Authorities Bolster Ethnic Unity Campaigns, Promote Spreading Party Policy During Ethnic Minority Holidays

August 9, 2010

In recent years, the Chinese government and Communist Party have strengthened "ethnic unity" campaigns as a vehicle for promulgating Party policy on ethnic issues and for imposing state-defined interpretations of the history, relations, and current conditions of ethnic groups in China. Campaigns and official documents promoting "ethnic unity" have imposed far-reaching controls on freedom of expression in China. After central government and Party authorities issued guidance on ethnic unity in 2008 and 2009, authorities publicized a new document this July to further strengthen ethnic unity. The new document appears to intensify past measures by calling on authorities to use the "traditional holidays" of ethnic minorities to promote state ethnic unity campaigns. The recent guidance follows a major speech by President and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao in September 2009 on "promoting ethnic unity" and "realizing common progress," which he delivered in the wake of protests and riots in Tibetan areas in March 2008 and in the far western region of Xinjiang in July 2009.

One government commission and two Party offices jointly have issued a new document to further strengthen "ethnic unity" in China. The Central Propaganda Bureau, United Front Work Department, and State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) adopted the Opinion on Further Launching Activities To Establish Ethnic Unity and Progress (Opinion) on February 1, 2010, but did not appear to release the full text of the document until July 2010. (For an earlier news report about the document, without the full text, see a March 4 article on the SEAC Web site.) The document follows the release of national guidance in late 2008 and 2009 on promoting propaganda and education on ethnic policies and on ethnic unity education in schools.The Opinion also comes after a September 29, 2009, speech by President and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao that stresses "promoting ethnic unity" and "realizing common progress" among ethnic groups in China by accelerating development among ethnic minorities and in ethnic minority areas. (Xinhua, via PRC Government Web site and translation via Open Source Center, subscription only, CPP20090929119001.) The new Opinion cites the importance of implementing the spirit of Hu's speech in its preface.

The Opinion continues in the tradition of other recent guidance by connecting ethnic unity to other state aims of "upholding stability" and the "unification of the country." Following the 2008 opinion on promoting propaganda and education on ethnic policies and 2009 trial program on ethnic unity education in schools, the new Opinion also calls for strengthening "propaganda and education" on ethnic unity and integrating unity education into school curricula (Point 3(3) of the Opinion). In addition, the Opinion calls for using ethnic minorities' "traditional holidays" to promote activities to promote ethnic unity, a focus not seen in the two other recent documents and in Hu Jintao's September speech. Point 3(5) of the Opinion calls for "fully using ethnic minorities' traditional holidays and adopting many types of effective forms to launch activities on the establishment of ethnic unity and progress and to promote exchange, understanding, and unity among all ethnicities." It also calls for "enhancing the excellent traditional cultures of each ethnic group" while "strengthening the vitality and creative power of Chinese culture" [zhonghua wenhua]. Echoing a similar sentiment in Hu Jintao's September speech, Point 3(5) concludes with a call to raise a sense of cultural identification with the Chinese nation [zhonghua minzu]. In another difference from the earlier documents, the new Opinion also calls for including the establishment of activities promoting ethnic unity and progress as a major part of assessments of leading cadres' work (Point 4.1).

The Opinion also calls for "firmly handling in accordance with law" all criminal cases, regardless of the ethnic groups involved (Point 1(2)), a provision consistent with provisions in China's Constitution (Articles 4, 33) and Criminal Law (Article 4) establishing equality before the law. A July 11 article in the Hong Kong-based, PRC-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao reports, however, that the Opinion establishes a shift from Communist Party Central Committee document Number 5, issued in 1984, that promotes "fewer arrests and death sentences" and "more leniency" in cases involving ethnic minorities. It is unclear, however, to what extent authorities have followed the document (which does not appear to be publicly available) since its reported issue in 1984. Trends in anti-crime campaigns and detentions among Uyghurs and Tibetans suggest that the document's call for "fewer arrests and death sentences" and "more leniency" in cases involving ethnic minorities has not been followed as guiding policy as applied to these groups in recent decades. (See the sections on Xinjiang and Tibet in past CECC Annual Reports for more information, as well as an analysis on endangering state security cases in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.)

Other goals of the Opinion include promoting economic and social development among ethnic minorities and in ethnic minority areas (Point 1(2)). The stated focus comes during the 10th anniversary year of the Great Western Development project, a development initiative directed at a number of areas in China that include large non-Han populations. Authorities have announced new plans for continuing the program in the coming decade. (See, e.g., a July 7 China Daily report.) Central government and Party authorities also convened major meetings on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of China to discuss initiatives there to promote development and "stability." The new Opinion also calls for establishing and commending "model" localities, organizations, and people who contribute to "undertakings on ethnic unity and progress" (Points 3(1), 3(2)). Hu Jintao gave his September speech at a meeting to commend "model" collectives and individuals for their contributions to undertakings to promote ethnic unity and progress, and localities and offices throughout China have reported on similar ceremonies during the year. (See, e.g., a November 18 article from the Henan News, via the Henan government Web site, a November 19, 2009, article from the Dalian News, and June 11, 2010, article from China Police Net.)

For more information on conditions for the 55 groups the Chinese government designates as "ethnic minorities" or "minority nationalities" [shaoshu minzu] and for more information on ethnic unity campaigns, see Section II-Ethnic Minorities in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.