V. Equal Rights and Special Protection for Ethnic Minorities
In China, like citizens of the Han ethnic group, citizens of ethnic minorities equally enjoy all the rights accorded to Chinese citizens by the Constitution and laws. But they also enjoy some special rights accorded to ethnic minorities by law.
By electing deputies to the NPC from their own ethnic groups, all ethnic minorities exercise the right to participate in the administration of state affairs. Starting from the First NPC, the proportions of deputies of ethnic minorities among the total number of deputies in every NPC have been higher than the proportions of their populations in the nation's total population in the corresponding periods. The Tenth NPC has 415 ethnic-minority deputies, accounting for 13.91 percent of the total and 5.5 percentage points higher than the proportion of their total population in the nation's total population. Every ethnic group has its NPC deputy or deputies. Ethnic groups each with a population of more than one million have member(s) on the NPC Standing Committee. People of all ethnic groups in ethnic autonomous areas are entitled to vote and stand for election, as provided for in the Constitution and other laws. By electing deputies to the local people's congresses and establishing local organs of self-government, they exercise their democratic rights to manage the internal affairs of their own ethnic groups in their autonomous areas. Among the chairmen or vice-chairmen of the standing committees of the people's congresses of all 155 ethnic autonomous areas in China there are citizens of the ethnic group or groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned. The heads of all autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties are all citizens of the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy in the areas concerned.
Increased financial input from the state has brought about rapid economic and social development in ethnic-minority areas and continuously improved the living standard of ethnic minority peoples. To accelerate the development of China's western regions and ethnic autonomous areas, the Chinese government launched a grand strategy for the development of western China in 2000, which covers five autonomous regions, 27 autonomous prefectures and 83 of the 120 autonomous counties (banners). In addition, three other autonomous prefectures are allowed to enjoy the preferential policies the state has adopted for the western regions. During the five years since the kickoff of the strategy for the development of the western part of the country, the construction of 60 key projects has begun, involving a total investment of 850 billion yuan. In 2004, the state started ten major projects to develop western China, with a total investment of 80 billion yuan and covering the fields of transportation, energy, education and public health. According to statistics, in 2004, the GDP of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was 271.2, 332, 21, 46 and 220 billion yuan, respectively, representing increases of 19.4, 11.8, 12.4, 11, and 11.1 percent respectively over the previous year. The state continues its efforts to invigorate the border areas and help people in those areas become wealthy. In addition to the areas where pilot projects had been launched, in 2004, the state designated another 37 counties for special support. From 2000 to 2004, a total of 264 million yuan from the central treasury was allocated to invigorate border areas and make their residents better off. Funds from other sources across the country totaled more than 15 billion yuan, and they were used for the construction of more than 20,000 projects.
Education in ethnic-minority areas has advanced with great strides. The ethnic autonomous areas are key targets for the state's plans to basically make nine-year compulsory education universal and basically eliminate illiteracy among the young and middle-aged population. Special educational funds allocated by the state and key educational projects undertaken by the state are steered to the ethnic minority areas. The "Compulsory Education Project for Impoverished Areas" launched by the state is also geared to the ethnic minority areas in the western part of the country. During the period of the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), the state has set aside 5 billion yuan for the continuous implementation of the second phase of the "Compulsory Education Project for Impoverished Areas." More than 80 percent of the funds has been or will be used in western China and other areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. So far, 4 billion yuan has already been used to repair or rebuild dilapidated buildings of primary and middle schools in the countryside, of which 57 percent has been used in western China and other areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. Eighty-three percent of the school-age children in Xinjiang, Tibet, Ningxia and Qinghai get free textbooks. In the agricultural and pastoral areas of Tibet, school-age children not only are exempted from school fees but also are provided with free meals and accommodation. Students in 56 counties in Xinjiang get free textbooks and notebooks, and are exempted from paying school fees. In Yunnan Province, students who are exempted from paying for their textbooks, notebooks and school fees totaled 409,000 in 2004, an increase of 92,000 compared with the previous year. China now has 13 ethnic institutions of higher learning, which enroll mainly students of ethnic-minority origin. In order to train people of ability for Tibet and Xinjiang, these colleges and universities have made special efforts to run preparatory classes for minority peoples, classes for minority peoples, and classes for students from Xinjiang. In 2004, the Dachang Advanced Experimental Middle School in Hebei Province set up classes for students from the western part of China, which enrolled 108 senior high school students of ethnic minority origin from Guangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hubei and Ningxia. These students will study there until they complete their senior high school program. When enrolling new students, institutions of higher learning and secondary specialized schools usually lower the admission criteria for ethnic-minority applicants, and give preferential treatment to students from ethnic groups with extremely small populations.
The state provides support to organs of self-government of autonomous areas to independently develop cultural undertakings in ethnic languages and with ethnic characteristics, including literature, art, news, publishing, broadcasting, movies and television programs. It organizes and provides support for the collecting, editing, translating and publishing of historical and cultural books of ethnic minorities. It protects scenic spots and historical sites, valuable cultural relics, and other important items of the local cultural heritage, and inherits and carries forward the traditional culture of the ethnic groups. The state has established a national ethnic-minority ancient books publishing planning team to sort out ancient books of ethnic minorities. Now, institutions for the editing of and research in ancient books of ethnic minorities have been established in 25 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government), 130 autonomous prefectures and leagues across the country. They have collected 120,000 titles of ancient books of ethnic minorities and published over 5,000 of them. By the end of 2004, China had 30 world heritage sites including cultural, natural sites and the mixed. Two of the cultural heritage sites, namely, the Potala Palace in Lhasa and the Old Town of Lijiang, and three of the natural heritage sites, namely, Jiuzhaigou Scenic & Historic Interest Area, Huanglong Scenic & Historic Interest Area and the Three Parallel Rivers scenic spot, are located in ethnic autonomous areas. In addition, the Dongba classical documents of the Naxi ethnic group are included in the World Memory Heritage List. A National Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meet is held every four years. The development of the traditional medicine of the ethnic groups is thriving. At present, Tibet produces 293 kinds of Tibetan medicine, with an annual output of over 1,500 tons. Tibetan ready-made medicine has found its way to the national public medicare market. The total annual output value of Tibetan medicine producers is more than 450 million yuan.
The state attaches great importance to ecological construction and environmental protection in ethnic autonomous areas. All the four key areas and four key projects listed in the "National Ecological Environment Construction Plan" of the Chinese government are in ethnic minority areas. The "Natural Forest Protection Project" and the projects for converting farming land back to forestry and pasture are mostly in ethnic minority areas. Nearly half of the 226 national nature reserves are located in those areas. In addition, the central government has launched the "Project for Comprehensive Improvement of the Environment of the Tarim Basin" in Xinjiang and the "Project for Protection of the Source of the Three Rivers" in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, and attaches great importance to the ecological improvement of the karst areas in southern China.