National unity, rule of law ensure success of regional ethnic autonomy

By By Lü Pusheng / 08-08-2016 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Pictured above are Mongolian, Uygur, Zhuang, Hui and Tibetan people (from left to right) from the five autonomous regions. The system of regional ethnic autonomy has boosted local development, and people in the autonomous regions have higher quality of life.


As China continues to carry out comprehensive reforms and establish the rule of law, it should properly deal with the interests of the nation’s 55 non-Han ethnic groups. However, there are some controversies about how to approach these challenges and draft supportive policies that help to integrate ethnic groups into the national fabric.

It is crucial to further improve regional ethnic autonomy under the unified leadership of the central government in order to promote development in these areas and push forward the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.


National unity
China’s status as a unified multiethnic country is the fundamental basis for regional autonomy and work. The central work conference on ethnic affairs held in September 2014 and the document on opinions of strengthening ethnic work issued at the end of the year pointed out that multiple nationalities are a favorable factor for development. “Cultural integration, economic dependence and emotional closeness among all ethnic groups lay a solid foundation for their united efforts in seeking common prosperity.” This offers a rationale that legitimizes the fundamental political system of regional ethnic autonomy.

Above all, the system should be implemented in line with the pluralistic integration of the Chinese nation. To start with, we should safeguard state sovereignty and maintain territorial integrity while opposing ethnic separatism. Also, we should adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China and follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics while fighting against religious extremism and Westernization.

A political order characterized by harmony and stability is needed to prevent terrorism, which finds its root in nationalist extremism and social unrest. Moreover, the uniqueness of different ethnic groups and areas should be taken into consideration when exercising autonomy.


Rights of ethnic groups
According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, citizens of all nationalities enjoy equal political and social rights within a unified country, but they also shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding national unity and ethnic solidarity. Despite differences in terms of population, resources and economic development as well as religious belief, cultural customs and lifestyles, ethnic groups should abide by principles of the constitution to realize the goals of respecting and protecting human rights.


It is essential to keep improving the mechanism to guarantee the rights of ethnic groups by optimizing conditions for the exercise of basic rights and enhancing feasibility of provisions. The system includes rights that apply to ethnic groups as a whole and individual members. The rights of ethnic groups complement rather than replace universal basic human rights. The ultimate goal is to protect the rights and interests of ethnic groups by raising quality of life through economic development while respecting ethnic cultural differences.


Awareness of community
The basis for protecting the lawful rights and interests of ethnic groups is to strengthen exchanges, respect cultural differences and encourage diversity. At the same time, we should adhere to the principle of preserving the country as an organic whole while putting an end to separatism. The principle of solidarity among all nationalities must be upheld while all people must oppose the chauvinism of the majority against the minority as well as the local nationalism.


Moreover, we must enhance national cohesion and strengthen awareness of the Chinese nation as a community which links all nationalities together. Innovation and optimization in policies and systems are needed to guide people toward a correct understanding of the motherland, history and ethnicity, and strengthen the sense of identity for the Chinese nation, culture and the socialist path as well as a sense of responsibilities in the course of the Chinese rejuvenation.


Rule of law
Regional ethnic autonomy is a significant approach to regulation and implementation of the aforementioned goals. The task is to define and put into practice the right of autonomy under the framework of the rule of law while handling correctly the relationship between implementing ethnic autonomy and upholding central authority.

At present, there are some problems in carrying out the system. Further theoretical research is needed to shed light on the differences between ethnic autonomy and the rights of local government, and the relations between ethnic and regional autonomy.

Laws and regulations on the exercise of autonomy also need improvement. By 2013, there had been a lack of legal provisions in the five autonomous regions. In addition, supporting policies need to be strengthened, such as education policy, transfer payment system and targeted assistance.

The key to addressing these problems is to strengthen the construction and revision of laws and regulations to bring governance of ethnic affairs under the rule of law. Autonomous organs should exercise the right of autonomy by following the constitution and related laws, and in line with local realities. At the same time, they should obey the united leadership of the central government and execute the authority it has invested in them.


Local conditions
Regional ethnic autonomy takes into consideration ethnic and regional characteristics. This provides a feasible approach to adjusting policies that is suited to the needs of ethnic groups and local conditions to promote economic development and enhance quality of life in the autonomous regions.


To that end, preferential policies should be adopted to strengthen infrastructure construction and poverty relief to fully unleash the development potential of the autonomous regions. Furthermore, differentiated measures are needed to support the development of competitive and pillar industries, which will in turn enhance self-development abilities of ethnic regions to provide better public services.

Guarantees of the equal rights and lawful interests of ethnic groups should be established on the premise of national unity, with an awareness of the Chinese nation as a community. And the key to the improvement of the autonomous system is to deal properly with the relations between ethnic autonomy and the central authority under the framework of the rule of law, and provide assistance to boost economic development in the autonomous regions.


Lü Pusheng is from the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Wuhan University.  



The People’s Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic country. So far, 56 ethnic groups have been identified and recognized by the central government. The population of various ethnic groups differs greatly. While the Han ethnic group has the largest population, that of the other 55 ethnic groups is relatively small, so they are customarily referred to as “ethnic minorities.” According to the sixth national census conducted in 2010, the population of all the 55 ethnic minority groups accounted for 8.49 percent of the total population of China. People of all ethnic groups in China have made important contributions to the building of a unified multi-ethnic country and the creation of the time-honored Chinese civilization, as well as Chinese historical progress.

Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China means that, under the unified leadership of the state, regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in compact communities. In these areas, organs of self-government are established for the exercise of autonomy. The implementation of this policy is critical to enhancing the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among different ethnic groups, to upholding national unification, and to accelerating the development of places where regional autonomy is practiced and promoting their progress.

The establishment of ethnic autonomous areas is determined by local ethnic relations, economic development and other conditions, with reference to historical background. China’s ethnic autonomous areas are divided, according to the population and size of the compact communities in which ethnic minorities live, into autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures, and autonomous counties at three levels equivalent to provinces, cities divided into districts, and counties in the administrative division.

China’s first provincial-level ethnic autonomous region—the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region—was established in 1947 in the liberated areas inhabited by Mongolians before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. After New China was established in 1949, the Chinese government began to introduce the system of regional autonomy to all regions where ethnic minorities lived in compact communities. In 1955, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was established; in March 1958, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was established; in October 1958, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region was established; and in 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. By the end of 2003, China had established 155 autonomous ethnic districts. Of these, five are autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties.