[lg policy] Don't forget that China is also a multi-ethnic country

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 11 15:28:17 UTC 2009

Don't forget that China is also a multi-ethnic country

by Leung Man-tao

We tend to forget that China is also a multi-ethnic country, and
imagine that the fifty-five ethnic minorities are only made-up of
clothes, song and dance and food.

If the American president openly declared to the public that he cannot
understand why Amish people wanted to continue their original,
backwards way of living, what do you think would happen next? If a
Bengali intellectual fluently talked about the conservative stupidity
of Islam, what do you think would happen next? If a Finn netizen in a
forum openly called for the Inuit to abandon their hunting lifestyles,
and accept a more “civilized” way of living, what do you think will
happen next? The interesting thing is, although this is all slightly
unbelievable, it has actually manifested under different guises and
forms in China, and it seems as if nothing happened next.

It has been forty years since Dr. Martin Luther King passed away; the
civil rights movement of the US happened almost fifty years ago. In
that people-shaking tide, one slogan became unforgettable for me:
“White is a color, too.” This sentence was aimed at white people, and
their blind vision of the races of the world. The world is split into
two: in the mainstream there are white people, and all the other
colored races can be simply gathered into the “colored people”
category, as if white wasn’t a color. As if white people are a neutral
race that does not fall under any color palette. This sentence called
to attention that white people are also a race with special traits,
white people are in the end a race too; compared to the dialect of the
African-American, the style of speech of the whites do not make the
standard, it’s only the method of another race.

During the “Two Sessions” there were always ethnic minorities wearing
“ethnic costumes,” the question is, why don’t the large majority of
Han wear a “Han costume?” Apart from dress and song and dance, what do
ethnic minorities mean to the majority of Han Chinese people?

In a short time, many people predicted that in the 21st century,
nationalism and politics dominated by race will automatically
disappear. But if we look at the whole globe, not only isn't there a
slight easing of politics dominated by race, but it has become even
stronger. How should the problems between race be treated? Revisiting
the civil rights movement in the US, one of its biggest contribution
is gradually turning the US from a “big furnace” into a multi-colored
“mosaic”; from stressing that every race integrate into the mainstream
white society, and turning into emphasis of the equal co-existence of
different races. With this change as the backdrop, the great clamor
for “multi-culturalism” of the last thirty years was formed.

Perhaps Canada is the place that has the most complete
“multi-culturalism,” having declared French as the official language
for Quebec, which is also taught in middle schools. Even though the
theory of multiculturalism compared to its practice are different and
they encountered difficulty, but those who agree with Quebec’s
independence are becoming fewer by the day, and they really provide
some inspiration for us. The inspiration is for the mainstream race to
recognize that we too are a race. And not think that only minority
races have unique social practices; compared to them, the social
practice of the mainstream ethnic groups are also special, and not a
“colorless” objective standard.

How many Han people know what year it is in the Tibetan calendar and
the Muslim calender? When an ethnic minority middle school student use
“Mandarin” and recite the dynasty names of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and
Qing, how many Han Chinese know where to put the Tufan dynasty in this
“official” list?

The so-called race policy is not only about working with ethnic
minorities, giving them more benefits and rights, but should also take
the Han race, which makes up the majority, as a race too, and ask each
race to mutually respect one another. As a Han Chinese,
multi-culturalism taught me to be more modest and examine myself, and
to keep an open-mind to learn, and see the cultures of other races as
the invaluable heritage of my own. The People’s Republic of China does
not belong to the Han, and the basis for our unity is civilianhood,
more than race or blood.

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