SINCE 1949

กกกกOn October 1, 1949 the People's Republic of China came into being, a great family founded in principle on ethnic equality and unity and on friendship and cooperation among all ethnic groups.

      Before the advent of the People's Republic of China, the First Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which included representatives of the Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, Uygur, Miao, Yi, Manchu, Korean, Bai, Li, Gaoshan and Ozbek groups, was called in Beijing. By exercising the functions and powers of the National People's Congress, the delegates developed a Common Program which, working as a temporary constitution, systematically set forth a new policy towards the many ethnic groups of China.

      It stipulated that "all ethnic groups within the boundaries of the People's Republic of China are equal. They establish unity and mutual aid among themselves, and shall oppose imperialism and public enemies in their midst so that the People's Republic of China will become a big fraternal and cooperative family comprising all its ethnic groups. 'Greater nationalism' and 'local nationalism' should be opposed. Acts of discrimination, oppression and dividing the various nationalities should be prohibited."     

      The Common Program also stipulated that "regional autonomy should be exercised in areas where ethnic minorities are concentrated.... All ethnic minorities should have the freedom to develop their spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their traditions, customs and religious beliefs. The People's Government shall assist the broad masses of all ethnic minorities to develop politically, economically, culturally and educationally."     

       The policy towards ethnic groups in the Common Program embodied the basic principles of the Chinese Communist Party for solving the ethnic minority problem and represented the common interests of all ethnic groups in the country. The policy was later incorporated in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, adopted by the First Session of the First National People's Congress on September 20, 1954. As stated in the preamble and other relevant articles of the Constitution, the tasks that the country faced in its work on ethnic groups during the transitional period were: to consolidate the unity of the country and the cooperation of the various ethnic groups in a common effort to rebuild the motherland; to safeguard the right of equality between the various ethnic groups and practice regional autonomy; and to help the ethnic minorities carry out reforms in their economic, political and cultural development, so that they could all develop into socialism.

      Shortly after the founding of the People's Republic, the central government, recognizing that there still existed misunderstandings and discrimination resulting from former policies of the old government, conducted a program of general education on ethnic equality, unity, mutual help and friendship among the various ethnic groups. The government also issued a series of laws and decrees to protect the rights of ethnic minorities and to eliminate the influence of the former system.

      Between 1950 and 1952, four delegations were sent by the central government to visit the ethnic minorities in various parts of the country. During their journeys they informed the local people about the new policy towards groups in the minority areas. In the meantime, delegations were also organized by the various minorities to visit Beijing and other places.

      From 1949 to 1964, the central government sent 13 delegations into the minority areas to convey greetings to the people. Furthermore, during this time, 268 delegations of ethnic minorities comprising approximately 10,000 people, met leaders of the central authorities. By demonstrating the relationship between the central authorities and people of the various minorities, these contacts helped foster understanding and strengthening of friendship between the Hans and people of various ethnic minority groups.

      In May 1951, the central government issued a directive that all signs, place names, tablet inscriptions and billboards carrying derogatory terms or showing discrimination against minority group should either be changed or removed.    

      In 1952, the central government issued the "Decision Protecting People of All Ethnic Minorities Living in Scattered Groups to Enjoy the Right of Equality." It stipulated that all minority people living in scattered groups have all the rights their Han counterparts enjoy and a greater representation in state organs, with practical measures to be taken by local governments in their respective localities; and that they have the right to preserve or change their way of life, customs and religious beliefs.

      In order to help the minority people take part in the management of state affairs and to ensure their participation in government administration at all levels, the National People's Congress adopted an Electoral Law stipulating that each ethnic minority living in a compact community would be represented at the People's Congress of that locality. According to this law, when the total population of a minority group living in a compact community or in scattered groups represents less than 10 per cent of the total population in a locality, the number of inhabitants represented by each deputy from the minority group may be less than half that represented by other deputies to the local People's Congress. Elections could be held separately or jointly to have minority deputies elected, taking account of the population composition and the relationship between various ethnic groups in respective localities.

      Added to the Electoral Law was a new provision formulated by the 5th National People's Congress in 1979. It states that even a minority group with an exceptionally small population "shall have at least one deputy" to the National People's Congress.

      Among the deputies to the People's Congresses at all levels and the National People's Congress, the proportion of ethnic representatives generally exceeds that of the Han population of a specific locality, so that generally every minority group, including those with a population of under 1,000, is represented at the national and local People's Congresses.

      In some minority areas, there was considerable resistance to the ethnic unity trend the government hoped to foster, with Hans and minorities both asserting their own cultural superiority. A specific problem was found among Han officials, who often expressed contempt for the ethnic communities in which they worked. In 1952-53, and again in 1956, the central government conducted a nationwide educational program on the minority equality policy, at the same time investigating the measures taken to implement it.