For 19-year-old Nali, nothing was more exciting than receiving her acceptance letter from northern China's Inner Mongolia Finance and Economics University.
Different from most other applicants, the girl of Daur nationality from Honghuaerji village in Hulun Buir city was granted admission despite having a score 10 points below the average requirement, due to her status as a minority.
Nali is just one of the region's 4.8 million people of a minority background who have benefited from such preferential policies, which form part of the country's autonomy system for ethnic groups.
With a thriving ethnic patchwork of 55 minority groups, the region is leading the way as China's model for multiculturalism. For instance, minority groups are given priority when applying for jobs, and they are free from the restrictions of the national family planning policy.
"All ethnic groups are equal," The region's Chairman Yang Jing, told China Daily.
"Closer national fusion has decreed that the Han nationality cannot live without the minority groups, and vice versa.
"And minority groups cannot live without each other either."
Up to a fifth of the region's almost 24 million population are of an ethnic minority background. The autonomous region is given considerable support from Beijing.
The Inner Mongolia autonomous government was established on May 1, 1947, and was the first of the country's five such regions.
Autonomous areas exercise self-government in accordance with the Law of China's Regional National Autonomy, implemented in 1984.
Since 1991, China has formulated more than 20 regulations on regional national autonomy and some special regulations.
Yang said the local minority population had benefited from such laws and regulations, the majority of which were designed to specifically help ethnic groups.
In the past three decades the region has exercised its autonomous rights in drafting local laws, and other region-specific policies.
To date, Inner Mongolia has established a number of autonomous entities for its many ethnic groups including the Daur, Ewenki and Oroqen groups - ensuring social cohesion.
Some 30 percent of the region's cadres are of an ethnic background, ensuring the voices of minorities are heard.
In Erdos, the city government specially recruited 30 university graduates this year who had mastered both Chinese and Mongolian, a new move to further maintain Mongolian culture.
Hao Weimin, a renowned Mongolian professor in modern history with the Inner Mongolia University, called the autonomy system "a great success" for ethnic groups. "Thanks to the preferential policies, the education level of minority groups in the 36 higher-learning institutions and 1,477 middle schools is now actually higher than the regional average for all groups of people," Hao said.
Over the past three years, 10 minority villages in Hulun Buir have each been given subsidies of 1.2 million yuan (US$160,000), as well as benefiting from a range of agricultural projects to help reduce poverty. As a result farmers' average annual income over the period has risen from 900 yuan to 3,000 yuan.
Similar measures tailored for minority-populated areas will be introduced in a further 29 villages in the city this year.
Mao Gongning, director-general of the policy and regulation department of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission said: "As a long-term fundamental political policy, this notion of autonomy will further unify the country."
(China Daily July 31, 2007)