No country for minorities in the Middle Kingdom

Beijing’s policy is ‘fusing’ minorities into the broader Chinese identity through state-encouraged intermarriage and the mass settlement of unemployed migrant Chinese workers on minority land

File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping. PA

Some observers say that what is happening these days in Tibet and other so-called minority regions of China is another “cultural revolution”. For others who have a clearer idea of ​​China’s final solution to what it calls its minority problem, the prospect is frightening. Beijing’s policy is “fusing” minorities into the larger Chinese identity through state-encouraged intermarriage and the mass settlement of unemployed migrant Chinese workers on minority lands.

There is historical precedent for this. More than 500 years ago, the Manchus, marauding nomads from the north, brought all of China under their rule and gave the country its present shape and size. However, at last count about 20 years ago, only about 50 to 100 elderly Manchus could speak the language. After centuries of demographic attrition and the complete absorption of Manchuria by the Chinese, the people and the land are now a thing of the past.

For Beijing, there is nothing better than for the remaining minorities like the Mongols of Inner Mongolia, the Tibetans and the Uyghurs of East Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang) to follow the path of the Manchus. Submerge these minorities in the Chineseness of China would prevent the country from the fate reserved for Yugoslavia. If not, what explains the current plight of a million or more Uyghur Muslims detained in concentration camps in East Turkestan for the sole crime of belonging to a different ethnicity or religion?

As for Tibet, Beijing’s current policy is nothing less than the subversion of the Buddhist faith. Beijing’s open hostility and active subversion of Buddhism (post-invasion and post-cultural revolution) can be traced back to more than two decades ago, when the late Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok attracted thousands of followers from all over Tibet, from Southeast Asia and more than 10,000 Chinese from the mainland itself. After a few years of indecisiveness and utter fascination with one man’s ability to attract followers across international borders, the authorities stepped in. They dismantled the retreat center of the late Buddhist master. His followers were sent home across Tibet and Southeast Asia. In all this dismantling and expulsion, to their credit, the Chinese authorities have left the widely respected Buddhist teacher alone, quiet but deprived of his students.

In Tibet today, China’s “fusion” policy targets the new generation. Tibetan children, some as young as five, are sent to boarding schools across the vast Tibetan plateau for nine or ten years at a stretch. The language of instruction in schools is Chinese. During these formative years of their growth, students do not see their families, nor do they have the opportunity to speak or review their native language or be able to be immersed in their traditional culture and spiritual heritage. China scholar James Liebold describes Beijing’s minority policy this way. He says that Beijing is “working to actively change the thoughts and behaviors of what Chinese authorities perceive as a ‘backward’, ‘deviant and inherently ‘dangerous’ subsection of its population by improving their ‘biological quality’. …and overseeing their rebirth as loyal, patriotic, and civilized Chinese citizens.

All of this is Beijing’s attempt to groom the new generation of Tibetans as willing and inspired representatives of the new imperial order. That this policy is not working is demonstrated by the fact that Tibet was where China’s surveillance network was perfected. Authorities then proudly called it China’s “nets in the sky and traps on the ground”. Without the benefit of a system of high surveillance and iron fist rule, left to their own devices, Tibetans or any other minority for that matter will not voluntarily bend the knee to Beijing. One indication is more than the known cases of 155 self-immolated Tibetans since 2009 condemning Chinese mismanagement and calling for the Dalai Lama to return to his homeland.

This is what Beijing is doing to minorities, in fact to all of China, in an ongoing attempt to impose the will of the Party (Chinese Communist Party) on its docile masses. Under President Xi Jinping and facilitated by the continued rage of the Covid-19 virus in its many variants, the Chinese people are experiencing double lockdown. They are locked down by censorship and the outside world is locked down by Beijing’s determination that there are more dangerous viruses than Covid-19 and its variant lurking in the outside world that would prove fatal to political health. of the Chinese Communist Party. This is the Party’s ultimate dilemma: it needs the world but does not trust it.

The writer is the author of ‘Falling Through the Roof’, a work of fiction, and ‘Copper Mountain’, a new work of fiction. The opinions expressed are personal.

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