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Society and National Minorities in the 1950s

Mar 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The Constitution of 1954 confirmed the right of the so-called National Minorities (shaoshu minzu 少数民族) to be on an equal level to the Han Chinese. There were 54 ethnic minorities, with a total number of 35 million persons. Yet the right of self-determination, in other words, separatist nationalism, was not granted. At least, the regime created province-like autonomous zones (zizhi qu 自治区), and below them autonomous prefectures and counties (zizhi zhou 自治州, zizhi xian 自治县).

These were the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of the Uyghurs (1955), the Guangxi Autonomous Region of the Zhuang Minority, and the Ningxia Autonomous Region of the Hui Minority (both 1957). Local disturbances by the Khampa rebellion in Tibet delayed the creation of a similar Region on the High Plateau until 1965. Inner Mongolia had been given the status of an Autonomous Region as early as 1947. Beijing trained cadres from the National Minorities to make their integration easier. The largest languages (Mongol, Uyghur, Tibetan, and Zhuang) were given their own transcription alphabets (as can be seen, for instance, on some paper notes), and quite a few studies on the customs and habits of the Minorities were carried out. Yet even if the beauty of their customs was praised during folklore parades, the gradual assimilation of the Minorities advanced through constant immigration of Han in a kind of inner colonialization, particularly in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

Figure 1. The reverse side of a 1-Yuan note (4th series from 1980), with inscription in Hanyu Pinyin ("Zhongguo Renmin Yinhang" / "Yi Yuan"), Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Zhuang (in Romanization alphabet, just above "1980"), saying "People's Bank of China – One Yuan". Source: Zhonghua renmin gongheguo huobi tulu, XXX.

The detailed organization of society down to the family level allowed the Communist regime to take the most accurate census China had ever seen. The population amounted to 600 million in 1953, yet including estimated numbers of Overseas Chinese (c. 11.7 million) and the population of Taiwan (c. 7.5 million). Of this number, 87 per cent still lived in the countryside, and men outnumbered women at 51.8 per cent. The Party leadership was somewhat surprised at these figures and under the impression of the Malthusian theory, initiated a rural campaign for contraceptives. Yet with the beginning of the Great Leap, it was abandoned, and the Party was only reconsidering the problem of population increase in the late 1970s.

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