Here we present a summary and excerpts of some sections of a HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA (HRIC) report submitted to the United Nations to assist in a review of the PRCs record on racial discrimination. The original report also included a major section on discrimination against internal migrants, which is not covered here and will be included in a future issue of our journal.
In its shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), HRIC reviewed the Peoples Republic of Chinas approach to racial discrimination to determine whether it met the standards set by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The PRC ratified the treaty in 1981, and has thus been a party to ICERD for 20 years.
The organization identified the following factors as the main obstacles to the implementation of ICERD in the PRC: the problematic and narrow conception of discrimination adopted by the PRC government; the discrepancy between legislation and actual implementation; the maintenance of the household registration system (hukou), which institutionalizes discrimination against rural dwellers; the fact that preferential economic policies favor rich coastal areas at the expense of the rest of the PRC, particularly poverty-stricken western minority areas; and inadequate information on domestic promotion of CERD among PRC citizens.
The PRC governments report to CERD focused narrowly on laws and policies relating to the status of minority nationalities (shaoshu minzu), thus conflating the issue of racial discrimination with the situation of ethnic minority peoples and neglecting various forms of racial discrimination that should be dealt with according to ICERD.
HRIC found that PRC laws and policies against racial discrimination had left major groups virtually unprotected and ineligible for the putative benefits of special preferential policies: rural residents (63.91 percent of the population) and rural-to-urban migrants (the so-called floating population, from 40 million to 120 million). Many members of national minorities are actually included in the categories of rural dwellers and internal migrants.
Despite a body of laws and preferential policies providing for equality and the protection of the rights of minority people and [the promotion of] their development, national minorities (106.43 million persons or 8.41 percent of the population) suffer unequal treatment and disadvantages in virtually every area of public life, as indicated by their generally lower economic status and living standards.
Overall, the three groups that are the focus of HRICs reportrural residents, internal migrants and minoritiesdo not enjoy the same level of social and economic development as the Han majority or urban residents. HRICs report examined whether these groups enjoyed equal access to economic, social and cultural rights and made an assessment of the political and economic arrangements for autonomy in minority areas.
The hukou system has condemned generations to poverty and inequality, and has institutionalized discrimination against rural people, including a large proportion of the ethnic minority population. It perpetuates the systematic discriminatory treatment of individuals based on their regional place of origin and/or descent. At birth, children are registered in the hukou system at their parents place of permanent residence. This classification results in the creation of a special category of people who are excluded from a broad range of social, economic and political entitlements. ICERD Article 1 defines racial discrimination broadly as:
Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
Soon after the founding of the PRC, the government set up the system of residence registration (hukou) under which individuals and families are tied to a particular place of residence and divided into nonagricultural (urban) or agricultural (rural) categories. The roots of the hukou system lie in the policies of rapid industrialization adopted by Communist leaders after 1949. Influenced by the Soviet model, they prioritized urban over rural development, and industry overagriculture, commerce and services, with heavy industry given top priority. The state took responsibility for providing industrial workers with guaranteed employment, subsidized housing and food, and other benefits. Rural localities were left to shoulder the responsibility for feeding, housing and employing the rural population.
Members of minority nationalities are also disadvantaged under the hukou system and the rural-urban divide. A larger proportion of the minority population has rural hukou status (around 79 percent in 1999 according to the China Ethnic Statistical Yearbook) as compared with the proportion in the whole population (63.91 percent according to the 2000 census).
The policy of prioritizing the city over the countryside has institutionalized long-standing urban prejudice against peasants, incorporating all rural dwellers into this despised category. It has also created a rigid social hierarchy that was transmitted across generations, involving discrimination between urban and rural areas in economic, social, political, civil and cultural rights. As a practice that has fostered separate and unequal rural and urban societies, the hukou system contravenes the prohibition of ICERD Article 3 against racial segregation, apartheid, and all practices of this nature (emphasis added).
During the mid-1950s, the state undertook to stem rural migration and to impose controls on the population as a means of maintaining order. These policies culminated in the 1958 PRC Regulations on Household Registration. Bolstered by rationing, controls on employment and the severe shortage and public allocation of housing, the system controlled movement of all PRC citizens, especially rural farmers who were bound to their collective-villages until the early 1980s.
Under the 1958 regulations, the Public Security Bureau enforced the hukou system through household registration books. Although the regulations did not specify what type of information was to be recorded, registration books usually listed a familys place of permanent residence, temporary residence, births, deaths and out- and in- migration. In some areas, nationality (in other words ethnic origin), native place, educational level, class status (or other political labels) and military record were also recorded. As well as fixing a person to a particular place of residence, the hukou regulations divide PRC society into two segments, nonagricultural (urban) and agricultural (rural), and made it extremely difficult to change status.
Since the 1980s, population movement from the countryside to the cities has drastically increased. The end of the collective system and the dismantling of food rationing and other structures that maintained the hukou system have required more flexible policies on rural-urban migration. The authorities have now accepted that some degree of labor mobility is inevitable and even necessary for economic growth. However, the government remains unwilling to scrap the hukou system out of fear that this would allow the registered urban population, and thus number of people entitled to urban benefits, to grow too quickly.
According to official figures, about 50 million individuals 6 percent of the rural population live in abject poverty. This figure is set at 106 million by the World Bank, which defines dire poverty as surviving on $1 a day or less. Most of these poor people are in rural areas.
Significant gaps in income and living standards exist between urban and rural areas in the PRC. According to the State Statistical Bureau (SSB), per capita disposable income of urban residents amounted to 4,719 yuan between January and September 2000. Per capita cash income for rural residents during the same period was 1,500 yuan. In other words, the average income in cities is approximately 2.8 times the figure for rural areas. This figure is considerably higher than other low-income economies in Asia where city incomes are, on average, 1.5 times higher than rural incomes. In fact, one study has found that the Peoples Republic of China was among the more unequal societies in developing Asia during the mid-1990s. In 1995, the Gini ratioan economic index of inequalityfor the Peoples Republic of China (0.452) was higher than those for India, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Such disparities explain the enormous gulf in consumption. According to UNDP, the rural-urban gap is wide in all areas, from consumption of foods and household expenditure on clothing, to possession of various household appliances. When the access of urban residents to social benefits is taken into account, the rural-urban income gap widens to four times.
Rural residents suffer systematic discrimination in the provision of health care as compared to urban people. The poorest among them have been particularly severely affected by reforms that have torn apart the social safety net; according to UNDP, the cooperative insurance schemes which once provided for the basic health needs of more than 75 percent of rural residents by 1999 only covered about 10 percent. Although between 1980 and 1997 the population of the rural areas officially increased by 70 million, the number of hospital beds in the countryside remained at 800,000. There are six times the number of hospital beds per capita for urban dwellers as for rural residents.
Overall, the health expenditure share of the government budget has fallen from 32 percent in 1986 to 14 percent in 1993. Figures from that same year showed that about 60 percent of public health spending was disbursed for 15 percent of the population who were urban dwellers or state employees, and only 4 percent of spending covered the needs of the poorest quarter of the rural population.
Furthermore, rural health workers often have little or no training. A 1994 Ministry of Health survey of poor counties found that there were no university-qualified doctors working in townships in these areas. In a minority area of Sichuan Province, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, none of the two counties 545 health workers had graduated from a medical university, and only 53 had completed vocational secondary school.
These disparities are clearly reflected in the life expectancy in different regions. According to the Statistical Yearbook of China, life expectancy in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong has reached 75.20 years, 73.60 years and 73.00 years respectively. This contrasts sharply with inland, largely rural provinces of Anhui, Hebei and Sichuan where average life expectancy is 69.80 years, 71.80 years and 67.10 years respectively. Uyghurs have one of the shortest life spans of any ethnic group in Xinjiang. According to the PRC Ministry of Health, life expectancy for Uyghurs averages 63 years, compared with a national average of 70 years.
While the infant mortality rate stands at 14.2 per thousand in urban areas, it is 41.6 per thousand in rural areas, and even higher in some poor areas. According to UNDP, the mortality rate for children under five shows the same disparity, with the figure of 16.4 per thousand in cities and 51.1 per thousand in the countryside. These averages conceal huge difference, however: in one poor minority county in Sichuan Province, the maternal mortality rate was approximately 667 per 100,000 and the infant mortality rate, 292 per 1,000 live birthsboth about 10 times the national average.
Unexpected outbreaks of immunizable diseases have been reported in some areas. The World Health Organization and UNICEF are concerned that the level of vaccination coverage for children against infectious diseases has fallen since 1983. Moreover, a joint study by the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine and UNICEF found that 310,000 babies die from malnutrition each year and that 39 percent of rural children suffer from below-normal growth rates due to lack of food.
A nationwide sample survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Health in 1999-2000 found that almost a quarter of minority children living in rural areas suffered from Vitamin A deficiency, a substantially higher proportion than for rural children as a whole. Affected children are much harder hit by common diseases. The deficiency can also cause blindness, stunting, increased incidence of respiratory infections and diarrheal disease. The survey found that Vitamin A deficiency in urban children was at developed country levels. The proportions suffering from the deficit were as follows: urban: 5.2 percent; rural: 15 percent; Han: 8.8 percent; minority: 22.6 percent.
Although Article 4 of the 1982 PRC constitution guarantees equality to minority groups, the governments development policies combined with national security concerns have often led to the institutionalization of racial discrimination and economic, social and political inequality. Despite a body of laws supposedly protecting them and a variety of preferential policies, national minorities suffer unequal treatment and disadvantages in virtually every area of public life.
The PRC population is officially comprised of the majority Han (ethnic Chinese, more than 90 percent of the population), and 55 minority nationalities. However, the concept of minority nationalities is a construct of the state, instead of reflecting the self-identification of ethnic minority groups or the reality of ethnic and cultural diversity across the PRC.
In the 1950s, the new government undertook the classification of peoples living in the PRCs border regions, sending researchers and Communist Party cadres to identify groups that sought to be registered as nationalities. The classification was influenced by the criteria used in the Soviet Union. More than 400 groups applied, but only 41 were recognized in the 1953 census. Those not accorded recognition were either classified as Han or put together with other minorities considered similar. Thus within certain national minorities there are groups that think of themselves as having distinct identities. The 1982 and 1990 national censuses listed 56 nationalities.
Some ethnic groups, including the Sherpas, Kucong and Chinese Jews, are still seeking recognition, and in the 1990 census, 749,341 individuals were listed as being in this unidentified category. Furthermore, within the population labeled Han, there is enormous ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity. Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity within the Han population is thus common, particularly in the context of rural-to-urban migration.
The new government also undertook to classify national minorities on a linear scale of social evolution and to label groups according to their cultural stage of development. Minorities without a written language were often classified as primitive and their religious beliefs denigrated as mere superstition. Most were considered backward, awaiting the civilization to be brought to them by the Han elder brothers. This classification clearly advocated the superiority of certain races over others and fostered popular discrimination against ethnic minorities.
Discrimination in minority areas such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia has manifested itself most intensely in the governments efforts to curb separatism in the name of unity. The PRC governments tactics for repressing separatism are comprehensive and often severe. The concentration of military strength in the regions inhabited by ethnic minorities, combined with periodic anti-crime crackdowns has resulted in a variety of human rights abuses. These violations, committed in the name of fighting against separatism or splittism, range from arbitrary arrest and execution after summary trials to dismal detention conditions, including torture, as well as to restrictions on freedom of expression, association and religion.
Ethnic minorities who advocate their own national identity run the risk of being charged with engaging in an act of splitting the country according to the Criminal Law (as amended in 1997) and the State Security Law (1990). Those who criticize the central governments minority policies risk being labeled as splitting the country or damaging national unity, which are crimes of endangering state security in the Criminal Law. Cases involving charges of minority separatism, defined both by the Criminal Law and the State Security Law, are likely to be treated as politically sensitive cases, in which defendants stand even less chances than ordinary defendants of receiving a fair trial.
Regional autonomy for minority nationalities is the central plank of the PRCs policy on ethnic minorities. The 1984 National Autonomy Law of the PRC (Autonomy Law, amended in 2001) is a restatement of the general policies of the CCP toward ethnic minorities, perpetuating the idea that ethnic minorities are backward and need to be helped. One of its biggest flaws is, in HRICs view, that official discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity is not subject to legal challenge. Although the 1990 Administrative Litigation Law is the primary mechanism for citizen suits against government actions, the law states that any legislation or abstract administrative act (regulations, circulars and official documents) are not actionable under the law. Since many instances of racial discrimination result directly or indirectly from such abstract official acts, an effective mechanism to correct such acts is lacking.
Due to its vagueness, the Autonomy Law does not provide a basis for the exercise of regional autonomy, as it fails to delineate the authority and autonomy of the local autonomous governments and their relationship with the central government. Furthermore, the Autonomy Law enshrines the principle of the leadership of the CCP, which dominates the process of selecting local governments. Thus the CCP, not the autonomous areas, sets priorities for autonomous governments.
In the 2001 revision of the Autonomy Law, two new provisions give autonomous governments somewhat greater powers. But in one respect, the new text indicates a tightening. Article 44 stipulates that: The minority autonomous areas implement family planning and the eugenic policy to improve the quality of the minority population. In the previous law, autonomous governments were merely required to promulgate rules with regard to family planning.
Although certain posts in the autonomous governments are set aside for national minorities, top positions are reserved for Han cadres. In the PRC political system, Party secretaries outrank government officials at the same level. Although many minority areas have minority government leaders, the real positions of power are held by Han Party officials, reflecting the central governments watchful attitude toward autonomous regions. In the reform era, none of the autonomous regions has had a person from the local minority as first Party secretary, although there were ethnic minorities who held such posts in the past. Ulanhu was Party secretary in Inner Mongolia until he lost his position in the Cultural Revolution. A similar situation prevails at lower levels: Although the population of Guangxi is nearly 40 percent Zhuang (a minority group created by the official taxonomy, and incorporating a number of disparate groups), only one of Guangxis 11 prefectural and prefectural-level municipality CCP general secretaries is Zhuang.
More generally, minorities are not represented in the highest decision-making levels of the state, like the CCP Politburo, where there has not been any ethnic minority member since the early 1980s. Ismail Amat, the Uyghur in charge of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, is the only member of the State Council who is not a member of the CCP Politburo.
The preferential policies adopted by the PRC government to address problems of discrimination against ethnic minorities and their unequal access to economic and social opportunities cover five major areas: family planning; education; employment; business development, special loans, grants and tax exemptions; and political representation.
These preferential policies are essentially an exchange for cooperation for the exploitation of natural resources in minority areas. The PRC government claims to invest 30 billion dollars a year in minority areas, but this sum is reportedly equal to the revenues extracted from those same areas. Furthermore, the principal advantage autonomous areas once enjoyed being allowed to manage their own industrial and agricultural production is now virtually meaningless since most other areas also enjoy such rights. In addition, preferences accorded to coastal development zones and cities, such as tax breaks, provide far more benefits than those enjoyed by the autonomous areas. As a result, in the reform era minority regions have seen a marked decline in the welfare of their indigenous inhabitants.
According to official statistics from the late 1990s, 70 million people were living below a very low poverty threshold of 300 yuan in annual income with another 70 million just above this. National minorities accounted for 43.75 percent of this number, a disproportionate figure considering that they are below 10 percent of the total population. Of 592 rural counties officially designated in 1993 as poorin other words, where average income falls below a certain level 257 were in autonomous areas.
Many of the autonomous areas are rich in natural resources, but minority populations rarely benefit from the extraction of these resources. In the Jianshui County of the Honghe Hani Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, for example, 94 percent of the zinc, 41 percent of the coal resources and all of the manganese are extracted by companies owned by central or provincial governments. Hardly any of the production is given to the local government, nor are the profits shared. Moreover, few members of minority groups are employed in these industries. In the Xinjiang oil industry, for instance, by 1995, there were only 253 minority people among 4,000 technical workers in the Taklamakan Desert oil program.
The disparities between Han and minority areas, as between urban and rural and coastal and interior regions, are not merely due to accidents of geography and differing natural resources. They also reflect the governments policy choices, not only in the historical extraction of resources from the countryside to benefit the cities, but also in the governments development strategy in the reform era, which focused on promoting rapid economic growth in the coastal region at the expense of the rest of the country. This version of trickle-down economics exacerbated the natural disadvantages of the interior.
The large-scale influx of Han Chinese has turned some ethnic groups into marginalized ethnic minorities in their own homelands. This form of internal colonialism can be seen in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (PCC), a huge state-owned organization established in the early 1950s, which is administered largely independently from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government. The PCC has its own police force, courts, agricultural and industrial enterprises, as well as its own large network of labor camps and prisons. It exemplifies the PRC governments dual purpose of developing the region economically and curtailing Uyghur separatism.
Both an administrative organ and a large development corporation, the PCCs 2.4 million employees are 97 percent Han. Although allegedly profitable, the PCC receives a higher level of direct central government subsidy than does the province as a whole. In 1994, the PCCs 13.5 percent of the population of the province received a subsidy of around 1 billion yuan, while the provincial government, which has to address the livelihood of the remaining 86.5 percent, received only 4.24 billion yuan.
The PCC is just one dimension of a long-term strategy of encouraging Han immigration into Xinjiang and other autonomous areas. Although Beijing no longer directly organizes such migration, there is ample evidence that the PRC governments economic policies in these regions have such an effect. Economic discrimination against Uyghurs is manifest in the fact that the regions development has largely bypassed the local ethnic population. The unemployment rate among Uyghurs is about 70 percent, while that of Han Chinese in the region is less than 1 percent.
As a result, demographics in Xinjiang have shifted dramatically: whereas in 1949, the Uyghurs accounted for more than three-quarters of the population while Han Chinese amounted to about six percent, according to 1997 census reports, Uyghurs made up 47 percent of the population and Han Chinese accounted for 38 percent.
There is a huge gulf between urban and rural regions in educational provision, in both quantity and quality. According to official figures, rural to urban ratios for educational spending show a rate of 1:1.66 for primary education and 1:1.67 for junior middle school level. This translates into differing literacy rates. While 91.50 percent of urban Shanghai is literate, literacy in Anhui hovers around 80.60 percent.
A principal reason for this is the acute shortage of funding for education. Even though both GNP and government revenue have been growing, the share of government expenditure on education in the PRCs GDP has not kept pace with this. Although the PRC government had promised to increase education funding to four percent of GDP by the year 2000 from two percent in 1995, by the end of 1999 it had only reached 2.79 percent.
Furthermore, due to reform era decentralization, the central governments support to poorer provinces has been decreasing. Within provinces, localities have to raise most of the funds for basic education on their own, increasing the already existing inequality in provision of educational resources. Despite some government aid programs, the poorest areas are woefully under-resourced. This is the main reason why the condition of rural schools and the quality of education they are able to provide are inferior.
Because of their relative poverty and their predominantly rural status, ethnic minorities are hard-hit by this unequal provision of educational resources. According to official statistics, the number of educational institutions in autonomous areas has been decreasing at a time when their populations have been growing. Higher education institutions, for instance, fell in number from 106 in 1989 to 95 in 1999.
Although the 1995 Education Law outlaws tuition fees for the nine years of compulsory education all mainland children are supposed to receive free of charge, families are required by local authorities to pay miscellaneous fees, which include charges for such items as books, food and electricity. While between 1991 and 1997, government appropriations for education rose by 301.47 percent, tuition and miscellaneous fees rose by 1,009.60 percent. In 1992 the national dropout rate stood at 35 percent, or eight million children.
According to UNDP, the average rate of enrolment in primary school for all ethnic minority regions is about 96.5 percent, compared with about 98.5 percent nationally. However, overall statistics conceal wide disparities. Han children who live in remote, poor areas in the central and western regions are also likely to miss out educationally, but not as much as minorities do. Altogether 69 percent of Hans in Qinghai Province receive some schooling, compared with only 38 percent of Hui and 27 percent of Tibetans. Only 0.42 percent of minority children reach higher education, compared with 0.63 percent nationally.
The comparatively low levels of literacy among many of the minority groups are a telling indicator. In 1990 the national illiteracy rate was 22.2 percent, compared with 42.54 percent in minority areas. According to UNDP, the Hui and Uyghurs (the two most populous Muslim groups) have illiteracy rates of 33.1 and 26.1 respectively, and among the Dongxiang the figure is as high as 82.6 percent. Literacy rates in Ningxia, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai and Guizhou all provinces with a high concentration of ethnic minorities were all below 75 percent; the rate in Tibet was 46 percent.
In the PRC, education is seen as a vehicle for inculcating the values of the CCP. In the 1995 Education Law, the guiding principles for education are defined as Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and socialist theory with Chinese characteristics.
The combination of the emphasis on unity and the dominance of state-sponsored ideological constructs mean that the educational curriculum rarely presents a positive view of minority cultures. The social evolutionary paradigm, under which most minorities are classified as backward, is presented in the classroom as scientific fact. Dai students from Xishuangbanna are taught that they have preserved their feudal serf society, while their school-mates from other nationalities, such as the Akha, Blang and Lahu, are even more backward, having no script and believing in superstition rather than a real religion such as the officially recognized Buddhism. Although students may not be taught that Han superiority is based on racial differentiation, the message is, nevertheless, a doctrine of superiority which is condemned in ICERD as scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous.
The development of more private schools is one way for ethnic minorities to preserve their cultures. However, various restrictions on such schools, such as a ban on religious schools, have created barriers to this. The fact that the PRC government generally views independent expression of minority culture and religion as a threat to the security and stability of the PRC state remains a barrier to the right to education of minority children.
Implicit in Article 2 of ICERD is the right to use ones own language. Yet, minority languages are relegated to a second-class status within the PRC education system.
Since the Cultural Revolution, during which expression of minority cultures was virtually banned, the state has sought to placate ethnic minorities with concessions such as the use of minority languages and the establishment of non-Han schools. Under Autonomy Law provisions, the state allows decisions as to the language of education in minority schools to be taken at local and regional levels. However, the 1982 constitution explicitly states that Mandarin should be used by all nationalities. And in the revised Autonomy Law (2001), Mandarin teaching becomes obligatory in minority schools as early as the lower grades of primary school.
Furthermore, the general dominance of the Chinese language in official affairs and business makes it very difficult to promote education in native languages. Fulfilling the states requirement of promoting the general use of Chinese is in conflict with preserving the right of national minorities to use their own languages. The situation could be resolved if there were more funding available for teacher training to produce an educated bilingual population in minority areas and a real effort to implement bilingualism in autonomous areas.
The failure to promote the general use of minority languages in autonomous areas the Han cadres there are generally either unable to use minority languages in official business or reluctant to do so means that children who attend schools in which minority languages are the medium of instruction are disadvantaged at secondary and higher education levels, where teaching is likely to be exclusively in Chinese. Given the emphasis on Chinese, many minority parents actually choose Chinese-only education for their children. According to a scholar of Inner Mongolia, the dominance of the Chinese language is such that even Mongol language researchers and professors in universities send their own children to Chinese school.