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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The implications of government policy and identification of minorities in China Hickson, Dayna Dione


The government of the People's Republic of China officially recognizes China as being composed of 56 nationalities . China's 55 minorities only make up 8.8 percent of its total population, while the majority, the Han, compose approximately 91.2 percent (Gladney 1991: 223). This investigation of minorities in China attempts to reveal that the government has adopted special policies for its 55 recognized minorities. The reasons for, and the consequences of minority policy will be addressed, as will the complex relationship that exists between the minorities and the Han majority. Finally, the policies themselves and their utility will be examined in order to ascertain whether the policies have been beneficial and to whom. The methodology used in this investigation consists of participant observation and personal interviews. I travelled to North-East China's Jilin Province, where I conducted ethnographic research. This fieldwork focussed on the Chinese-Korean minority living in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, and is used to put the scholarly literature into perspective. The Korean-Chinese hold a special position, unlike no other nationality in China. Not only are the Korean-Chinese fairly recent immigrants, but their educational levels are believed to be the highest in the nation, considerably higher than national averages (Lee 1986: 3-4, 117). The birthrate of the Korean- Chinese is also highly commended as it is the lowest of any one nationality, including the Han (Gu and Zhao 1994: 19). Thus, although the Korean-Chinese can be used to show the linkages between the literature and fieldwork, one must not forget the special circumstances that they enjoy, which I elaborate upon further in this thesis. Essentially, through examination of the literature and the ethnographic fieldwork I have conducted, several conclusions are put forth in this thesis. First, special policies exist that favour China's 55 minority groups over the Han majority. Second, these policies could have been enacted for several reasons. These include: 1) to allow China to continue along the socialist path; 2) as an attempt to correct past injustices; 3) to increase the overall standard of living of China's citizens; 4) to provide defence against border attack; 5) to reduce minority discontent; 6) to promote a better image of China; 7) to relieve population density problems in urban areas; 8) to allow China to better exploit its natural resources; and 9) to promote national unity, and loyalty and reduce local nationalism and Han chauvinism. Third, these policies benefit both parties, with no one party being totally dependent on the other. Finally, although some authors disagree (Gladney 1991; Mackerras 1994), it will become apparent in this thesis that minority policy in China has been successful for the most part.

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