China's Minority Report

When Racial Harmony Means Homogenization

A Tibetan woman carries a child, November 18, 2015. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

During his report to the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang took the time to comment on China’s social goals. In doing so, he reiterated what has become the cornerstone of ethnic policy under Chinese President Xi Jinping: “the acceleration of interethnic contact, exchange, and mingling”—in other words, the blending of peoples through mixed marriages and other forms of social and cultural exposure.

In China, the nation is fundamentally conceived as a biological union, or what Xi calls “a large family” with a long and rich history of “conjoined bloodlines.” In recent years, Xi has repeatedly stressed the need to speed up the pace of cross-ethnic exchanges—with exogamy, or marriage outside one’s own ethnic group, viewed as an important indicator of success. Interethnic marriage, party officials believe, will reduce ethnocultural differences and strengthen identification with a single, shared Chinese culture and identity.

This policy has attracted widespread controversy and debate, particularly among its Uighur and Tibetan minorities, who feel this top-down push is simply a way for the Chinese government to erase their identities. Pundits and civilians alike have persistently noted concerns about the erosion of minority cultures and languages, which are protected by the Chinese Constitution and are vigorously defended by many minority elites inside China. But for most Han Party officials, ethnic assimilation is a historical inevitability—the endgame of economic and social modernization.

And yet the regime’s obsession with ethnic mixing, especially recently, signals an underlying anxiety. Horrific acts of ethnic and religious violence, such as the 2014 Kunming train station attack, in which a number of Uighurs stabbed Han Chinese, and the spate of Tibetan self-immolations, have rattled the public and cast serious doubts on the Communist Party’s claim of interethnic harmony. The rift between the Han ethnic majority and the Tibetan and Uighur minorities in particular seems to be widening.

A celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Xinjiang Uighur

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