High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in December 2014 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on April 27, 2015.
The post follows up from previous essays The Intention Behind Changing “Nationality” into “Ethnic Group” and “Mongolians and Chinese are One Family” and continues on the important themes of ethnic policy and ethnic autonomy within the PRC.
What To Do About China’s Infamous “Autonomy”?
The epilogue of Yang Haiying’s “Genocide on the Mongolian Steppe” narrates how China’s scholars and ethnic theorists have used the “‘depoliticisation’ of ethnic minority groups (shaoshu zuqun)” as a pretext to further move towards “co-governance of ethnic groups” (minzu gongzhi) and the abolishment of special autonomous regions. This means nothing but casting off the nice-looking veil and get rid of China’s infamous “autonomy” altogether.
Yang Haiying concludes: “Their logic is simply to blame the failure of China’s ethnic policies on the existence of autonomous ethnic regions and their main aim is, by depriving ethnic groups of their dignity, to help the CCP to once and for all solve the problem of ‘national separatism’, and to effectively prevent that ethnic conflicts will develop into more concrete of forms of splittism. The core of this so-called ‘co-governance’ is to cancel, weaken, water down, or even substitute any kinds of ethnic rights that have existed in autonomous regions until the present day; it is an excuse to strengthen government rule and to further ‘Sinicise’ ethnic groups.” “This idea of ‘co-governance’ is a cruel and arrogant policy to assimilate minority groups that was solely conceived of by advantaged Han Chinese.”
Ever since these “new theories” are dominating the public discourse, theories put forward by intellectuals from within minority groups have been gradually refuted. For example, the Mongolian historian and scholar, Hao Weimin of the University of Inner Mongolia, used sound historical data to prove that China’s so-called autonomous regions are by no means living up to what they claim to be. For instance, countless people belonging to minority groups have been arrested and sentenced for “separatism”, while at the same time, not one of the countless “Han Nationalists” has ever been held accountable or subject to legal punishment. Furthermore, the only reason why the majority of government officials in autonomous regions are actually minority people is to be able to make sure that they are keeping their house in order. Wherever we go, whether in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, whether in the Tibet Autonomous Region, or in Xinjiang, we will not find a single ethnic official who has any genuine political power; among the top leaders of autonomous regions, we do not even find a single so-called ethnic cadre.
The famous Uyghur intellectual, Ilham Tohti, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of “separatism”. In 2009, after the “7.5 incident”, he had given a public lecture at his home institution, the Minzu University of China, titled “Do we need to re-think China’s ethnic policies?”; he presented large quantities of data and facts, arguing that: “If the Chinese government had followed its own legal and political commitment of Xinjiang being an autonomous region, the situation would be better. China’s ethnic autonomy has never been fully implemented. There are many problems with regards to Uyghur linguistic, cultural and religious freedom, as well as many other civil rights.”
Accordingly, Ilham Tohti turned to China’s ethnologists and theorists, asking: “Since ethnic autonomy has never been fully implemented in Xinjiang, how can you abolish it? Uyghurs and Tibetans wish and need to strengthen their culture, history and religion, and according to the Chinese law, they are entitled to regional autonomy; so, what kind of force has any reason or right to disallow these people their rights of autonomy? I think ethnic autonomy is not the main problem; the problem lies precisely in the fact that autonomy has never been fully realised.”