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Minority and religious groups in China : explaining discrepancies in state response Taynen, Jennifer Emily

Abstract

The People's Republic of China has long demonstrated significant variation in its treatment of the diverse ethnic and religious minority groups that exist within its borders. Specialists in Chinese Regional Studies, especially those whose research focuses on Chinese ethnic minorities, tend to attribute this discrepancy in policy to ingrained racism or Han-chauvinism within the state apparatus. In contrast, Political Scientists tend to hypothesize that the state varies its policies to respond to groups that show the potential to mobilize and pose a threat to state authority. Here, anticipated observations for each explanation are used to create two models that trace how 1) state racism and 2) perceived mobilization potential would result in the state instituting more repressive controls over a minority group. The critical distinction between the two explanations requires that state attacks (literal or figurative) be identified as either primarily symbolic or primarily strategic. Five cases from the Chinese Communist context are examined with reference to these models. Religious minority status is held as a constant among all the cases selected. Within the cases, variability is found in the levels of ethnic distinctiveness from the Han Chinese majority. While there are many minority groups that could have fit these criteria, the cases highlighted here are the Tibetan Buddhists, the Chinese Buddhists, the Uighur Muslims, the Hui (Chinese) Muslims, and the Falungong. It is concluded that in the first four cases, the strong correlation between levels of ethnic distinctiveness and levels of state repression suggests that state racism plays a significant role in informing state policy, the same does not hold true for the Falungong case, and once state attacks are further broken down into symbolic and strategic actions, there is strong evidence that both state racism and state fear of minority mobilization play a role in informing the Chinese state's actions.

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