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Q. and A.: James Leibold on Ethnic Policies in China

posted Feb 7, 2015, 4:35 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 7, 2015, 4:37 PM ]

Excerpt from the full interview published in The New York Times:

"In an interview, Mr. Leibold discussed the origin of the Chinese government’s ethnic policies, its efforts to control the borderlands where most ethnic minorities live and its demands that Muslim women remove their veils. 

A veiled Uighur woman at a food stall in a market in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in August.

                                  A veiled Uighur woman at a food stall in a market at Kashgar, Xinjiang, in August. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Q. When did China begin classifying people according to ethnicity?

A. The distinction of groups by language and culture started in the imperial era. More recent attempts to “scientifically” classify people began with foreign adventurers and naturalists who traveled around southern China during the Republican period, and this gets picked up in the People’s Republic of China and mixed with Marxist taxonomies.

It became more sophisticated and institutionalized under the Communists but reflects Qing dynasty policy on ruling through local customs — recognizing ethnic chieftains, co-opting them into the state in exchange for titles and money.

The system that runs today is still based on ethnic patronage. “We’ll recognize you as ethnic minorities and, if you’ll play by the rules of the game, we’ll reward you with certain benefits. But if you resist, the boot awaits.” This is what the Qing called combining imperial grace (en) with might (wei), or what we might call a carrot-and-stick approach to ethnic governance.


Q. Does the government see there’s a problem?

A. No. The biggest problem is the inability to admit mistakes and problems. Xi [President Xi Jinping] just claimed in late September at the Central Ethnic Work Conference that current policies are correct and ethnic relations are basically harmonious. This is consistent with almost every statement issued by the Chinese Communist Party. But across the globe there are ethnic problems and you first have to admit it. Only by admitting shortcomings can you talk about them and seek solutions. But in China you don’t get to first base. No one talks about it. But the party does do a good job in putting on the screws."


Full NYT interview can be found here:

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