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China’s Race Problem

How Beijing Represses Minorities

Unfree Tibet: near the Jokhang Temple, in Lhasa, Tibet, March 2014 Reuters / Jacky Chen

For all the tremendous change China has experienced in recent decades—phenomenal economic growth, improved living standards, and an ascent to great-power status—the country has made little progress when it comes to the treatment of its ethnic minorities, most of whom live in China’s sparsely populated frontier regions. This is by no means a new problem. Indeed, one of those regions, Tibet, represents one of the “three Ts”—taboo topics that the Chinese government has long forbidden its citizens to discuss openly. (The other two are Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989.)

But analyses of China’s troubles in Tibet and other areas that are home to large numbers of ethnic minorities often miss a crucial factor. Many observers, especially those outside China, see Beijing’s repressive policies toward such places primarily as an example of the central government’s authoritarian response to dissent. Framing the situation

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