Minzu 民族


Minzu(民族) is one of the most important terms for understanding ethnic politics in China. The term is hard to translate because it describes what westerners generally call ethnic groups or races. In China minzu means ethnicity but not race. Party policy in Xinjiang is based on the idea of minzu/ethnicity.

In the early 20th century, when the empire transformed to a nation-state, Chinese nation-builders borrowed the term minzu from Japanese minzoku to name the vast diverse population. The imagined nation was named zhonghua minzu (中华民族) to fit the state name zhonghua minguo (中华民国) in republic era, as the founding father Sun Yat-Sen called for a “union of five races” (wuzu 五族) which refers to Mongol, Hui, Tibetan, Han, and Manchu). This idea of minzu drew from western notions of biological race. Communist china inherited the concept minzu and launched a nationality identification (minzu shibie 民族识别) project in the 1950s. however, the communists followed the Stalinist definition of nationality that is based on culture, language, and shared history but not biological ideas of race. This resulted in the recognition of 56 minzu in china, with Han being the majority and other 55 groups defined as minority nationalities (shaoshu minzu 少数民族). In public discourse however, minzu has gradually become a term to denote only the minority nationalities, as Han-ness has become the default for what it means to be Chinese.

This bibliography shows another historical shift in china’s ethnic policy that known as “the second generation minzu policy,” which is pioneered by Beijing University sociology professor Ma Rong, and state theoreticians Hu Angang and Hu Lianhe. This new policy has steered away from the first generation minzu policies that focused on “unified polyethnic national configuration” (多元一体化格局). The key ideas of the second generation theory include depoliticizing minzu that are entitled to land rights and self-determination, focusing on ethnic mingling (jiaorong 交融), and prioritizing Mandarin Chinese as the national language (guoyu 国语) to forge a shared national identity in ethnic minority regions. these ideas are behind many of the state policies in Xinjiang today.

Keywords: 民族工作 minzu work, 民族融合 ethnic integration, 第二代民族政策 the second generation minzu policy, 去政治化 depoliticization, 国语教育 ‘national language’ education

Hao Shiyuan 郝时远, 2018

All Ethnic Groups Embrace Together Like the Pomegranate Seeds

This article uses the metaphor of a pomegranate to argue for ethnic unity and integration. It acknowledges that diversity in culture and customs exist within China, the overarching framework of national unity and “Zhonghua” unity is the guiding principle.

Original Chinese ArticleUBC permalink

Li Xiaoxia 李晓霞, 2017

An Analysis of Population Problems and Policies in Xinjiang

This article analyzes how birth-control policies in the past decades had treated Han and minority nationalities differently, which caused population “problems” in Xinjiang: the overgrowth of minority populations and the concentrated areas with a single nationality, especially Uyghurs in southern rural areas. Furthermore, the author argues that these population problems could bring political risks, and that the government needs to adjust the population structure based on nationalities.

Original Chinese Article UBC permalinkPDF

Ma Rong 马戎, 2013

Further Discussion on Our Nation’s Minzu Issue: Second Generation Minzu Policy

This article cautions against “Han Chauvinism” in the pursuit of “ethnic unity” in China. It touches on how diversity is an admirable goal that should be managed insofar that it does not lead to the “anti-culture” found in “Black communities in the US.”

Original Chinese ArticleUBC permalink

Liu Ling 刘玲, 2012

A Summary of China’s Association of Anthropological and Ethnological Science Seminar. ‘Adhere to the Basic Political System and Solve Issue in Development’
中国民族理论学会座谈会纪要坚持基本政治制度 在发展中解决民族问题

This article published by China’s Association of Anthropological and Ethnological Science discusses the “ills (诟病)” of the American melting pot ethnic model and its in-applicability to China. It proposes that the “correct choice” in solving the ethnic question is through the basic and current political system.

Original Chinese ArticleUBC permalink

Hu Lianhe 胡联合 and Hu An’gang 胡鞍钢, 2011

How the Nationalities Question is Handled Outside of China

Chinese state intellectuals Hu Angang and Hu Lianhe use examples of US, Brazil, and India to illustrate the importance of a “melting pot” ethnic policy. They argue these developed, large-population states implemented integration through homogenized identity and citizenship, language, and legal policies. These policies have maintained the stability and integrity of these nation-states.

Original Chinese ArticleEnglish TranslationUBC permalink