V. Equal Rights and Special Protection
for Ethnic Minorities
Since the founding of the PRC, ethnic minorities, along with the majority Han ethnic group, have been the masters of the state, equally enjoying all of the civil rights granted by the Constitution and laws, and in addition enjoying the special rights of ethnic minorities according to law.
The right of the ethnic minorities to participate on an equal footing in state administration is guaranteed. In the NPC and the CPPCC National Committee of the successive terms, the percentage of ethnic minority deputies and members has exceeded the proportion of the ethnic minority population in the national population. Ethnic-minority deputies accounted for 14.37 percent of the Ninth NPC deputies selected in 1998, and for 11.7 percent of the members of the Ninth National Committee of the CPPCC both surpassing the 8.9 percent proportion of the ethnic minority population in the national population. Each of the 55 ethnic minorities has its own deputies and CPPCC National Committee members. There are over 2.7 million ethnic-minority cadres throughout China, and a fairly large number of ethnic-minority personnel working in central and local state organs, administrative organs, judicial organs and procuratorial organs.
China practices ethnic regional autonomy in areas where minority peoples live in compact communities. According to the relevant laws, among the chairman or vice-chairmen of the standing committee of the people's congress of an autonomous area there must be one or more citizens of the ethnic group or groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned. The head of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county shall be a citizen of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned, and the other members of the people's governments of these regions, prefectures and counties shall include members of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy as well as members of other ethnic minorities as far as possible.
The people's congresses of the autonomous areas have the right to enact regulations on the exercise of autonomy and separate regulations in light of local political, economic and cultural characteristics. By the end of 1998, 126 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and 209 separate regulations had been enacted by the autonomous areas. If resolutions, decisions, orders and instructions from the higher-level state organs are not suited to the actual conditions of the autonomous areas, the organs of self-government of these areas may be flexible in carrying them out or may decide not to carry them out after gaining approval from the higher state organs. Furthermore, in accordance with state laws and regulations, organs of self-government in autonomous areas also enjoy the right to control their economies and local finances, the right to develop educational, scientific, technological and cultural undertakings, and the right to use and develop the local spoken and written languages.
Before the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, economy, culture and social development were very backward in its ethnic minority areas. People of ethnic minorities mainly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry and lived in poverty. Since 1949, the state has adopted special policies and measures to assist and support the economic development and social progress of the ethnic minority areas in the aspects of capital, technology and personnel. According to statistics, the total industrial and agricultural output value in autonomous areas grew from 3.66 billion RMB yuan in 1949 to 852.35 billion RMB yuan in 1998. The output of pig iron, raw coal, crude oil and generated energy in these areas increased respectively from 9,000 tons, 1.78 million tons, 52,000 tons and 80 million kilowatt-hour in 1952 to 7.02 million tons, 175.69 million tons, 20.47 million tons and 132.11 billion kilowatt-hour in 1998. The railway traffic mileage, highway traffic mileage and postal routes totaled respectively 17,100 kilometers, 376,400 kilometers and 1.14 million kilometers, or 4.5 times, 12.8 times and 8.6 times the 1952 figures respectively. The grain output grew from 15.82 million tons in 1952 to 71.5 million tons in 1998, and the total number of large livestock from 24.39 million head to 55.65 million head. Remarkable improvements have been made in the lives of the minority peoples. In 1997 in ethnic-minority autonomous areas, the net income per peasant had reached 1,633.11 RMB yuan, or 21.5 times the 1980 figure; the per capita possession of grain came to 424.4 kilograms, or 1.5 times the 1978 figure; and the average salaries of employees amounted to 5,593 RMB yuan, or 7.9 times the 1981 figure.
In old China, the illiteracy rate among ethnic minorities was often over 95 percent. Only 10 percent of school-age children attended school in Ningxia, 97 percent of the people in Tibet were illiterate, and there were only 16 secondary schools in Inner Mongolia. Since the founding of the People's Republic, the educational situation in ethnic-minority areas has been improved remarkably, and the illiteracy rate has been reduced by 68 percentage points. By 1998 in ethnic autonomous areas, there were 94 institutions of higher learning with 226,400 students, 13,466 middle schools with 5.2964 million students, and 90,704 primary schools with 12.409 million pupils. To date, the state has independently founded 12 specialized ethnic universities and institutes, 59 ethnic teachers' training schools, 158 ethnic secondary vocational schools, 3,536 ethnic middle schools, and 20,906 ethnic primary schools. Since 1990, the gap between the school attendance rate in the areas inhabited by minority peoples and the average national level has been reduced from 3.7 percentage points to 0.7 percentage point.
The fine traditional cultures of ethnic minorities are being preserved. Chinese law provides that all ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. The organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas all use one or more languages of their areas to carry out their responsibilities. When several languages are current, they may mainly adopt the language of the ethnic minority exercising the regional autonomy. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has helped a dozen minority peoples create or improve 13 scripts. The state has established special bodies to organize the editing and publishing of ancient writings of ethnic minorities. More than 120,000 titles of such works have been collected, of which over 110,000 have been edited and 5,000 published. More than 3,000 experts and scholars organized by the state have completed the editing and publishing of five series of books on ethnic-minority issues, including A Brief History of China's Ethnic Minorities, Brief Records of Ethnic Minorities' Languages and A General Survey of Ethnic Minority Autonomous Areas, comprising over 400 titles with 90 million words. Now each of the 55 ethnic minority groups has a brief written history. The Chinese government has set up special institutions for the preservation, translation and research of the three major epics of ethnic minorities: Gesar, Jianggar and Manas. The three epics and treatises concerning them have been published in the appropriate ethnic-minority languages, in Chinese and in other languages.
The state respects the folkways and customs of minority peoples in such aspects as diet, burial, festivals and marriage. Minority peoples also enjoy freedom of religious belief, supported by specific state policies. To date, there are more than 18 million believers in Islam among ethnic minorities, over 30,000 mosques and 40,000 imams and ahungs. The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has more than 8.1 million religious believers, accounting for over 56.3 percent of its total population, 23,000 places for religious activities (over 20,000 mosques included), 29,000 religious personnel and over 80 religious groups. In Tibet, there are more than 1,700 places for Tibetan Buddhist activities, and 46,000 lamas and monks.
In old China, the medical and health conditions in ethnic minority areas were extremely backward. Endemic and epidemic diseases ran rampant, and the population declined steadily. Since the founding of New China, medical and health conditions in such areas have been remarkably improved, the populations have increased rapidly and the standard of health has risen greatly. According to statistics, medical and health institutions in ethnic autonomous areas grew from 361 in 1949 to 16,724 in 1998, the number of hospital beds grew from 3,310 to 392,671 and the number of medical personnel from 3,531 to 605,255. In 1998, the Tibet Autonomous Region had more than 1,300 medical and health institutions, or 21 times the 1959 figure, and over 6,700 hospital beds, or 17.6 times the 1959 figure. The population of ethnic minorities in China was only 34.013 million according to the first national census of 1953, but it had reached 108.46 million in 1995. In the ethnic-minority areas, both the death rate of the people in general and the mortality rate of infants keep going down. For example, in the Tibet Autonomous Region the mortality rate of women in pregnancy and childbirth decreased from five percent in 1959 to 0.7 percent in 1998, and the infant mortality rate from 43 percent in 1959 to 3.677 percent in 1998. Meanwhile, the average life expectancy of minority peoples has been prolonged from less than 30 years before 1949 to the current 65 years.