Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 12: China’s nationality policy from the perspective of international minority rights
There are 56 state-recognized nationality groups (minzu) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The majority nationality group is Han Chinese, representing 91.6 per cent of the total population. The other 55 groups are classified by the government as minority nationality groups. How well has the PRC state treated ethnic minorities in China? Some people hold either positive or neutral views about various aspects of China’s nationality policy (Mackerras 2011: 116–117, 124; Sautman 1999: 283, 300–302; Sautman 2012). Others however are critical of the PRC’s policy toward its ethnic minorities, considering it discriminative in terms of labour market outcomes and detrimental to minority cultures including languages and religions (Barabantseva 2008: 569–570; Howland 2011: 4; also Hyer 2009; Smith Finley 2007; Schluessel 2007). Which of the above conflicting claims is close to reality? This chapter addresses this question by measuring what the PRC has done for its ethnic minorities against the current global norms on minority rights. Its benchmark is the global norms on minority rights, rather than China’s standards, since they underscore international criticisms of China’s nationality policy. The ‘global’ norms are mainly the outcomes of the efforts by the European Union (EU) in championing minority rights as a key norm in global governance (Pentassuglia 2005: 24; Preece 1997: 358; Rupnik 2000: 123–124; Vermeersch 2004: 3). The European norms are used because ‘minority standards beyond Europe are still virtually lacking’ (Pentassuglia 2005: 19; also Castellino and Redondo 2006: 10).
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