In fact the central government never really has integrated the minority populations into the Chinese populace.
For example watching the 4-hour 2008 Chinese New Year’s broadcast to the now more than 1.6 billion population: after a brief introduction to the evening's program, four well-known television personality hosts wished the audience a "Happy New Year" and initiated the first choreographed program of the evening by stating: "China is a multinational country, 56 different nationalities, like 56 different flowers. The many nationalities wish to extend to all of you a Happy New Years through a special Tea and Wine Happy New Years Toast!" The program follows with first Tibetans, then Mongols, Zhuang, Uzbek, Korean, Wa, Hui, and other minority dancers presenting Buddhist "hata" (scarves), other minority gifts, and cups of tea and wine to the studio audience, singing their native songs in their native languages, with a Chinese translation superimposed on the television screens as subtitles.
In striking resemblance to the tribute offerings of the ancient Chinese empires, the minorities, sing and perform ritualized prostrations as they offer their greetings to the studio audience, who appear to be largely members of the Ha majority. They appear so, because the studio audience is uniformly (as if in uniforms) dressed in conservative suits with ties, Mao jackets, or other formal attire, which is in marked contrast to the "colorful costumes" of the minority entertainers.
We (2008 World-Journal) couldn’t help noticing however that that though the Hui do not possess their own separate language, and are known for eschewing the "songs and dances" by which many minorities are iconographically represented in China, in this program they sing and dance just like the rest of the performers. Instead of detailed lyrics from a traditional New Year's folk song (of which there are none), the Hui sing their traditional Arabic greeting, A'salam Alei Cum, over and over again. The Chinese subtitles translate this formulaic greeting as "Pengyou Nihao" (Friend, hello).
As multinational, China portrays itself as democratic, claiming "autonomous regions, prefectures, counties, and villages" based on the Soviet model, but in name only, since the Chinese constitution does not allow true geopolitical secession-something perhaps the conservative Russian right-wing now wish Stalin would have thought of when he approved a Soviet constitution that allowed for political secession of the (now former) republics. The myth of democratic representation is critical to China's construction of itself as a modem multinational state, distinguishing and distancing itself from the ancient feudal Chinese empires that did not allow for representation.
Given public criticism over China's treatment of Tibet, it is not surprising that Tibetans are often represented as the most willing subjects of Chinese "democratic liberation." In a 1985 issue of the state-sponsored Nationalities Pictorial, a Tibetan is portrayed as happily voting, as if they really did control their own destinies. The caption reads: "Happiness Ballot." In another published painting in the sane issue, several minorities are portrayed on the Great Wall, happily proclaiming in the caption: "I love the Great Wall"-though the Great Wall was primarily built to keep nomadic peoples out. It is also interesting to note that in this figure clearly geared for school children, the figures on the Great Wall, with one exception, are clearly Muslim: the men wear Turkic and Hui (Muslim Chinese) Islamic hats, and the woman is veiled. The oddman out strangely enough is an African. Perhaps he is represented on the wall with the other minorities to represent their ethnic solidarity; more seriously, perhaps it is to emphasize their corporate "primitivity" (i.e., promoting the idea that China's minorities are like "primitive" Africans), which is key to understanding the position of the minorities in the Marxist-Maoist scheme.
The popularity of this discourse is evidenced by a widelly distributed film directed by Suen Wan and Guo Wuji, 1992., Amazing Marriage Customs' (Jingu Hunsu Qiguai, literally "Strange modern and ancient marriage customs"), distributed by the Nanhai Film Company. Filmed entirely in China with government support, the film is a survey of marriage customs throughout China, with a heavy dose of minority practices, especially in Yunnan. What is noteworthy about the film is not the typical exoticization and eroticization of minorities , but the deliberate structuring of the film along stage evolutionary theory. At the beginning of the film, we are shown primeval visions of a neolithic past and the emergence of primitive mankind. The narrator intones:
Following the "matrilineal" section, the film introduces the Uyghur Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. "Islam," we are told, "respects patriarchy and husband right." And "women are subordinate." The final scene begins with views of the Tiananmen and Forbidden City and, against a background of Han couples dating in the park, the narrator states:
The characteristic of modem marriage is freedom, monogamy, and equality between sexes. The law of marriage stipulates ... No force on either side. Or a third party interfering! Love is most essential in modem marriage. Having love affairs [tan lianai, lit., "speaking about love relations"] is a prelude of marriage. In the countryside of Beijing you may observe this wonderful prelude.
The film then notes that in a "modem large" city it is often difficult to find a mate, and therefore computerized dating is featured as a "modem" solution for finding a mate. The film culminates with a grand mass wedding of 100 couples, dressed in formal Western attire, who were actually married at the Beijing Hotel as a result of successful computerized matchmaking. The narrator concludes: "Monogamy means equality between the sexes. This harmonious union of love, marriage, and sex life notes the result of evolution in history."
The minorities play a very important role in China's official vision of history, nationality, and development. Their "primitivity" contrasts with supposed Han "modernity." Minorities become a marked category, characterized by sensuality, colorfulness, and exotic custom. This contrasts with the "unmarked" nature of Han identity. "Hanness" for the Chinese connotes civility and modernity, and this is perhaps why more "educated" minorities such as the Manchu and Koreans, are never exoticized as sensual or primitive. The Han, though they supposedly comprise 91.2 percent of China's population, are rarely described or studied as Han per se, whereas whole research centers and colleges are devoted to the study and teaching of minorities in China. Anthropologists of Euro-American society have begun to note a similar process in the unmarked majority category of "whiteness." Majorities, according to Virginia Dominguez's revealing study of Louisiana Creole identity, become "White, by definition" (Dominguez White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole.1986). It is only the so-called "ethnics" (a term in the Oxford English Dictionary that comes into the English idiom as denoting "heathen"), who are marked by "culture." Majorities by extension, become denaturalized, homogenized, and essentialized as "same." This is particularly true, it seems, of Asia, where large blocks of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are thought to be "homogeneous."
By contrast, as Richard Smith ("Mapping China's World: Cultural Cartography in Late Imperial Times," in Wen-hsin Yeh (ed.), Landscape, Power and Culture in Chinese Society. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, China Research Monograph, 1998,49.) has shown in his work on mapping in China, distinct boundaries were not a feature of Qing Dynasty maps, which showed no obvious borders separating China from, or clearly delineating the individual kingdoms and territories of, mainland Southeast Asia as Russia, India, and Central Asia.
Even those strongly tied with the "center" of the "Middle Kingdom," as Han scholars, writers, and officials, are likely to have visualized its boundaries not as distinct linear borders, but more as horizons of influence and contact. This notion is reflected in such terms for "boundary" as fen-ye, a compound of a character meaning to divide or part, and another character, ye, meaning both "wild" and "open country" and in another common character for boundary, fie, can also denote scope, extent, and realms. Similarly, Khmer and Burmese terms for boundaries existed in the nineteenth century, but like the Siamese terms analyzed by Thongchai Winichakul, these signified "areas, districts or frontiers" (Thongchai Siam Mapped: The History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. University of Hawai'i Press, 1994: 75) and none correlated with the British notion of a "boundary" as a line.
In nationalist movements, maps have served as a highly potent weapon in turning linguistic and religious groupings into new national entities, not least because they give an explicit visual dimension to the idea of a nation. As Michael Herzfeld writes, maps "furnish emergent ethnic solidarities with expressive force and direction" and with what he terms the "carefully guarded spaces of cultural intimacy from which they may later emerge in resplendently militant and public form" (Herzfeld Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. London and New York: Routledge,1997: 13).
From the 1860s to 1890s, maps formed part of China's self-strengthening movement, and study associations, books and journals devoted to geographic and cartographic issues burgeoned in China, as they were in England, France, and other European centers. Not until the late Qing did Chinese cartographers begin to produce their own colorful, modern looking maps (Smith 1998: 91). Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5 struck the final death-blow to Chinese cartography. From now on, as Smith writes, "Chinese nationalism affected in fundamental ways the rendering of geographical space by cartographers in China" (Smith 1998: 74-75).
The roots of this go back to way, times past, when Chinese Ming emperors demanded tribute from surrounding nations and maintained land-based trade routes southward into Southeast Asia, northward into the Mongolian and Russian steppes, and westward into Central Asia.
As for and twentieth-century China, from the slaughter of Eight Banner garrison populations in 1911, through the ethnic-tinged events of the revolution of 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s --the history of ethnic conflict in China is known.
Hence where for example in the United States -- immigration brought in new minority populations which were steadily blended into an American identity-- ethnicities in China where added to the country by conquest of surrounding territories.
A lack of integration next, has left the core of China with a constant sense of insecurity that continues to be reflected today in its national policies. It also leaves China less concerned overall about security threats from abroad than about domestic ones -- whether they are real or imagined.
Modern History of Ethnicities in China
From a socio-historical point of view the roots of this lie, with the Communist revolution of the mostly Han in 1949, saw no logical contradiction in a non-Chinese dedicated to the realization of socialism in China. Figures such as the Mongol party leader Ulanfu and the Uyghur historian Jian Bozan became icons of the supracultural struggle to make China a land where all peoples could live free of imperialism, feudalism, and superstition. In the era of the universal Qing emperorship, an inclusive model was, theoretically at least, available for all ethnies within the state. Second, in its administrative arrangements, the People's Republic over the course of the 1950’s enacted a new version of the successive Qing-style indirect rule in the Southwest, by allowing autonomous zones and ethnically defined cooperative units to function within the socialist state. This accommodation, however, went along with central intervention-as in Qing times-in family organization, extended social structure, and household registration. The difference was the substantially greater political resources at the disposal of the PRC.
The PRC effort at classification also resonated with Qing efforts but went a good deal further. Like Qing officials (following the early efforts by wartime refugee writers in the Nationalist Southwest), PRC leaders set to work to describe and classify the non-Han populations, the great majority of which are concentrated in the Southwest. The fifty-five non-Han minority nationalities defined by a variety of criteria in the 1950’s, generally with the participation of minority representatives, have been little modified in spite of many inconsistencies and complaints. In some cases local officials have dragooned people into adopting particular identities. Nevertheless, official pressure and arbitrary categorization have not been able to suppress the much greater number of self-conscious ethnic groups that persist (through the official perquisites accruing to a minzu) within large multidialectal and territorially noncontiguous nationalities like the Yi and Miao. In another form of local response, imposed ethnic categories have taken on a life of their own, notably through the creation of self-dignifying ethnic histories receding to prehistoric times for such groups as the Miao, the Qiang, and the Yi. At the individual level there has been considerable fluidity in ethnic identification within the fifty-five nationalities, as people classified as Han have taken advantage of the favorable treatment of minzu and adopted minority designation. It is clear, then, that people, as communities and individuals, continue to show the ingenuity our chapters have noted in earlier periods, as they pursue their interests in particular local conditions.
There has been a marked oscillation in ethnic policy, before and after 1949, as alternative rhetorical orthodoxies succeeded each other, much as they did among Qianlong officials dealing with Miao, Li, and Sino-Muslim policy. Should ethnies be treated differently, for instance in birth control? Should there be assimilation, or separation and favorable treatment for their own protection? Should they be protected? The period of tolerance in the 1950’s was followed by vigorous efforts to suppress ethnic and religious customs in many parts of China (during the Cultural Revolution, hand-copied Tibetan scriptures in northern Sichuan were systematically searched out and burned), and to integrate minorities under Han control (the floating population of Dan was formed into land-based brigades). From the 1980s the policy of forced assimilation gave way to liberal policies that allowed minorities more generous birth-limitation rules than local Han, and permitted local Han to cross over and change their ethnic registration, an opportunity that many took. Flexibility and variation are the hallmarks of recent decades. Except in the Maoist period, PRC policies may have been as dependent on local variation as under the Qing, and have allowed as much agency.
The role of images of ethnic minorities on current Han self-identity also recalls Qing patterns. The old, self-serving sense of Han superiority to minorities persists as postsocialist ethnic tourists seek out the sights of the backward interior, but now the ethnic periphery appears as a nostalgic older China fast forgotten in the industrialized East, as a place where they can participate vicariously in China's ancient traditional culture and define their own modernity. The same optimism persists in the Han view of the non-Han periphery, but the goals have shifted. While eighteenth-century Qing officials classified the southwestern peoples by their customs and arranged them along a scale from barbarian to civilized, the leaders of postsocialist reform use the new binary of traditional and modern; this follows the rhetoric of the Republican era, except now it aims at a Chinese way to modernize. These ambiguities and breaks, which draw attention to the special nature not only of China's minorities but of characteristic rhetorical and political methods of coping with them, demand further exploration.
The dwindling commitment to socialist transformation has brought much relief to many quarters, but those familiar with the content of this book will quickly notice several ominous developments for culturally diverse communities or ethnically identified individuals. Lacking the universalist pretensions of the early PRC, the national political culture often reverts to Han chauvinism, or more precisely to narrowly nationalistic, culturalist, and perhaps even racialist criteria. Since the early 1980s, popular slogans on village walls no longer extol the revolution, but call for revitalization of the "Chinese nation. How to define membership is once again challenged and negotiated. Another trend is the resumption of large-scale movements of Han from the East, not to the Southwest as in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but to Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia. Whether by design or not, the results have been similar: economic ascendancy of Han merchants and friction, growing Chinese cultural influence, and easier central control, but at the expense of some local resentment. The prevailing tendency, as in Qing times, though uneven, is toward Chinese cultural influence; even when local languages are permitted in the schools, they are secondary to Chinese, and the younger generation, anxious to get ahead, is likely to turn away from traditional folk arts. The growth of ethnic tourism offers a stimulus to some folk arts but channels them away from community significance and mingles them with the dance and costume styles adopted by other minority nationalities.
This does not imply a drift toward the extinction of self-conscious ethnic groups. Cultural impoverishment and assimilation need not lead to loss of identity at a time when minority identification continues to be advantageous in many regions. New types of identity may even be appearing in the interstices between wealth and poverty, between internationally connected and locally isolated communities, generating new lines of affiliation and hardening them into practices of exclusion, rejection, or even eradication.
When the organizational machinery of the empire was thin in the late imperial period, cultural languages of inclusion and exclusion were most powerful in the face of economic and cultural change that had blurred boundaries. In the final analysis, difference must have a value for living communities in the competitive struggle for survival. Interesting questions follow: Have the language of class and revolution in the Maoist period and the language of reform and liberalization in recent decades added other layers of complexity in local identity formation?
Where are the internal frontiers and peripheries in contemporary China? Commerce and consumerism are certainly among the factors generating new dynamics of identity-whether "ethnic" or "gendered" or ‘cultural’ or ‘religious’ in the still distinct spheres of the city and the countryside. More than in the early modern period, laborers and other migrants (now estimated to number more than a hundred million) moving between these spheres demonstrate an awareness of difference that recalls the underlying mechanisms of more traditional forms of identity. In an era of unprecedented change, given local agents' eagerness to position themselves advantageously, what cultural capital is at their disposal?
While the concept of ethnicity is certainly modern, it is clear that, empire wide, Chinese cultural and local identities have undergone repeated shifts and transformations in recent centuries. Imperial policies, could simultaneously promote cultural diversity and assimilation, and the different strands in imperial discourse, or the spaces beyond the imperial gaze, allowed many individuals and groups the flexibility to redefine and relocate themselves. There is much evidence, while China's leaders continue the search for a unity that is as inclusive as empire yet as integrated as the nation-state, and while its diverse population responds to the opportunities and pressures of post-socialism and globalization, that all these uncertainties and spaces persist.
China and the contiguous territories of the Qing empire during the 18th Century remind us that the positioning fundamental to ethnicity (as contrasted to cultural change generally) is strongly associated with the ideological, historicizing, legitimating, and establishing powers of the state. At both the central and local levels, the Qing empire's agents had the options of revising or reviving earlier identities, but not surprisingly, the choices were shaped in large part by perceptions of who was where and who did what in the imperial narrative.
But local subjects often eagerly subscribed to its authoritative cultural language in order to establish their respective places in an expanding empire. In the Pearl River delta, those identified as Dan fishermen eagerly shed their ethnic labels as the political economy of the sands' reclamation allowed them to rapidly accumulate land and cultural capital. Their ability to do so was closely tied to material circumstances occurring at distinct points in time. There is some parallel to the case of the begs of the Western Frontier, whose ethnicity made them ideal commercial brokers-and leads the historian or anthropologist toward the chronological and conceptual frontiers of urban identities. These traders maintained monopolies with strong networks reinforced by personal, linguistic, religious, and community ties that not only bound them to each other but also distinguished them from possible commercial rivals in the Qing cities.
Although to be ethnic is not necessarily to be economically subordinated, the mate brought by Han migrants. In the more remote and hilly areas of southeast China, peoples of many backgrounds (Yi, Miao, and Dai, among others) have adapted to Han immigration and now practice a mix of extensive and intensive agriculture, or hunting and gathering. In north China, cultural fluidity is characteristic of the edges of the sown lands, across which peoples of Inner Asian origins have repeatedly been forced to migrate by political, economic, or environmental circumstances, or lured by China's agricultural wealth or opportunities for trade. Cultural diversity reflects not just a legacy of particular traditions or the attenuation of Chinese influence in remote areas; it is probably also the result of adaptation to different ecological settings and the emergence of new dialects and cultural practices.
In the Tang, Liao, Jin, and Yuan periods, diverse, historically defined groups were loosely united (though not made equals) through their special relationships to the ruler ship. Nevertheless strong ideas of a phenomenal boundary to civilization persisted- though, in the case of the Miao boundary region (Miaojiang) in the Southwest, it was conceived as transitional to civilization. In addition to external frontiers like the northern trans-mural steppe/sown zone, the oases of the Northwest, and the hilly Southwest, we can speak of internal frontiers, thinking of such remote regions as northern Lingnan in Ming times, west Hunan up to the eighteenth century, and the reclaimed sands of the Pearl River delta.
In case of the Taiping rebellion: a novel combination of economic stresses and political anxieties permitted ambitious rebels to exploit latent resentments in the minority group. The initial success of the movement created new reinforcement for playing the "ethnic" card, and though it was eventually dropped in favor of more cosmopolitan propaganda, by then it had left a deep enough impression on events to perpetually recommend itself to the historian as an explanation for the Taiping appeal. Anthropologists, in particular, have been able to re-work this scenario, with an understanding that ostensibly "ethnic" identities can actually be generated by conflict and competition.
The search for affiliation in struggles for resources or status leads to the conscious reification of differences that previously had been subtle, negligible, or ambiguous. Along with this come symbols, genealogies, and narratives. While such ethnic differentiation is by no means exclusively a modern phenomenon, as, it may have occurred more freely as the empire's authority shriveled, especially in much of the periphery, which state institutions barely reached. The explanation, then, may not be one of deep and enduring differences out of imperial control, but rather one of newly generated differences springing from the empire's inability to stem rising inequality and social friction. Moreover, the absence of organized state power could trigger other forms of ‘state-making.’ In much of the historical Pearl River delta, where state institutions barely reached, local populations joined the empire through cultural ingenuity, by borrowing the empire's language to create niches of social mobility.
To question the obverse aspect of the state intervention in identity dynamics: how did groups such as the Manchu and Hanjun banner people survive the demise of imperial authority and become ethnic groups? No identity can be wholly artificial, if ubiquitously represented in historical narrative and reinforced by administrative practice. In other words, no individual can fully control his or her "ethnic" status. There are some choices to be made, but in the end a good deal of ethnicity is in the eye of the beholder. Banner people of the mid-nineteenth century who received no material support from the state and lived in communities that shared economic activities, public festivals, and social solidarity with civilian neighbors may have considered their banner affiliations to be only nominal. Indeed, the Qing court in the later nineteenth century did all it could to alienate a majority of banner men-to drive them off the salary rolls and when possible out of the garrisons, encouraging them to take up new trades and become civilians (min). It is possible that in an economy with more opportunities, the Manchus would have dispersed and disappeared as an identifiable group. This is what many families did, despite the economic hardships of relocation and persisting unemployment. But the record suggests that many banner people of the later nineteenth century, particularly after the Taiping War, consciously chose to either abandon their communities or rebuild them. Attachment to the historical meaning of "Manchu" identity and its association with the history of the empire was not unimportant, but the communities that rebuilt themselves-and the literate men who designated themselves Manchu rather than just ‘Bannerman’-were involved in building a new identity that was not exclusively delimited by the prescriptions of the Qianlong and earlier courts. The Manchu identity that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century derived from the multiple sources of the surviving banner communities, the Qing imperial historical narrative, and the counterexample of Chinese nationalism. For all that, it might have faltered had the Chinese revolutionaries of 1911-12 not decided to fuel their own liberation through the targeting and in many cases literal extermination of Manchus. Once targeted, former banner people were not only reinforced in their self-definition as Manchus, but also acquired a history of victimization and grievance that is common to ethnic conceptualizations, both early modern and modern.
Manchus and some Mongol groups of the very late Qing period found themselves shifted to the cultural, economic, and ideological periphery that other groups in Qing society had occupied for centuries. Outside the zone of state definitions, historicization, and incentivization, individuals and communities had greater latitude to choose- or simply to drift toward-more crystallized "ethnic" identification, or else back toward the cultural center. In few instances were there indelible physical markers (what in other societies would constitute the social phenomenon of ‘race’) or insuperable barriers to assimilation. The presence of ethnic identity and vivid cultural differentiation in China today, and the historical record of cultural variability there, is a testament to the complex dynamics at work in the periphery. Not all individuals or communities were propelled there or toward the center. The influences affecting convergence and divergence were vital through the Ming and Qing periods, and remain vital in the new century, when we see, despite the spread of literati traditions and better communications, not a homogenization of the peoples living in China, but new differentiations and fissures. The mosaic has largely to do with particular historical conjunctures of "becoming" for China's populations.
In case of the Uigurs, the marked variety of Muslim life and identity in the Qing empire suggests another zone of ethnic invention in late imperial China, that of the urban centers. Though China is famous in comparative history for the size of a few of its urban centers before modern times, China was nevertheless overwhelmingly rural, and remains so today. Nevertheless, Chinese urban centers had long histories as crucibles of the social and cultural change that accompanied the long-distance trade patterns of Eurasia. The Muslim communities of Kaifeng, Nanjing, Guangzhu, Hangzhou, and Beijing had long histories documented by travelers as well as officials. They were in many ways the antecedents of the sojourner, landsmann, or ‘subethnic’ communities that have attracted so much attention recently. Such communities, occupying nexuses among class, culture, lineage, communications, and commerce, have flourished and multiplied with the explosion of transport and trade since 1800. These urban ethnicities are regarded by most scholars as emblematically modern, and the urbanization of "traditional" identities-best known among the Manchus and the Uyghurs is seen as the threshold where conventional ethnography ends and cultural studies begins. The flourishing of urban cultural enclaves since 1800 clearly represents certain continuities with the more multifaceted, porous, negotiated, ambiguous, and dynamic local identity processes of earlier times, like the Siu and Liu for example, and Chan studies of definition and redefinition beyond the proscriptions of the state.
In this respect, the history of Qing China's transformative cultural communities is an index of the dramatic changes in identity criteria and "ethnic" conceptions from the imperial to the republican periods. After the destruction of the empire in 1911, the definition of "China" and the criteria for inclusion moved from the focal point of emperorship to the contiguities stretching out to the new boundaries of the nation. National legitimacy was now to be sought in aspirations toward a common political culture, one perplexingly posited on criteria of being "Chinese" and wishing justice for "Chinese" on the international stage. Did this mean all were to be subordinated or assimilated to the Han Chinese?
In those parts of China where Guomindang writ ran by the 1930’s, ethnic groups had to cope with the Nanjing government's uncomfortable mix of culturalist and racist ideology. The sense of these two notions of political community’s is analogous to the twin strands of imperial ethnic policy in regard to the eighteenth-century Miao and Li, mentioned above. In the face of this ideology, Manchu and Mongol leaders of the early twentieth century, who had professed that it was possible to be committed to strength, integrity, and justice for China without being Chinese, were succeeded by men who preferred secession for the ethnic ("national") homelands, if possible. In practice, Tibet and Xinjiang achieved a substantial degree of autonomy between 1911 and 1950, a portion of Mongolia became the foundation of the current state of Mongolia, and Manchuria became the Japan-created "Manchukuo" from 1932 and 1945. For other ethnic groups, the inability of the Nationalist government to truly unify the country was the key to communal viability. Nationalism was on the state's agenda, but transformation of every culturally variant community into a model of standardized Chineseness was not practicable.
Plus as we already have explored in the case of China, a significant part of an individual's personal identity consists of his or her social identity, and so depends on group membership.
Today (Sunday) protests against Chinese rule in Tibet have spread to provinces bordering the Himalayan region, as the demonstrations enter their second week. In its escalation today, Tibetans have staged demonstrations in the provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan. China's Ministry of Public Security ordered an increased police presence in these areas on Saturday. Security was certainly tighter around Lanzhou's North-Western Minorities University, where about 100 Tibetan students staged a protest on Sunday.Police cars were parked at major road intersections that lead up to the university, while students at the university held a demonstration at the campus sports stadium, according to Sangay Tashi of the Free Tibet Campaign.
Tibetans in other areas of China outside Tibet appear to have joined the protests that began on 10 March, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. There were demonstrations at the Rongwo Monastery in the Qinghai city of Tongren, where monks defied a ban to stay at home, according to news reports. There also appear to have been protests on Sunday in the Aba region of Sichuan Province, and in the town of Machu in Gansu. According to the Free Tibet Campaign, the Machu protesters marched to government buildings, breaking doors and windows.
But where ordinary people that wanted to comment on the protests howehad little sympathy with the Tibetans and their cause, elsewhere in China today, China's economic reform and opening program has reached a critical juncture.
Economic reforms have outpaced social and political reforms, and historical strains between the periphery and the center, between urban and rural, and between the educated and less-educated are threatening the fabric of social stability and the central government's ability to rule.
As this social instability at one point moves closer to the coastal cities, there is a risk that China's competitiveness as an investment destination will be harmed, thereby triggering a spiral of economic and social degradation. Social instability also lays bare the growing rift between the central government and the local and regional leaders.
The coastal provinces and cities became the focal points for international investments in manufacturing, as investors exploited preferential government policies and cheap labor. The rural areas, traditionally the backbone of China's economy , and the petroleum and heavy industry of the northeast (which had been core to early Communist Chinese economics) faded in relevance.
The booming coastal economies created clear opportunities for corruption. As provincial and local Party cadre and political leaders became the gatekeepers for foreign investments, they also became mini-emperors of their own economic fiefdoms. Collusion and nepotism -- always a part of Chinese political society -- became even more entrenched as the money flowed in. With the central government fixated on growth, the best-performing local leaders were rewarded. The more foreign capital they were able to attract, the greater their personal influence and takings. These officials were not measured on efficiency or profitability, but on total flow-through of capital, rates of growth, employment and social stability.
Chinese leaders however have a long history of using the masses as weapons when challenges to central authority arise -- from the attempts to harness the Boxers at the turn of the 20th century to Mao's communist revolution to the Cultural Revolution. In each case, the process was chaotic and the outcomes were uncertain. Though Mao eventually succeeded in rallying the rural populace to effect his communist revolution, it simply served as a starting point for a new Chinese system. The use of the Boxers led to the dissolution of the Chinese dynastic system, and the Cultural Revolution wiped out whatever economic gains had been made, leaving China to start nearly from scratch once again.
The central government's response to stories of rural unrest has remained rather low-key thus far(March 16, 2008) however. And so long as protesters don't join across provinces and regions, so long as no interest is able to link the disparate demonstrations --of Uigurs, Tibetans and so on-- the central leadership will retain some leeway to implement its policies this year.
Update March 19, 2008: More than 100 people involved in anti-China rioting in Tibet hand themselves in, Chinese state media says. But while streets were deserted in Gansu; the security situation in Chengdu, capital of China’s Sichuan province, remained quite tense March 19, two days after riots spread to the province from Tibet, a source in Chengdu said. There were frequent reports of small-scale riots, while rumors were circulating in the city that certain people have been arrested or killed, the source said. Security, meanwhile, remained very tight, although Chinese with residence permits in Tibet or western Sichuan were being allowed to pass through security checkpoints, as long as they were able to show their permits.