even in the later period of the primitive system. The mass of the minority people in these areas were vassals of big feudal lords, nobles, temples or slave owners; they had no personal freedom and could be sold or bought or given as gifts by their owners at will(5). In Tibet the Thirteen-Point Law and Sixteen-Point Law formulated in the 17th century and used for more than 300 years, divided the people strictly into three classes and nine grades: the people of the upper class were big nobles, Grand Living Buddhas and high officials, the people of the intermediate class were ordinary clerical and secular officials, junior officers and stewards of upper class people, and the people of the lower class were serfs and slaves. According to these Laws the value of the life of a top-grade person of the upper class was measured by the weight of his body in gold, while the life of a lowest-grade person of the lower class was as cheap as a straw rope. However, the people of the lower class exceeded 95 percent of the total population of Tibet(6). It is obvious that without the reform of the backward social and political system in minority areas the various equal rights of minority peoples stipulated in the Constitution and the law could not be realized.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese government adopted different measures to institute democratic reform successively in the minority areas at the will of the minority of the people in these areas, and completed the reform in the late 1950s. This reform abolished all the privileges of the privileged few--feudal lords, nobles and tribal chiefs--and the old system of exploitation and oppression of man by man. As a result, tens of thousands of the minority people won emancipation and personal freedom and became masters of their homelands and their own destinies. The democratic reform which took place in Tibet in 1959 eradicated the feudal serf system marked by the combination of government and religion and the dictatorship of nobles and monks, thus tens of thousands of serfs and slaves under the old system got their personal freedom and became masters of the new society.
All Ethnic Groups Participate in State Affairs Administration on an Equal Footing
In China, the minority and Han peoples participate as equals in the management of affairs of the state and local governments at various levels, and the rights of the minority ethnic groups to take part in the management of state affairs are especially guaranteed. Elections to the National People's Congress(NPC)--the highest organ of state power--fully reflect respect for the rights of ethnic minorities. In accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses of the People's Republic of China, the minority peoples shall have their own deputies to sit in the NPC, and the ethnic groups whose population is less than that prescribed for electing one deputy are permitted to elect one deputy. From the first session of the First NPC, held in 1954, to the present day, the proportions of deputies of ethnic minorities among the total number of deputies in every NPC have been higher than the proportions of their populations in the nation's total population in the corresponding periods. Of 2,979 deputies elected in 1998 to the Ninth NPC, 428 deputies were from ethnic minority, accounting for 14.37 percent of the total, which was about five percentage points higher than the proportion of their total population in the nation's total population at that time.
In areas where ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities, each of them may have its own deputy or deputies sit in the local people's congresses. Ethnic minorities living in scattered groups may also elect their own deputies to the local people's congresses and the number of people represented by each of their deputies may be less than the number of people represented by each of the other deputies to such congresses.
The state has made great efforts to train ethnic minority cadres and enlist their service. To date, there are well over 2,700,000 minority cadres throughout the country. The ethnic minorities also have a fairly large appropriate number of personnel working in the central and local state organs, administrative organs, judicial organs and procuratorial organs, taking part in the management of national and local affairs. Today, among the vice-chairpersons of the Standing Committee of the NPC, those of ethnic minority origin account for 21 percent; among the vice-chairpersons of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), those of ethnic minority origin account for 9.6 percent; of the leading members of the State Council, one is of ethnic minority origin; among the leaders of the component departments of the State Council, two ministers are from ethnic minority groups; and the heads of the governments of the 155 ethnic autonomous regions, prefectures and counties (or banners) are all from ethnic minority groups.
Identification of Ethnic Minorities
Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, it had never been made clear how many ethnic minorities there were in China. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, to implement the policy of equality among ethnic groups in an all-round way the state has organized large-scale investigations since 1953 to identify the ethnic groups. Proceeding from conditions both past and present and in accordance with the principle of combination of scientific identification and the wishes of the given ethnic group, every group which accords with the conditions for an ethnic group is identified as a single ethnic group, regardless of its level of social development and the sizes of its inhabited area and population. By 1954, the Chinese government had identified 38 ethnic groups in all, after careful investigation and study. By 1964, the Chinese government had identified another 15 ethnic groups. With the addition of the Lhoba ethnic group, identified in 1965, and the Jino ethnic group, identified in 1979, there are 55 ethnic minority groups which have been formally recognized and made known to the public. Now, in New China many ethnic minority groups which had not been recognized by the rulers of old China have been recognized as they should, and they all enjoy equal rights with other ethnic groups in China.
Opposing Ethnic Discrimination or Oppression of Any Form
Under the system of ethnic discrimination and oppression in old China, many ethnic minorities did not have proper names or names given in the spirit of equality. The names of certain minority-inhabited areas even carried the implications of ethnic discrimination or oppression. In 1951 the Central People's Government promulgated the Directive on Dealing with the Appellations, Place Names, Monuments, Tablets and Inscriptions Bearing Contents Discriminating Against or Insulting Ethnic Minorities, and such names, appellations, etc. were resolutely abolished. Some ethnic appellations not implying insults were also changed at the wish of the given ethnic group, for instance, the appellation of the Tong ethnic group was changed to Zhuang.
In China any words or acts aimed at inciting hostility and discrimination against any ethnic group and sabotaging equality and unity among peoples are regarded as violating the law. Any ethnic minority subjected to discrimination, oppression or insult, has the right to complain to judicial institutions at any level, which have the duty of handling the complaint.
China has joined international conventions such as The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, and Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and has conscientiously performed the duties prescribed in these conventions and made unremitting efforts together with the international community to realize ethnic equality and oppose racial segregation and ethnic oppression and discrimination in all countries of the world.
Upholding and Promoting the Unity of All Ethnic Groups
To safeguard equality among ethnic groups and enhance their unity, the Constitution contains provisions on the need to combat big-ethnic group chauvinism, mainly Han chauvinism, and local ethnic chauvinism. The state also educates all citizens in the unity of all ethnic groups. In literary and art works, films and televisions programs, news reports and academic research, China vigorously advocates the equality and unity of ethnic groups, and opposes ethnic oppression and discrimination, and especially big-ethnic group chauvinism. Besides, to prevent and eliminate big-ethnic-group chauvinism and inequality in the ideological field, the relevant departments and organs of the Chinese government have worked out special provisions to strictly prohibit contents damaging ethnic unity in the media, publications, and literary and art works.
Since the 1980s, the Chinese government and the relevant departments have held meetings to commend ethnic unity and progress, at which those units and individuals who uphold the equal rights of ethnic groups and promote harmonious coexistence and common progress and prosperity of ethnic groups are praised and encouraged.
Following the launching of a nationwide in-depth movement for the unity and progress of ethnic groups, in 1988 the Chinese government held the first national meeting to commend and give awards to units and individuals distinguished in this regard, at which the commendation involved 565 advanced collectives and 601 advanced individuals. At the second national meeting, held in 1994, a total of 1,200 model units and individuals were cited, and the third national meeting is scheduled to be held in Beijing in 1999. The holding of this kind of meetings has gone a long way toward inspiring the advanced, encouraging healthy trends and making ethnic unity become a powerful part of public opinion and a fine moral conduct in society. It has not only pushed forward the cause for unity and progress among ethnic groups, but it has also exerted a far-reaching influence on the maintenance of stability in ethnic minority areas and the nation at large.
Respecting and Protecting the Freedom of Religious Belief of Ethnic Minorities
China is home to many religions, mainly Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Most people belonging to ethnic minorities in China hold religious beliefs. In the case of certain ethnic groups religions are followed on a mass scale, for instance the Tibetans have Tibetan Buddhism as their traditional religion. In accordance with the Constitution's provisions on freedom of religious belief of citizens, the Chinese government has formulated specific policies to ensure respect for and safeguard freedom of religious belief for ethnic minorities and guarantee all normal religious activities of ethnic minorities citizens. In China, all normal religious activities, such as those of Tibetan Buddhism, which is followed by the Tibetan, Mongolian, Tu, Yugur and Moinba ethnic groups, Islam, followed by the Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Dongxiang, Salar, Bonan, Kirgiz, Tajik, Ozbek and Tatar ethnic groups, and Christianity, followed by some people of the Miao and Yao ethnic groups, are all protected by law. To date, there are more than 30,000 mosques in China, of which 23,000 are in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In Tibet there are over 1,700 places for Tibetan-Buddhism activities.
Use and Development of Spoken and Written Languages of Ethnic Minorities
All ethnic groups in China have the freedom and right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. In the 1950s, China organized specialists to make investigations of the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities, and established special organizations involved in work connected with the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities as well as institutions to research these languages, to train specialists in these languages, help minority people create, improve or reform their written languages, and promote the use of spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in every field.
Now, all the 55 national minorities, except the Hui and Manchu, who use the Chinese language, have their own languages: among them 21 use 27 languages, and more than ten ethnic goups, including the Zhuang, Bouyei, Miao, Naxi, Lisu, Hani, Va, Dong, Jingpo (Zaiva language family) and Tu, use 13 languages which have been created or improved with the help of the government.
The spoken and written languages of national minorities are widely used in judicial, administrative and educational fields, as well as in political activities and social life. In the political activities of the state, such as important meetings held by the NPC and the CPPCC, and national and local important activities, documents in Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur, Kazak, Korean, Yi, Zhuang and other ethnic minorities, and language interpretation to or from these languages are provided. The organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas all use one or more languages of their areas when they perform their duties. In the educational field the organs of self-government, in accordance with the educational principles of the state and the law, work out their local educational programs and decide on the languages to be used in teaching in the local schools. In schools with minority students as the main body and other educational institutions the languages of the ethnic groups concerned or languages commonly used in the locality are used in teaching. China publishes about 100 newspapers in 17 minority languages and 73 periodicals in 11 minority languages. The Central People's Broadcasting Station and local broadcasting stations use 16 minority languages, and regional, prefectural and county broadcasting stations or rediffusion stations use more than 20. As many as 3,410 feature films have been produced and 10,430 films dubbed in minority languages. By 1998, 36 publishing houses specializing in publishing for national minorities had published more than 53 million copies of 4,100-odd titles of books in 23 minority languages.
In China regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is a basic policy adopted by the Chinese government in line with the actual conditions of China, and also an important part of the political system of China. Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities means that under the unified leadership of the state regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established for the exercise of autonomy and for people of ethnic minorities to become masters of their own areas and manage the internal affairs of their own regions.
Autonomous areas for ethnic minorities in China include autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties (banners). 1)Autonomous areas are established where people of one ethnic minority live in concentrated communities, such as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; 2) autonomous areas are established where two ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities, such as the Haixi Mongolian-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province; 3)autonomous areas are established where several ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities, such as the Longsheng Ethnic Minorities Autonomous County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 4) autonomous areas are established within a larger autonomous area where people of an ethnic minority with a smaller population live in concentrated communities, such as the Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 5) autonomous areas are established for people of one ethnic minority who live in concentrated communities in different places, such as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province and the Dachang Hui Autonomous County in Hebei Province. For places where ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities but where autonomous areas and organs of self-government are not fit to be established because the areas and populations of the ethnic minorities are too small, ethnic townships are established so that the minority peoples there can also exercise their rights as masters of their homelands. Ethnic townships are a supplement to the system of regional autonomy.
By the end of 1998, five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties (banners) had been established, as well as 1,256 ethnic townships. Among the 55 ethnic minorities, 44 have their own autonomous areas, with a population of 75 percent of the total of the ethnic minorities and an area of 64 percent of the area of the whole country. The number and distribution of the autonomous areas are basically the same as the distribution and composition of the ethnic groups nationwide(7).
The following are the three reasons for China to practice the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities: First, it conforms to the conditions and historical traditions of China, because China has been centralized and united country over a long period of time. Second, over a long period of time China's ethnic groups have lived together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. The Han population accounts for the majority of the total population of the country, while the populations of ethnic minorities are in the minority. In the early period of the People's Republic of China, ethnic minorities only accounted for six percent of China's total population. In most multi-ethnic group areas the population of the national minorities is less than that of the Han people except in Tibet, Xinjiang and a few other regions. The national minorities are distributed over large areas, in more than half of the total territory of China. Economic and cultural contacts over long periods have evolved among them a relationship in which cooperation and mutual assistance, rather than separation, is the best choice for them. Third, following the outbreak of the Opium War in 1840, all the ethnic groups of China were faced with the common task and destiny of struggling against imperialism and feudalism and striving for national liberation. In the long-term revolutionary struggle against foreign enemies and for national independence and liberation, the various ethnic groups have developed a close interrelationship characterized by the sharing of weal and woe, and the common political understanding that the Han people cannot go without the minority peoples nor can the minority peoples go without the Han people or one minority people can go without another minority people. So a solid political and social foundation for the establishment of a united New China and the practice of regional autonomy in minority areas was laid in that period.
Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities conforms with the national interests and the fundamental interests of the people of all ethnic groups in China. The practice of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities has ensured their equal footing and equal rights politically and satisfied the desire of all the ethnic minorities to take an active part in nation's political activities to a large extent. According to the principle of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities, an ethnic group may establish an autonomous area in a region where it lives in concentrated communities, or it may establish several autonomous areas at different administrative levels in other parts of the country in line with the distribution of the ethnic group. The practice of regional autonomy not only ensures the rights of the ethnic minorities to exercise autonomy as masters of their homelands, but also upholds the unification of the state. It enhances the combination of state policies and principles and the concrete conditions of the ethnic minority areas and the integrated development of the state and the ethnic minorities, the better for each to give free rein to its own advantages.
The system of regional autonomy in China has two distinguishing features. First, regional autonomy is under the unified leadership of the state, and the autonomous areas are inseparable parts of China. The organs of self-government of the autonomous areas are local governments under the leadership of the Central Government, and they must be subordinated to the centralized and unified leadership of the Central Government. The concrete conditions and requirements of the various minority areas must be taken into full consideration and assistance and support solicited from all quarters when policies and plans are formulated and economic and cultural construction is conducted by the organs of state at higher levels. Second, regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China is not only ethnic autonomy or local autonomy, but is the integration of ethnic and regional factors and the combination of political and economic factors. The practice of regional autonomy in China should be beneficial to the unification of the country, social stability and the unity of all ethnic groups; it should also benefit the development and progress of the ethnic group that practices autonomy and assist in national construction.
The establishment of the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities has undergone long period of exploration and practice. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the first provincial-level autonomous region--the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region-- was founded in 1947. The Common Program of the CPPCC, adopted at the first CPPCC session on September 29, 1949 and serving as the country's provisional constitution, defined regional autonomy for ethnic minorities as a basic policy and one of the important political systems of the state. The Program for the Implementation of Ethnic Regional Autonomy of the People's Republic of China, issued on August 8, 1952, embodied overall arrangements for the implementation of regional autonomy for national minorities. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China adopted in 1954 and later amended and promulgated defines such autonomy as an important political system of state. The Law of the People's Republic of China on Ethnic Regional Autonomy, promulgated in 1984, contains systematic provisions on the political, economic and cultural rights and duties of ethnic minority autonomous areas. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, four autonomous regions were established successively: the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, founded in October 1955; the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, founded in March 1958; the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, founded in October 1958; and the Tibet Autonomous Region, founded in September 1965.
The Constitution stipulates that the organs of self-government of autonomous areas are the people's congresses and people's governments of autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. The establishment and organization of organs of self-government of autonomous areas are based on the basic principles of the people's congress system, but these organs are different from ordinary local state organs. The Law on Ethnic Regional Autonomy stipulates that all ethnic groups in autonomous areas shall elect an appropriate number of deputies to take part in the people's congresses at various levels; among the chairman or vice-chairmen of the standing committee of the people's congress of an autonomous area there shall be one or more citizens of the ethnic group or groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned; the head of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county shall be a citizen of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned, and the other members of the people's governments of these regions, prefectures and counties shall include members of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy as well as members of other ethnic minorities as far as possible.
While exercising the functions and powers of a local organ of state, organs of self-government in autonomous areas at the same time exercise other functions and powers as stipulated by the Constitution and the Law on Ethnic Regional Autonomy. These include legislative power, the power to flexibly carry out, or halt the carrying out of, some decisions, the right to develop their economics and control the local finances, the power to train and employ cadres belonging to ethnic minorities, the power to develop education and ethnic culture, the power to develop and employ the local spoken and written languages, and the power to develop technological, scientific and cultural and undertakings.
--The people's congresses of the autonomous areas have the right to enact regulations on the exercise of autonomy and separate regulations in light of local political, economic and cultural characteristics. By the end of 1998, 126 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and 209 separate regulations had been enacted by the autonomous areas.
--If resolutions, decisions, orders and instructions from the higher-level state organs are not suited to the actual conditions of the autonomous areas, the organs of self-government of these areas may be flexible in carrying them out or may decide not to carry them out after approval by the higher state organs. According to Article 36 of the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China, supplementary regulations have been worked out for carrying out the Marriage Law by the five autonomous regions and some autonomous prefectures in line with their own actual conditions. They changed the legal marriage age from "not below 22" to "not below 20 for men" and from "not below 20" to "not below 18 for women".
--Organs of self-government of autonomous areas may independently arrange and manage local economic construction within the guidance of state planning, and formulate policies, principles and plans for their economic construction according to their local characteristics and requirements. Owing to the adoption of a series of policies and measures suitable for the concrete conditions of local economic development, the economy of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has seen rapid development. In 1998, its GDP had reached 119.202 billion yuan, with a per capita average GDP of 5,067 yuan, and its revenue was 13.12 billion yuan, with per capita average incomes of 4,353 yuan and 1,981 yuan in urban and rural areas, respectively--increases of 9.6 , 7.5, 17.9, 10.4 and 11.3 percent(8).
--The organs of self-government in the autonomous areas have trained a large number of minority cadres, technicians, management personnel and other specialized personnel and skilled workers in line with the needs of national construction and brought their roles in work into full play. There were 372,900 minority cadres in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1998, accounting for 35 percent of the total cadres in Guangxi. The chief leaders of the governments of the 12 autonomous counties of this region are from the ethnic minorities exercising regional autonomy and the heads of the region's 62 ethnic townships are also from the ethnic minorities that have established such townships. Minority Party and government leaders of prefectures (cities), counties and townships in this region account for 26.92 percent, 39.71 percent and 48.03 percent of the total Party and government leaders of this region, respectively. Among the reserve cadres at the provincial, prefectural and county levels, minority cadres account for 46 percent, 32 percent, and 35 percent, respectively. In 1998, Tibetan cadres accounted for 74.9 percent of the total in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and at the regional, prefectural and county levels Tibetan cadres and cadres from other local ethnic minorities accounted for 78 percent, 67 percent and 62 percent, respectively. At the same time, cadres from the Tibetan and other ethnic minorities account for more than 60 percent in the scientific and technological departments.
--Organs of self-government of autonomous areas may decide their own local education programs, including the establishment of schools, the length of study, the forms of school running, course contents, language of instruction and procedures of enrollment and develop independently their own type of education based on their ethnic minority characteristics and within the state education policies and relevant laws (see Table 1). Before 1949, the illiteracy rate was upwards of 95 percent in Ningxia, and there was not a single institution of higher learning. But today, a rational multi-level educational system embracing different types of school that complement each other for coordinated development is in place in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. By 1998, there were 6,100 different kinds of schools in Ningxia, with a total of 1.3 million students. Among them there were five institutions of higher learning, with 11,000 students. As a result, in this region 89.5 percent of the people are literate. In old Tibet, there were no schools in the modern sense, and the illiteracy rate was 95 percent. But by 1998, there were 4,365 schools of all levels in the Tibet Autonomous Region. About 81.3 percent of school-age children now attend school, and the illiteracy rate has been reduced by 47 percentage points