China yesterday denied that it has adopted a policy of cultural assimilation towards its 55 minority ethnic groups to limit their cultures' development.
Tondrub Wangben, vice-minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, said that ethnic minority cultures have "never been as better protected as now."
"In fact, there is everything but cultural assimilation in our policy. Our policy is to protect and develop the cultures of minority ethnic groups," he told a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office.
The vice-minister was responding to Western media allegations of local cultures being suppressed.
He noted that legislation and regulations, including the Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, provide a strong legal basis to help ethnic minorities develop and maintain their own cultures.
"Each minority ethnic group enjoys the freedom to use its own language and characters, the freedom to retain or reform its customs and habits, and the freedom to religious belief," said the vice-minister.
Given economic torpor in ethnic minority regions, Tondrub Wangben said, the government has invested heavily to save and preserve their cultural heritage.
One example he cited was the renovation of Tibet's best-known feature Potala Palace, on which the central government spent 53 million yuan (US$6.625 million) and 1,000 kilograms of gold.
China's cultural agencies have collected more than 1 million ancient ethnic books over the past 50 years in a bid to preserve cultural heritage from which 5,000 titles have been published.
Tongdrub Wangben, a Tibetan who earlier served as assistant governor of Yunnan Province, hailed the successful model of Lijiang of Yunnan Province and Jiuzhaigou of Sichuan Province, both tourist destinations famous for thriving local minority culture.
"It protects the natural scenery, preserves and develops the unique aspects of local culture and, at the same time, achieves good economic returns for local people," he said.
The construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and water conservancy projects in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces have aroused concerns of cultural damage but Tongdrub Wangben shrugged off concerns that developing tourism would damage to the original cultures of some ethnic minorities.
"We cannot deal in absolutes nor dehumanize the protection of ethnic minority cultures and must take into account the evolution and development of these cultures," he told reporters, adding that preservation does not mean isolation.
"I think it is neither good nor right to enclose a minority ethnic group in an isolated area just for the purpose of preserving their original culture."
China has 56 ethnic groups with the Han accounting for 90 percent of its total population. Five autonomous regions have been created for ethnic groups and twenty-one ethnic groups have their own written languages.
China's autonomous regions boast more than 9,000 cultural institutions, including 513 performance art troupes, 566 libraries, 163 museums, 81 public art galleries, 642 cultural palaces and 6,894 cultural centers.
The country has 32 publishing houses producing books in 20 ethnic languages and over 50 million books in ethnic languages were published each year. In addition, 99 newspapers and 223 periodicals are issued in 10 ethnic languages.
Tondrub said with government support, radio and TV broadcasting in ethnic minority areas had achieved great progress, particularly in west China's border regions. The government has set up 73 radio and 90 television stations in autonomous regions with more than 200 programs in ethnic languages.
Tondrub said the Chinese government encourages ethnic people to create and perform literatures, operas, dramas and musical skills in their own languages.
"The Tibetan operas, the Biography of King Gesar in Tibetan language, the Uyghur Dastan, the Korean talk shows, the Mongolian Haolaibao...are all welcomed by the public," he said, referring only to China's largest and well-known ethnic groups.
China Collects 1 Million Ancient Ethnic Books
China Spends 53 Million Yuan to Refurnish Potala Palace in Tibet
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn September 22, 2006)