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Jun 23

Don’t indulge our “race complex”

Written by Buxi on Monday, June 23rd, 2008 at 12:09 am
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Many are now aware there are 56 different nationalities in China. There is another lesser known community, however, that sometimes refer to themselves as the 57th nationality. (Some in the community actually hate that term… but we’ll get to that later.)  These are the Minkaohan (民考汉), ethnic minorities raised in Han-language schools alongside Han classmates. The term Minkaohan literally means “minority testing using Han”. With their perfect grasp of putonghua and numerous Han Chinese friends, Minkaohan are often the best economic achievers in their community, and a successful model of the Chinese government’s policies towards minorities. But with their non-Han faces, and with their inability to read/write their own language, they often find themselves uncomfortable in both communities.

Their fate, their experience is critical in understanding the future of multi-ethnic China.  Their support, their contribution is critical in building a China that lives at peace with itself.

This post (原贴) is from a regular Uygur poster at a Chinese forum dedicated to Minkaohan (民考汉论坛).  Most posters to the forum are Uygur and Kazakh.

Don’t indulge our “racial complex
I’ve been silent for several days; I’ve maintained my silence out of doubt.

These few days, I’ve been thinking a lot.  I’ve been thinking of my childhood; at the time, I was the only minority student in my class, and all of my friends were Han.  We went to school together, went home together, and played together.  In the alley where our home was, the left side was entirely Han, while the right side was entirely Uygur.  During hot summer evenings, everyone sat together cooling off in the courtyard, talking about every day things.  The alley was filled with harmonious laughs and chatter.

The couple across the street were both teachers, “old Xinjiang” (usually Han who have lived in Xinjiang since the ’50s).  Our families had excellent relations.  During the summer, when our fruit was ripe, we’d carry over some.  When they had vegetables they couldn’t finish, they’d bring it over…. later on, we moved away.  Although we never sold our home in that alley, we rarely went back.  After my parents retired, in recent years they’ve been spending their summers in that old home.  During the May 1st holiday this year, I also went back.  The couple across the street had moved away long ago.  The alley still had Han on the left side and Uygurs to the right, but, all of the Han were strangers.  My mom said, the old neighbors were all rotated back to their ancestral homes (inland China), and all of these were new emigrants.  The neighbors weren’t interacting any longer, we were all strangers to each other… what changed?

An incident let me understand the answer to that question.  That day, I had just gotten home, and were all in the courtyard.  Suddenly, a Han girl pushed the door open and came inside, asking, “Did anyone see a chicken?  Our chicken ran away.”  My dad was busy digging a drainage ditch said, “Sure, saw it.”  The girl paused for a second out of confusion, and then said, “Yesterday we forgot to close our front page, the chicken ran away… I’m asking door to door.”  She kept explaining.  My dad said again: “Sure, I saw it.” Haha, I know my dad’s got a sense of humor, loves to make fun of people… so I said: “Dad, stop teasing, she’ll think you’re serious.”  My dad said: “I wasn’t teasing, I really did see it.”  The girl stood there, not knowing what to say… so she kept explaining what her chicken looked like.  My dad laughed, and said, “I told you I saw it, your family’s chicken wandered into our home last night.  We were afraid it would eat from our little garden, but if we pushed it out, we were afraid someone else would eat it.  So, we put it in our chicken coop, and were waiting for its owner to come fetch it.”  Wow, he really had seen it!

The girl called over her husband, and they carried the chicken away.  As she left, she just muttered “that’s our chicken, we’re taking it!”  I was a little unhappy: “Not a word of thanks!  As if we were intentionally trying to hide their chicken?”  My dad said: “As long as they don’t suspect we actually stole their chicken, that’s already pretty good.  Who cares about thanks?”  I said: “Why’d you keep it!  You should’ve shooed it away last night.”  My dad said: “If that chicken really was lost, everyone in this alley would be a suspect, is that any good?  It’s good enough if they’re happy.”  Today, people and people no longer have that mutual trust.  They grabbed their chicken left; even if they ran into my dad later on, they probably wouldn’t even greet him… how could there be any neighborly feelings left?

As a Minkaohan, for a long time I’ve been in an environment where I work and live with Han.  I’ve never had any sort of hatred towards any other race.  I’ve also never had any sort of racial emotion… but I’ve found that both in life and work, only those “old Xinjiang” are really close to us.  And instead, those young Han who’ve just arrived, they’re all very arrogant, very aware of their racial identity.  They only interact with people from their own race, and don’t really interact with those from other races.  They also have a tendency to look down upon us, even if we make a minor mistake.  The sort of harmonious unity between races that used to exist in our work units?  That atmosphere has become history….

I used to never think about the past this way.  With work pressure and the constant competition in society, I don’t have the time to relax and really chew over these issues.  I came to this forum just to relax, have fun, be myself.  I’ve also heard friends introduce “Uygur Online” (ed: internet forum for Uygur just closed by the government, more details below); I logged in once, and I was scared away by the dark smoke (ed: it has a reputation for being heavy on angry racial rhetoric) in there, and I’ve never been back.  But now that forum has been closed, a bunch of characters from that forum have migrated here.  Our forum has been filled with Uygur Online topics for several days now.  Many have expressed their unhappiness at “Uygur Online”‘s suppression, and this leads to a battle of tongues…. I normally don’t care about these either, but after stumbling into these heated topics, I found myself quickly sucked into the discussion.  Only then did I realize that I had such a deep “racial” complex.

Looking at the forum, no matter what the topic of debate is, it always ends up being an issue of race.  When I see Han and Uygur debating, and then some excessive language… I grew really angry.  Some people are recklessly dragging in various conflicts, and endless debate around the topic of “Uygurs are so and so… Han are so so so… Koreans are so so so…. Because Uygurs are this way so Han are that way… Because Han are that way so Uygurs are this way…”  This kind of debate can have no conclusion, but quickly draws up hostile emotions on both sides.  To tell you the truth, for a few days, I was really angry at those Han debaters.  Their arrogant speech, repeatedly claiming they represented the Chinese government, that they’re the real masters of China, completely ignoring the feelings of all other minorities with the same legal rights as masters of China.

One person kept emphasizing: “If you’re anti-China, if you stir up trouble, if you curse Han people, I will … something something…”  An attitude as if he was China’s bodyguard, a sense that we had all become separatists, all supporters of Xinjiang independence.  I participated in some debates; although I knew I wasn’t much of a debater, but I have the same blood and flesh, and I felt a need to defend my own race, I couldn’t let others insult and curse at my race.  I wasn’t that extreme, and could only use my typical warm style to extinguish the fierce fires held by those extremists… but in doing so, I hurt myself.  I don’t deny that I have a “race complex”.  I’ve just discovered it these few days; seeing my compatriots cursed, I wanted to help.  When I saw my own race being cursed, I really couldn’t take it.  And at the same time, I realized every race has a race complex!

We can all calm down, and turn back and look at our own words and actions.

That way, in one of my short posts, I mentioned an idealistic world, an innocent online platform.  I have no interest in emulating Uygur Online, but I really hope for a fair environment where everyone can say their piece, say what’s in their hearts.  But that kind of environment can only be realized by thousands of users joining together… and now I realize how childish and immature that hope was.

These days, I’ve been silently thinking of many things.  All of this heated debate are all borne of one thing: all of us are indulging in our “racial complexes”.

All of us can reflect and reconsider.

Here, no one is anyone else’s enemy.  There are no Xinjiang-independence seekers here; there is no one looking to inflame racial emotions; and absolutely no one here threatening our motherland’s safety.  We’re on a platform where there are no class divides; no one is better than anyone else, no one is anyone else’s master  Don’t randomly accuse each other of crimes, and don’t push all problems onto race.  We should discuss issues on the basis of facts; we shouldn’t defend or protect perspectives that aren’t right; we should all try to be objective.  Don’t type without thinking.  Otherwise, we’ll all accumulate anger, and then we will become real enemies.  Can we all stop and think about what we’re doing?  Control your mouths, and control your keyboards.  Otherwise, we’re all criminals.

Don’t indulge your racial feelings.  Try to think about problems from the perspective of others.  Good and bad, how many of us can really clearly understand it?  Don’t think of yourself as an internet policeman; there are already professionals on the job.  Don’t hurt the feelings of other minorities; it’s not just you and me that are hurt, but our country will also suffer.  If you really love our country, then please don’t let your passions flow out in a flood; just maybe, the sentence you’re about to type without thinking could bring disaster to the country.  Everyone, let’s be more low key.

All of us, we don’t need to “take care” of each other.  We aren’t enemies.  We are just people of different races living in China.

Watch our speech, manage our “racial complex”, think before speaking, and then write what is in our hearts.  None of us represent anything, none of us are citizens above anyone else.  No matter which side you are, I ask that you forgive the extreme speech of others… just think of it as a black bubble that can’t survive in an atmosphere full of oxygen.


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55 Responses to “Don’t indulge our “race complex””

  1. Dan Says:

    Great piece.   Thanks for running this!

    The strangest thing in reading this for me was how much I could relate to it, having grown up in a racially mixed neighborhood myself.  And that is what made me so sad in reading this.  These feelings/relationships are not at all unique to China/Chinese; they are universal.

    I wonder if things really were better back when this person was a kid, or if it was (is?) just better among the kids. 

  2. B.Smith Says:

    Nice piece, very informative.  Is racism a topic that is very openly discussed among Han Chinese?  When I was teaching in China, we talked a lot about racism in America.  I asked a few times if there was racism in China; usually the answer was a resounding “No!”  However, on a few occasions some students said “Yes”, and a lively debate followed.  Racism is present in some degree or another in every country, but do most Han talk about it?  If not, is this due to thinking racism isn’t a problem, or is it because racism is an embarrassing topic? Just wondered your opinion. 

    Again, great post! This blog provides so many insights into China that aren’t easily found anywhere else online, at least in English. Thanks.

  3. ataraxia Says:

    Should we differentiate between Han chauvinism and racism or the two are just the same?

  4. Al Says:

    Talking about racism in China, I think it is a matter of definition.

    China do have a special type of racism, but not like that of American.

    I would rather call it locationism. The discrimination is largely based on someone’s birth place rather than his or her race and religion.

    For example, there are sayings like, Zhejiangese are dishonest businessmen, Beijingers have a bureaucratic mindset, Henanese are thiefs, Tibetans are splittists, etc. These kind of things are more location based rather than race based. That is to say, the Tibetan here only refer to these who are born in Tibet instead of Tibetan, even if he is Han.

  5. Song Wukong Says:

    Great post ! Good translation.
    This is a universal issue indeed, relevant to any place in the world…
    Thank you and keep up the good work!

  6. Anon Says:

    Interesting piece. I have been to Xinjiang and this article confirms my impression. More stuff like this.

  7. FOARP Says:

    The way he describes the attitudes of recent immigrants to Xinjiang reflects the attitudes of the average Han Chinese towards the Uighurs – can we please have no more people denying that this is racism, or trying to make out that this is any different to racism in any other country? ‘Locationism’ which operates against those who speak a particular language and look a certain way <b>is</b> racism.

  8. Buxi Says:

    @Dan,

    I wonder if things really were better back when this person was a kid, or if it was (is?) just better among the kids.

    I’ve read enough from other posters on that board to believe things really were better when this person was a kid. And if you read between the lines about Tibet, I think that was the case there as well. The question is why.

    I’ve had an epiphany on this point, after reading about “old Xinjiang” Han who integrated so well with others…

    – from the ’50s to the ’70s, millions of Han Chinese moved to Xinjiang, and thousands to Tibet. But the generation of Han Chinese who moved during those decades were idealists, educated, and often motivated Party members selected by the government. They were legitimately there to help the nation, help their compatriots (of all races). Many came in with the attitude of giving a helping hand; they learned the local language, they listened to Mao’s stern warnings about Han chauvinism… and they were welcomed.

    – from the ’90s to the ’00s, millions more have gone to Xinjiang and Tibet, in many cases replacing the older generations. But for many, their motivation is no longer to help (at least not in a direct personal way). They aren’t selected by a government sensitive about racial relations; they’re basically anyone ambitious and aggressive enough to move across the country into an area that’s hugely different from home. They’re there to personally profit. Many are now of “lower quality” stock, poorly educated, not understanding the law or the country’s policies towards minorities.

    If we can take the United States as example, earlier generations of Han were similar to the white liberals who joined the Civil Rights Movement and helped the black community out of idealism… leading to gratitude. Current generations of Han are more similar to the non-black immigrant businessmen who’ve come in and setup businesses in black areas… leading to hatred and anger (see: Korean-businesses in 1992 LA riots). By the way, despite all the Western pooh-poohing of Mao’s legacy, this history is why Mao is still remembered fondly in many minority regions.

    This is why I’m so optimistic. Although the PRC is 60 years old, this free intermingling between races is only about 15 years old. There will be rough patches ahead, but as long as our government policy remains firm, as long as we respect and support minorities, I think we will get past them.

  9. Buxi Says:

    @FOARP,

    Haven’t had enough discussion of racism, eh? Guess I should’ve expected it.

    I’m going to stick to my previous comments: there is a qualitative difference between Western racism and Chinese racism, but that doesn’t mean the Chinese are not racist.

  10. AC Says:

    @FOARP

    As Buxi explained in another thread, these attitudes are not based on race or skin color, these are prejudices based on stereotypes and ignorance, therefore it’s not the same as racism in the West.

    These stereotypes are no different from stereotypes on other people from different places in China. For example, “Henan ren are crooks”, “All prostitutes are from Dongbei or Sichuan”, “Wenzhou ren are realstate speculators who drive up housing prices”, etc. I am sure you have heard of these stereotypes when you were in China. Would you call these racist attitudes? Come on, the Uyghurs just happen to be a different ethnic group.

    Here are some “stereotypical maps” on Sun Bin’s blog, they are quite funny actually:
    http://sun-bin.blogspot.com/2008/05/stereotypical-maps-across-strait.html

  11. Buxi Says:

    Speaking of “indulging race complexes”… LA Times has this feature about rising tensions between Tibetans and Muslims:

    Andrew M. Fischer, a London-based Tibet scholar who is one of the few who has written on the subject, said the Tibetan exile community also was reluctant to publicize incidents that might harm the international image of Tibetans.

    “It is the dark side of Tibetan nationalism,” Fischer said. “It is almost as though the Tibetans are diverting their anger over their own situation towards another vulnerable minority.”

    Most of the incidents involve the Hui, who ethnically are Han Chinese but practice Islam. China’s 9.8 million Hui and 5.4 million Tibetans historically have lived in proximity, at various times fighting, competing or intermarrying and collaborating.


    The animosity dates to at least the 1930s, when Muslim warlord Ma Bufeng tried to establish an Islamic enclave in Qinghai. Tibetans were pushed off their lands, some executed or forced to convert. After the communists took over in 1949, tensions were repressed.

    Tsering Shayka, a Tibetan historian, said ethnic conflicts had resurfaced in recent years with the gradual liberalization of China, in particular the relaxation of travel restrictions.

    “What is happening now is that you have all this transient population. People are migrating here and there and coming into more and more day-to-day contact. In the past, they weren’t allowed to trespass into each other’s territory and you had no ethnic conflict,” Shayka said.

    Tsering Shakya’s explanation is another take on what I said above.

  12. FOARP Says:

    Strange, nobody was telling me to watch out for people from Henan, Zhejiang etc. when riding on the Nanjing buses.

  13. yo Says:

    Buxi,
    “Most of the incidents involve the Hui, who ethnically are Han Chinese but practice Islam.”

    I looked into this before and I think that classification is debatable. Meaning they are not Han Muslims, rather they are their own ethnic group, who are predominately Muslims. If you converted to Islam, you probably won’t be considered a Hui, but a Han Muslim. If you are Hui and don’t practice Islam, you are still Hui.

  14. Nimrod Says:

    I think the classification of Hui is based on historical self-identity (primarily due to religious differences of course) and not so much based on religion itself or race.

  15. Leo Says:

    @Foarp,

    it is very much because Henan fraudsters and Zhejiang real estate speculators don’t pick pockes on Nanjing buses!

  16. ataraxia Says:

    @FOARP:
    So you don’t know how Henan people are discriminated in China?
    There was a hug buzz about it on the internet.

  17. Buxi Says:

    I have been warned not to date women from Shanghai; I’ve been told not to do business with people from Wenzhou; I’ve been told by many taxi drivers that they don’t pick up single male passengers from Dongbei at night… oh, in Shenzhen, I was told not to be very careful with the taxi drivers from Chaozhou (an area of Guangdong with its own dialect).

    But I do think Uygurs get the worst of it. I visited Italy a couple of years ago, and I remembered being warned of “the Gypsies” in pretty harsh terms everywhere I went. That’s the sort of tone many people take towards young Uygurs in inland provinces.

  18. Nimrod Says:

    About pickpocketers, I should point out that at least I only hear people say “Xinjiang xiaotou” (thief from Xinjiang), never “Weiwuer zu xiaotou” (Uighur thief), though it is perhaps understood in inland provinces that “Xinjiang ren” are mostly Uighur (even if it’s not true). But it does help to delimit that the prejudice is regional, not racial.

  19. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – I’ve also been told not to expect much from the 大萝卜 of a certain city on the Yangtse (needless to say, almost entirely unfairly). A lot of these things seem to be a bit out of date anyway – Yangzhou womenfolk don’t deserve their reputation (sorry), Suzhou isn’t Heaven on Earth (Hangzhou is though), Shenzhen is no longer the go-go city everybody makes it out to be (but it is still as dangerous as everyone makes out), Changzhou food isn’t all that great (but 毛家菜 is pretty good).

  20. FOARP Says:

    @Nimrod – I guess they include Xinjiang Hanren in that warning too?

  21. Buxi Says:

    @FOARP,

    The reputation of Yangzhou’s 美女 is definitely more of a historical relic than reality. Many believe Chongqing is the real home of 美女 in modern China. I’ve been to Chongqing, but not long enough to decide whether that stereotype is accurate!

  22. CW Says:

    Several related questions:

    1) Where does regional identity in regions that are currently regarded as “Han” but were historically non-“zhongyuan” such as Guangdong and Fujian fit in with all this? Or have Guangdong and Fujian been too Sinicized (or is it Han-ized) for such issues to apply?

    2) Also, it is my understanding that historically (and for the most part, currently?), provincial (and local?) government officials were appointed at the central government level and sent to govern specifically in regions that they had no family ties to, as a way of trying to prevent regional warlords and corruption (a practice very much at odds with the ways of modern western representational governments, obviously). How would ethnic minorities’ rights and practices be brought forth as a concern WITHIN governments at various levels considering this practice?

    3) During the Tibetan unrest in recent months, the main regional spokesperson seemed to be mostly the Han (I assume) party secretary of (/in?) the TAR, while the ethnically Tibetan chairman of the TAR seemed much less visible. I have heard that the party secretary trumps the chairman in power, but how does this actually play out in practice? I would think that Buxi’s observations/translations in Comment 7 of the Political Unification entry regarding Han attitudes towards governance by non-Han probably would not apply for all Han, just as while many regard Barack Obama’s racial status as a non-issue, certain segments of the US population very much consider it an issue. Is Han tolerance (I hesitate to say “indifference” here) of governance by non-Han a reflection of historical attitudes, the “how far we have come” factor that analysts cite in the Obama case, a confidence of the majority population in their dominant cultural and political position, a combination of all these, or something else? (Certainly, governance of the Han by the Manchu was probably still a touchy issue a century ago; it definitely was a touchy issue with Jin Yong at the start of his literary career.) Do ethnic minorities generally hold similar views toward governance by Han or other ethnic minorities? Why or why not? And how may this be resolved considering 2)?

    Not looking for clear-cut answers here – I doubt any of this would be black/white in nature, but would appreciate some more insight.

  23. ann Says:

    I guess the Internet makes for ‘indulging in racial complex’, as most abusive exchanges on the net don’t have faces or names attached to them. Make people stamp their real names on their racial insults, I doubt if many bubbles of perceived racism (or ethnic chauvinism depending on your angle) won’t dissipate themselves. I am not saying we shouldn’t criticize or be proactive against discrimination, be it along the racial/ethnic or religious lines. But to take insults on the screen literally, personally, and especially on behalf of an entire ethnic group, seems to have the undesirable effect of fueling the flame. Also, before one turns any argument into a racial/ethnic standoff of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, has he tried to rationally back up his points with evidence or refute likewise? I agree we shouldn’t discount the hatred or ignorance behind some maliciously intended remarks, but to keep things in perspective, real cases of racism–e.g. when people are denied equal access to career or economic opportunities because of their color–are diluted when we jump at mere words on the screen and invoke racism.

  24. chorasmian Says:

    @CW

    Just try to answer your question with my personal understanding.

    1. The Han identity is majority based on cultural background, not on gene character. On the other hand, the genital ethnic should be Cantonese, Hakkas, etc. The customs and speaking language in Guangdong is very different to Zhongyuan. There was a joke in 80s said that if a conversation happens between a Beijinger and a Hong Konger, they have to speak English.

    2. This measure started hundreds years ago, though unnecessary in these days in my opinion. As Chinese tradition, the society works with clan as a basic social unit. While he can obtain loyalty from clan chiefs, the emperor don’t care much about the routine administration in villages, and such administration vary significantly in different area. That’s how we call it “君君,臣臣,父父,子子“ in Confucian (hope someone can explain this in English).

    3. I don’t know much in the authority. However, I can give you an example that ordinary Chinese don’t care much about the ethnicity of leader when they need to choose one. In 1989 64, within the top 21 leaders of of students, two of them are minority, one is Wuer Kaixi, an Uigur, the other is Wang ZhengYun, a Ku Cong Zu.

  25. yo Says:

    CW(or any one else),
    Can you give me some background for your first question. What do you mean when you say Cantonese people weren’t “zhongyuan”. Also what do you mean when you say they were “han-ized” implying they weren’t han before.

    thanks.

  26. chorasmian Says:

    @yo

    In Canton, there was a country call Nan Yue (南越)before Han dynasty, which was built by a Qin officer. The society there was definitely different to the people in Zhongyuan. Here is some information, hopefully you can read Chinese.

    http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%8D%97%E8%B6%8A%E5%9C%8B#.E4.B8.8E.E9.95.BF.E6.B2.99.E5.9B.BD.E7.9A.84.E5.A4.96.E4.BA.A4

  27. CW Says:

    yo,

    Cantonese people (and Guangdong/Canton) are still known as the Yue, in part due to its history as part of the Nanyue kingdom and also due to the original non-Han population. The first “Chinese” administrators in the region came during the Qin Dynasty, and the area became Sinicized through migration, conflict, intermarriage, and “cultural influence” gradually over the next few centuries while “zhongyuan” governments (Han, Sui, Tang, etc.) controlled the area at varying degrees. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guangdong#History) As I understand it, the original population of the area now known as Guangdong was not Han, and they were definitely not part of the “Yellow River Civilization”, whereas the region is largely regarded as a Han region – hence my use of “han-ized”. Or perhaps because the first administrators from the Yellow River region came before the Han Dynasty, “Han-ized” may not be quite the term to use here? (I DID use parentheses, after all.)

    Fujian may be a better example of a very extended period of Sinicization (or Han-ization?) and non-“zhongyuan”-ness. The original peoples were apparently Austronesians, and the area was only briefly brought under “zhongyuan” control during the Qin. As the area faded in and out of “zhongyuan” control, various local leaders and exiles from outside the region (especially in those periods when “zhongyuan” dynasties were falling apart) set up governments over the subsequent centuries – among them the Minyue, the Kingdom of Min, and even a short-lived anti-KMT Fujian People’s Government.

    Come to think of it, the term “zhongyuan” seems a rather difficult term to define – I associate it with the Loess Plateau, Yellow River, and the Yellow River Civilization. And none of those historically or geographically encompassed Guangdong or Fujian, which were the southern borders against the Yue peoples. Certainly, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, and Shandong would be considered “zhongyuan” due to the Yellow River, the various Spring and Autumn and Warring States kingdoms, and philosophical traditions that arose in the area. But I suppose then parts of modern-day Ningxia, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia would be considered “zhongyuan” despite their current significant ethnic minority populations?

    But then, what about Sichuan? Certainly, Tibetans and other ethnic minorities have long populated the region, and the Sanxingdui civilization is seen as “non-Chinese”. But the region’s role in the Three Kingdoms era and (as I recently learned) its claim to being the birthplace of Da Yu, founder of the “first dynasty” – the Xia – seems to make it a leading candidate for being part of “zhongyuan” despite certain elements of “non-Han-ness”.

    It’s certainly simpler to, as most seem to do, treat ethnicity, nationality, and racial identities as a static concept. But given the confusing picture I see in the cases of Guangdong, Fujian, and now that I think of it, Sichuan, that’s certainly not the case. Perhaps the simple explanation would just be “shifting identities/definitions/boundaries over time”?

  28. CW Says:

    Chorasmian,

    Thanks for the response. Now for even more questions:

    1. You stated that the Han identity is mostly based on cultural background, not genetics – but as you yourself pointed out, customs and spoken language may vary greatly in many parts of China – the wheat versus rice divide being one example. So how should Han be defined? The written language tradition from Qinshihuang and on seems a prime candidate, but certainly non-Han living in China – and nowadays even people overseas are learning the language.

    2. Not sure if the practice of appointing non-locals to high-level local government positions is necessary or not these days. Certainly, however a government is put together, corruption seems an issue everywhere in the world, but corruption levels certainly vary, and the merits (or lack thereof) of this traditional practice are an interesting question: how successful was this as an anti-corruption method in general? Why is this practice still in place (as I believe it still is) today in China? And again, how would this effect local ethnic relations, if at all?

    3. Yes, I’ve heard of the example that you mentioned. But how does the dynamic change, if it does at all, when the group in question consists of members of a minority? (I probably would hope that people have “progressed far enough” to “not care”, but I still believe it a valid question to consider – in the case of China and in many other parts of the world.)

    I don’t have the answers; hence the questions. Anyone care to try them out?

  29. Buxi Says:

    1) Where does regional identity in regions that are currently regarded as “Han” but were historically non-”zhongyuan” such as Guangdong and Fujian fit in with all this? Or have Guangdong and Fujian been too Sinicized (or is it Han-ized) for such issues to apply?

    There’s little dispute that the people of Guangdong and Fujian are considered Han, and have been for many centuries. The history of the Yue is part of the reason why many people consider Han a cultural definition rather than an ethnic one; there are substantial genetic differences (comparable to Europe) between Northern/Southern China.

    For better or worse, the definition of Han and non-Han have been crystallized in the modern era by first the “five races” of Sun Zhongshan, and later the 56 nationalities of the People’s Republic of China. If you weren’t fortunate enough to be listed in those 55 minority nationalities, then you are Han in the minds of most contemporary Chinese. (And this applies to “distinct” peoples like Kejia/Hakkas, Minnan/Hoklo, Chaozhou, etc, etc.)

    2) Also, it is my understanding that historically (and for the most part, currently?), provincial (and local?) government officials were appointed at the central government level and sent to govern specifically in regions that they had no family ties to, as a way of trying to prevent regional warlords and corruption (a practice very much at odds with the ways of modern western representational governments, obviously). How would ethnic minorities’ rights and practices be brought forth as a concern WITHIN governments at various levels considering this practice?

    My grandfather, as it happens, was born in Kashi/Kashgar in southern Xinjiang, the son of a minor Qing official from Anhui appointed to the region. But this practice is mostly imperial in nature, and has changed substantially in modenr China.

    Not sure what your question is exactly, but local government in Xinjiang and Tibet are primarily made up of local nationalities, and never rotated away. As far as corruption control, it still seems to be government policy to rotate away the provincial, and major city leadership every 5 years or so. I’m not sure it’s really effective in this day and age; thanks to bank wire transfers and forged invoices, you only need to be corrupt for a week to make a few billion dollars these days… in the imperial days, you needed years to accumulate gold gradually.

    3) During the Tibetan unrest in recent months, the main regional spokesperson seemed to be mostly the Han (I assume) party secretary of (/in?) the TAR, while the ethnically Tibetan chairman of the TAR seemed much less visible. I have heard that the party secretary trumps the chairman in power, but how does this actually play out in practice?

    I’ve heard quite a bit from the Tibetan governor and vice-governors of Tibet in the Chinese press in recent months. Note, by the way, that not all TAR party secretaries have been Han… the name escapes me (someone here probably knows it), but in the mid ’80s the Party Secretary in Tibet was a minority… I want to say Zhuang, but I’m not sure.

    As far as how does it play out in practice… there’s unlikely to be serious policy disputes between governor and the party secretary, but if there were one, everyone is fully aware that the party secretary has veto power.

    I would think that Buxi’s observations/translations in Comment 7 of the Political Unification entry regarding Han attitudes towards governance by non-Han probably would not apply for all Han, just as while many regard Barack Obama’s racial status as a non-issue, certain segments of the US population very much consider it an issue. Is Han tolerance (I hesitate to say “indifference” here) of governance by non-Han a reflection of historical attitudes, the “how far we have come” factor that analysts cite in the Obama case, a confidence of the majority population in their dominant cultural and political position, a combination of all these, or something else?

    I believe it’s something of all of the above. Historically, Chinese dynasties have rarely been racially pure (at least while the Han were in power). The second emperor (and real founder) of the Tang dynasty Li Shiming, for example, was half-Xianbei. He and his descendents relied heavily on non-Han generals, advisors, and governors throughout their realm. Subsequent dynasties have had basically a similar legacy. The Ming dynasty is the only Han Chinese dynasty this millenia, but one of the most famous characters from that era is the admiral Zheng He, who happens to be Muslim Hui.

    That’s not to say the Han haven’t fought against “foreign invasion”… the invasion of the Jin, the Mongols, and the Manchus… each of these left us national heroes that we all remember. But once the invasion was done and over with, once the invaders got back to the business of ruling effectively, there was never any sort of underlying hatred at being ruled by foreign occupation. The extremely racist policies of the Manchu, combined with its failure to rule effectively, led to much anger around the end of the 19th century… but this was never deeply rooted.

  30. Nimrod Says:

    The anger with the Manchu in late Qing seemed to be primarily about failure to rule effectively.

  31. andyjh Says:

    Buxi,

    Firstly, it’s interesting that you use ‘race complex’ to title this piece. I assume this is translated from 民族? I wonder why you went for ‘race’ rather than ‘ethnic-‘ or ‘national minority’, as they are referred to in political and popular discourse? Clearly using ‘race’ makes it easier to talk of racism, but race is doubtless socially constructed anyway, and ‘neo-‘ or ‘cultural racism’ – that is, independent of phenotype – are in fact terms more representative of contemporary modes of discrimination.

    Secondly, it’s interesting that the very existence of 民考汉 demonstrates the dynamism of ethnicity and rather contradicts the statism of the ’56’ categorisation which has become hegemonic in Chinese discourse. Are they self-defined as such or has this term been more of an outwardly imposed taxonomy? Does the emergence on this ‘group’ offer a glimmer of hope for any of the other hundreds of unclassified ‘groups’?

  32. yo Says:

    Thanks for the info guys.
    Guangdong people not considered “original” Han, wow! I would say though, if you would like to define a Chinese person in the U.S., it would be a Cantonese person 10 years ago. Now, it might be a Fujian person. Both of which you guys are saying were not “original Hans” so to speak.
    It never ceases to amaze me how diverse China is.

  33. chorasmian Says:

    CW,

    Thanks for tolerating my English. Though a detailed academic argument is beyond my English level, as you can tell from my grammar mistakes, I will try my best to give my thoughts.

    How should Han be defined? It is an interesting question as no one can give a clear answer. In my opinion, it should be discussed separately before and after western philosophy introduced into China. In ancient Chinese society, before the concept of ethnic introduced in late 19th century, anyone lived under Confucius rule (ritual?礼) is a Han, and was strengthened by Keju (科举), in which literacy is essential, regardless where he was born, what language he spoke (the ancient written Chinese can’t use orally anyway). As a result, many non-Han people were included in Han when they adapt to Confucian. What happened to Cantonese nearly 2000 years ago is an example, at least convenient for me as I am Cantonese. The non-Han weren’t extincted by people from Zhongyuan, but just emerged into it. Han was actually an ethnic melt pot. The DNA stereotype of Cantonese nowadays is closer to Southeast Asian than northern Chinese. You may argue that in the case of Manchu, they are non-Han but believe Confucian after established Qing dynasty. That is only because Manchu are treated better than Han in Qing dynasty. Given western culture hadn’t entered China in 19th century and it was overthrown by another dynasty, Manchu will follow the path of XianBei, QiDan to become part of Han. The Hui ethnic in China aren’t Han who believe Muslim as Andrew M. Fischer mentioned; they are offspring of Arabic traders lived in China more than 1000 years ago. Because of their religion, they are never part of Han. However, things changed since late 19th century when western culture/politic system entered and defeated Confucian system, sadly though. Everyone need to have a country (No, we didn’t have the concept of country before that), so we have the Empire of Great Qing and the dragon flag, and Republic of China later on. Moreover, everyone need to have a ethnic (we didn’t have this concept either), so we have an ethnic identity known as Han. Since then on, Han have a genetic meaning differ from its origin. Most importantly, at least from my point of view, Confucian waned since Keju and 私塾(Confucian education system? Need help here) was abandoned and the connection between Confucian rule and community members was cut. Compare to this, the impact of Cultural Revolution is only superficial. To sum up, I agree with you that the ethnicity in China was “shifting identities/definitions/boundaries over time” in the past. However, it became a static concept in industrialization era thanks to western civilization influence, for better or worse.

    Regarding the non-local high level local government position occupier, as what I know, it is still working in province level only, not the county level. For instance, the current chief of Shangri La County (Zhongdian Xian) is Tibetan, and only one of the six vice-chiefs is Han. The real purpose of this measurement in empire days was preventing rebellion, because ancient Chinese society basically functions on clan level. You know how Liu Bei started his career to a king in Three Kingdom. Anyway, I can see no reasons to carry on this policy, probably just because of inertia? Hope you can give me some enlightening.

  34. Buxi Says:

    @yo,

    I’m not an expert on this (and I’m not sure an answer even really exists), but I’ve heard from some that Kejia (Hakkas) are the most “pure” Han out there. They’re the descendents of the central plains who have migrated south with every foreign invasion, the most prominent being the Jin invasion that destroyed the Song dynasty.

    But as I read on another Chinese forum debating racial identities… “zhonghua minzu” as a term makes sense to many because, how many of us can possibly define our racial origins? None of us are new migrants to the territory that is modern China. How many of us can claim with a serious face that we don’t have Tujia blood, or Manchu blood, or Mongolian blood? How many Manchus, Mongols, Tujias, Uygurs can claim that they don’t have Han blood? We’ve been fighting and marrying back and forth on this part of the world for 3000 years.

    @andyjh,

    I’m not at all an academic, so I really am not clear how 民族 “should” be translated in official or popular discourse. Even in “popular” laymen terms, I couldn’t possibly explain to you the difference in meaning between race/ethnic/national minority. I picked “race” purely because it flowed easier in the context of this article.

    The term is self-defined by the minkaohan; I had never heard of it as any sort of community identifier until I read this forum, and heard Kazakh and Uygur minkaohan talk about how well they related to each other. But if you read the forum, you can still get the sense that the 56 categorization is “hegemonic”, as you say. Many other minkaohan are very sensitive to the idea that they should be described as a new category, different from their “mother” nationality. If you’re “minkaohan”, then you’re no longer Uygur… and that’s the ultimate betrayal!

    I really believe China needs to reconsider this national categorization practice. It’s really solidifying racial boundaries that should no longer be so firm. The children of Han-Uygur parents should be able to think of themselves as both Han and Uygur, instead of being forced to identify with only one or the other. Minkaohan should be able to refer to themselves as Uygur-Zhonghua, without feeling any sort of conflict between the two.

    I will translate an excellent essay later from the guy who runs the forum (a Uygur teacher in Xinjiang), who talked about his conflicted feelings as minkaohan.

  35. Buxi Says:

    Confucian waned since Keju and 私塾(Confucian education system? Need help here) was abandoned and the connection between Confucian rule and community members was cut.

    I don’t think you need any help, you explained it very well. 🙂

    私塾 (sishu) is the traditional form of education in China (and all of east Asia really) until the 20th century. It’s basically a private school run by scholars, in which reading and Confucian values were taught to children.

  36. CW Says:

    Thanks for answering my questions, chorasmian and Buxi. And chorasmian, don’t worry about your English – it certainly would be considerably better than most English-speakers’ Chinese. 🙂

    And yo – yes, I also consider it ironic that the most well-represented Chinese regions in the US these days are previously (VERY previously) “outsider” regions. Although obviously, given the comments on this thread, the “original Han” designation is very much a fluid one – even more so than the “native American” one used by anti-immigration groups. Your knowledge gap in regional Chinese history is probably a common one, even in born-and-bred Chinese – the area is simply too large and the history too long for most people to fully grasp without years of study. I myself certainly will admit to many such knowledge gaps – but hey, I’m learning.

    Back to my original questions:

    1) So…Buxi, I take it that the short version of your answer would be that formerly outlying regions such as Guangdong and Fujian have been too well- and too long-Sinicized to be regarded as non-Han in the modern sense of the term, on top of official designations by Sun Zhongshan and the PRC?

    2) From chorasmian and Buxi’s responses, I take it that currently, only the top-level provincial and city leaders are rotated around the country and/or region. No, I have no idea why this systems still seems to be in place – I can only think of the anti-corruption and anti-warlord concerns from imperial times. But I still wonder: How effective a practice is this (for both the locale and the official) how, considering potential issues regarding corruption and cronyism AND varying local concerns that may take many years to fully grasp? That is, aside from development and more development, the geography, history, and cultural/ethnic dynamics of the autonomous regions vs other inland regions vs northern industrial strip vs coastal regions would vary quite a bit. Or do lower-level officials take care of such things while the top guy is more on a learning tour of country while potentially being groomed for a top central government position?

    3) Hmm, I like the “effective rule” measuring stick for the government, regardless of ethnicity. Hope this would be the case everywhere and with everyone…but it’s hard to please everyone, and obviously some people still have biases – deserved or not – on government and official rulership based on ethnicity. In the case of China, I wonder how much of a concern this might be among different segments of the population – there doesn’t seem to be (correct me if I’m wrong here) actual data. Come to think of it, even IF there was such a study, the resulting uproar in the fenqing and anti-China (or is it anti-PRC? or pro-Tibet? pro-Uighur?) camps would likely be horrendous, depending on who does the study, what the results are, and what conclusions are drawn…

    But I still think that it’s a question that could be kept in mind.

  37. CW Says:

    “The children of Han-Uygur parents should be able to think of themselves as both Han and Uygur, instead of being forced to identify with only one or the other. Minkaohan should be able to refer to themselves as Uygur-Zhonghua, without feeling any sort of conflict between the two.”

    So…perhaps a Tiger Woods category? But a “mixed” designation would also bring complications – to go mainstream (Han) or exotic (non-Han) with its associated affirmative-action (for lack of a better term) policies or well, neither? What about children who come to associate more with one or the other? Messy issue!

  38. BMY Says:

    If we talk about the people in Guangdong and Fujian , they were not very Han pre Qin even pre Tang-Song. But after the massive migrants from Zhongyuan to these area during Tang-Song because of the wars in Zhongyuan, the Cantonese,Hakkas, Minnan/Hoklo, Chaozhou are more Han than people in Zhongyuan who were largely mixed with normands Turkic, mogol, NuZhen etc tribes . That’s how the name of Hakka(客家) came from.

    the majority of people from Guangdong,Fujian and Kejia have family trees can be traced back to Zhongyuan.
    the Cantonese,Hoklo, Hakka dialects are the Han dialects most close to what Han people spoke in ZhongYuan in Tang-Song era.

    The northern Han dialects are the Han dialects/accents were largely influenced by ancient Turkic, Nuzhen,Mongol,Manchuria accents during the variate times of immigration/invasion from the grassland in the north.

    The Beijing dialects, which is the mandarin dialect based , is far more closer with Heilongjian accent than the surrounding HeBei dialect. It’s basically the Han language accent carried by Manchurian.

    So Present day Cantonese,Hakkas, Minnan/Hoklo, Chaozhou people are more Han than we northern Han like me in terms of Han language and some sub Han culture.

  39. chorasmian Says:

    @Buxi

    I think the roles Sishu (私塾) played in ancient China is much more than just an educational school, that’s why I can’t interpret it with a simple English phrase. It is a vehicle to deliver the complicated Confucius Ritual (礼) to almost every Chinese, providing spiritual counseling service similar to Churches in Christian community, helping unliterated people making agreement, working as a counselor to clan chief when settling interpersonal conflict. Moreover, it can provide the most talented grass rooted youth a chance to get into ruling class via Keju (科举) and lessened the possibility of future rebellion. With these functions, Confucian deeply rooted into Han’s minds. The significance of abandoning it to Confucian is so huge that just imagine what Christian could be if all churches and priests disappeared.

  40. opersai Says:

    @CW

    I think Buxi and shorasmian explained the Guangdong/Caton situation to you pretty good already. But I’d like to just point out one thing.

    Cantonese people (and Guangdong/Canton) are still known as the Yue, in part due to its history as part of the Nanyue kingdom and also due to the original non-Han population.

    Today in China, each province is assigned a character, like Guangdong is yue(粤), Shanxi is jin(晋), they all have historic references and roots. Still calling Gongdong yue today isn’t a sign Cantonese isn’t Han.

  41. booya Says:

    The comments above about “locationism” are a smoke-screen. The point about racism is that it’s not just a set of attitudes or stereotypes, but a practice of discrimination which disadvantages certain groups of people based on their race/ethnicity. So, when the Chinese government adopts policies which specifically target the Uyghurs, (confiscating passports anyone?), they are behaving in a racist manner. Surely that’s not so hard to accept?

    The fact that other groups of people in China are discriminated against on the basis of their home-province simply shows that there are several different forms of discrimination operative in China. It certainly does not prove that there is no racism towards Uyghurs.

  42. Buxi Says:

    So, when the Chinese government adopts policies which specifically target the Uyghurs, (confiscating passports anyone?), they are behaving in a racist manner.

    I’m not aware of blanket confiscation of passports from all Uigurs. Can you provide more information or details on this?

  43. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – There was a confiscation of passports to prevent unauthorised individuals taking part in the haj last year, I think it was pretty widespread.

  44. booya Says:

    The confiscation of Uyghur passports has continued up until the present. Not only that, Uyghurs living abroad who travel back to China for short visits risk having their passports confiscated at the airport, thus not being able to leave China again. Whether or not it is hajj-related, or Olympics-related is a matter for speculation. According to my information, Uyghurs have been told that their documents will be returned after the Olympics, but many believe that they will be retained, and that Uyghurs who wish to travel abroad will have to go through a convoluted bureaucratic process each time they wish to make use of them. Time will tell, of course, but the act of confiscation is already a grossly discriminatory policy. Han in Xinjiang face no such constraint on their ability to leave Xinjiang and ineract with the outside world.

  45. Buxi Says:

    @Buxi – There was a confiscation of passports to prevent unauthorised individuals taking part in the haj last year, I think it was pretty widespread.

    They’ve been controlling access to the hajj for decades, and from what I understood, this applies equally to all Muslims, not just Uigurs.

    I’d like to see Booya tell us the source of “his information”. Are you speaking specifically of Uigurs living abroad, or Uigurs in China? Uigurs are a huge part of the central Asian economy; literally tens of thousands, if not more, cross the border every day. They’re a critical part of the Chinese diaspora in central Asia. I have a hard time believing that trade has been completely shut off, and passports confiscated from all Uigurs.

  46. Booya Says:

    @Buxi,

    There really is no room for scepticism here. The “source” of my information are the Uyghurs I know and interact with on a regular basis. If you had the opportunity to talk to an Uyghur about this issue you would hear exactly the same thing. I guess your comeback will be to insinuate that they are fabricating these stories in some way.

    A non-Uyghur resident of Urumchi corroborates my statement regarding the continuing confiscations here: http://www.thenewdominion.net/199/police-stationed-attacked-in-sangong-三宫-hui-village/

    Of course they haven’t confiscated every single Uyghur passport in China. That would be quite a feat of logistics. Apparently cross-border traders from places like Atush have been able to carry on their business. That doesn’t alter the fact that large numbers of Uyghurs have been effectively barred from traveling abroad, and large numbers living abroad have been dissuaded from returning.

    Finally most Uyghurs would be offended to be referred to as part of the “Chinese diaspora” in Central Asia. I suggest you modify your terminology accordingly.

  47. Buxi Says:

    @Booya,

    Are the Uygurs you know and interact with on a regular basis in China, or are they overseas?

    In this case, I’m not even looking to have a broader debate about race, I’m just trying to understand the specific campaign that you claim exists. I don’t see why it would be a “feat of logistics” to confiscate every single Uygur passport in China. They could simply stop Uygurs at border crossings, if that was the policy. But since you admit they haven’t confiscated these… then *who*’s passports are being confiscated? Is it arbitrary? If cross-border traders can carry on their business, then who can’t?

    So, again, can you give us more specifics?

    Finally most Uyghurs would be offended to be referred to as part of the “Chinese diaspora” in Central Asia. I suggest you modify your terminology accordingly.

    I have no intention of modifying my terminology. There are many Uigurs, my fellow Chinese, who would be offended if I didn’t refer to them as part of the extended zhonghua minzu diaspora. Their opinion matters far, far more to me than those who don’t see themselves as being Chinese.

    China and Xinjiang isn’t a mysterious place. If you look at the top of this post, it’s the link to a busy forum with hundreds of Uygurs (almost all of whom I would offend if I claimed they were not Chinese). I’ve searched through their messages, and there’s nothing about confiscation of passports.

    Here is one post discussing the topic on a different Uygur forum:
    http://www.dewir.cn/bbs/read.php?tid=3857
    No one has any personal experience with a passport being denied; one person reports his friend just received a passport in order to travel to Japan, but might have been “the last batch for 2008”. There might be difficulties getting passports in Xinjiang in general (for all races), and the first author recommends trying in any other province, where there has been zero problems so far for Uygurs.

    Last summer (June), a new passport law was enacted. And apparently in Xinjiang, there might have been a policy to hold and then issue replacement passports. And looking through the foreign press now, looks like Uygur activist groups overseas claimed that this represented an attempt to oppress Uygurs and break their overseas links.

    The news/discussion in the 13 months since that point makes it clear to me at least, that this is exactly the sort of biased, inaccurate propaganda this forum exists to eradicate. Are these Uygur activists the Uygurs that you know?

  48. Booya Says:

    @ Buxi

    What’s the point of giving you more information if you ignore the evidence I have presented? Since you obviously didn’t bother to read the post I linked to, here are the relevant lines:

    “For the last three weeks, the passports of non-Han citizens in Xinjiang (with, of course, certain exceptions for well-placed individuals) have been collected by government officials, to be returned after the Olympics are over.”

    A quick perusal of this blog should convince you that this is not the word of an “Uyghur activist”.

    By the way, there are 56 minzu in China, and last time I checked the “Zhonghua” were not one of them. It’s funny to see such a stout defender of CCP ethnic policy adopting categories drawn from the textbook of Guomindang assimilationism.

    If you’d rather align yourself with the Uyghurs who feel proud to be part of the “Zhonghua minzu”, that’s your choice, but I suspect you’ll be rather lonely out there.

Trackbacks

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