II. Full Equality among Ethnic Groups
Equality among ethnic groups is a cornerstone of China's ethnic policy.
Full equality among ethnic groups is a constitutional principle of China. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as the "Constitution") stipulates: "All ethnic groups in the People's Republic of China are equal." Based on this principle, the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy (hereinafter referred to as the "Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy") and other laws and regulations make clear and detailed stipulations about equality among ethnic groups.
In China, the definition of full equality among ethnic groups includes three aspects: first, regardless of their population size, length of history, area of residence, level of economic and social development, differences in spoken and written languages, religious beliefs, folkways and customs, every ethnic group has equal political status; second, all ethnic groups in China have not only political and legal equality, but also economic, cultural and social equality; third, citizens of all ethnic groups are equal before the law, enjoying the same rights and performing the same duties.
With unremitting efforts throughout the past 60 years, China has basically established a legal system with Chinese characteristics to guarantee the equality of all its ethnic groups. The right to equality among all ethnic groups is ensured by law.
— Freedom and rights of the person are inviolable. The Constitution and laws of China stipulate that the state respects and safeguards human rights. Violation of the freedom of the person of citizens of any ethnic group is proscribed; unlawful detention or deprivation or restriction of citizens' freedom of the person by other means is prohibited. The personal dignity of citizens of all ethnic groups is inviolable, and their rights of reputation, personal name and portrait are protected by law. Insult, libel, false charge or frame-up directed against citizens by any means is prohibited. Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, about a million people lived under the slave system in the Yi-populated areas of Sichuan and other places, and about four million people lived under the serf system in Tibet and Xishuangbanna in Yunnan. The mass of ethnic minority people in these areas were vassals of feudal lords, nobles, temples or slave owners; they had no personal freedom and could be bought and sold, or given as gifts by their owners at will. In Tibet, for example, the Thirteen-Point Law and Sixteen-Point Law formulated in the 17th century and used for more than 300 years, divided the people strictly into three classes and nine grades. According to these laws, the value of the life of a top-grade person of the upper class was measured by the weight of his body in gold, while the value of the life of the lowest-grade person of the lower class, accounting for more than 95 percent of the total population of Tibet, was as cheap as a straw rope. In order to protect the human rights of the people in these areas, the new Chinese government pushed through democratic reforms there in the 1950s, eradicating the slave and serf systems. Serfs and slaves under the old system got their personal freedom and became masters of the new society.
— All people are equal before the law. Every Chinese citizen equally enjoys the rights and equally performs the duties prescribed in the Constitution and laws; the legitimate rights and interests of every citizen are under equal protection, and any acts by any person in violation of the law must be investigated in accordance with the law, with equal application of laws. No one may have the privilege of being above the law. In order to guarantee the right of ethnic minorities to use their native spoken and written languages in legal proceedings, Article 11 of the Civil Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China prescribes: "Citizens of all ethnic groups shall have the right to use their native spoken and written languages in civil proceedings. Where people of an ethnic minority live in a concentrated community or where a number of ethnic groups live together in one area, the people's courts shall conduct hearings and issue legal documents in the spoken and written languages commonly used by the local ethnic groups. The people's courts shall provide translations for any participant in the court proceedings who is not familiar with the spoken or written languages commonly used by the local ethnic groups." The Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China, the Administrative Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China and the Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China have included similar stipulations.
— All ethnic groups participate in state affairs administration on an equal footing. In China, the ethnic-minority and Han peoples participate as equals in the management of affairs of the state and local governments at various levels. Article 34 of the Constitution states: "All citizens of the People's Republic of China who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status, or length of residence." In addition, the laws provide other special guarantees for the rights of ethnic minorities to take part in the management of state affairs. The National People's Congress (NPC) and local people's congresses are the organs through which the Chinese people of all ethnic groups exercise state power. In accordance with the Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses of the People's Republic of China, where the total population of an ethnic minority in an area is less than 15 percent of the total local population, the number of people represented by each deputy of that ethnic minority may be appropriately smaller than the number of people represented by each of other deputies to the local people's congress, but ethnic minorities with exceptionally small populations shall each have at least one deputy. In all NPCs, the proportions of deputies of ethnic minorities among the total number of deputies have been higher than the proportions of their populations in the nation's total population in the corresponding periods. Of the 161 members of the 11th NPC Standing Committee held in March 2009, 25 were from ethnic minorities, accounting for 15.53 percent of the total.
Chart 2 The Proportions of Deputies of Ethnic Minorities among the Total Number of Deputies in All NPCs
— All ethnic groups enjoy freedom of religious belief on an equal footing. Freedom of religious belief in China means that every citizen has the freedom to believe or not to believe in any religion. Article 36 of the Constitution stipulates, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion." The State Council promulgated the Regulations on Religious Affairs to put this constitutional principle into practice. In China, all normal religious activities, including those of ethnic minorities, are protected by law. Venues for religious activities are found all over China, basically satisfying the needs of religious believers. For example, there are over 24,300 mosques in Xinjiang and 28,000 Moslem clergymen. In Tibet, there are over 1,700 venues for Tibetan-Buddhist activities, with 46,000 monks and nuns living in temples. Traditional Buddhist activities are carried out there normally — from sutra studies and debates to tonsure and abhisheka (consecration) and other Buddhist practices, as well as the system of academic degrees and ordination through examination. Prayer flags, Mani piles and Tibetan-Buddhist believers are seen everywhere in Tibet. Besides, the Chinese government also helps religious groups build seminaries to train clergymen of ethnic minorities, subsidizes the repairs of some religious venues in minority areas, and gives allowances to poor religious believers of ethnic minorities.
— All ethnic groups in China have the right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. "All ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages" is a provision of the Constitution. In the political activities of the state, such as important meetings held by the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), documents in Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazak, Korean, Yi, Zhuang and other ethnic-minority languages are available, and language interpretation between Han Chinese and these languages is provided. Besides Han Chinese, there are also inscriptions in Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur and Zhuang on China's RMB notes. The organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas all use one or more languages of their areas in their official activities. Ethnic-minority languages are widely used and developed in education, press and publications, radio and TV, film, Internet, telecommunications and many other fields of social life.
— All ethnic groups have the freedom to preserve or change their own folkways and customs. It is clearly stipulated in the Constitution that all ethnic groups "have the right to preserve and reform their own folkways and customs." The state accords full respect to and effectively guarantees the practice of folkways and customs of ethnic minorities in clothing, decorations, food, drink, lifestyle, weddings, festivals, ceremonies and funerals. For example, in order to ensure that Muslims have access to their special diet, regulations on the supply and management of halal foodstuffs have been drawn up in 16 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government), including Beijing, Jiangsu and Xinjiang, as well as some major cities such as Guangzhou, Kunming and Chengdu. Other areas have also made relevant specifications in their comprehensive regulations. The rights of ethnic minorities to celebrate their own festivals are also ensured. The laws and regulations of China prescribe that people's governments in the autonomous areas can enact their own holiday policies in accordance with the customs of the relevant ethnic minorities; ethnic minority workers can enjoy paid holidays when participating in their own major festivals and celebrations in the light of the relevant policies of the state. To prevent violations of the folkways and customs of ethnic minorities, China's laws and regulations make clear requirements for organizations and employees in the fields of press and publications, literature and art, and academic research. The Criminal Law of China has the provision of "crime of infringement upon the folkways and customs of ethnic minorities," and acts that infringe upon the folkways and customs of ethnic minorities will be investigated in accordance with the law.
In view of the gap between ethnic minorities and the Han people in social and economic development, citizens of ethnic minorities enjoy not only all civil rights prescribed by the Constitution and the law, but also some special rights and interests in accordance with the law.
China firmly opposes ethnic discrimination and oppression in any form. Any words or acts aimed at inciting hostility or discrimination against any ethnic group and sabotaging equality and unity among peoples are regarded as violations of the law. Any ethnic minority subjected to discrimination, oppression or insult has the right to complain to judicial institutions. China has joined the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and conscientiously performs the duties prescribed in the convention, making unremitting efforts together with the international community to build a world free from racial and ethnic discrimination.