With its recent election of an African American president, the United States has continued to evolve into a more inclusive society. One of the reasons is that being “American” means buying into a set of ideas rather than belonging to a particular race, creed or color. What was once a society of European immigrants is now a culture with roots from around the world; a culture that celebrates and is proud of its multicultural heritage.
In today’s China, the government talks about promoting a nationalistic spirit; the idea of being “Chinese” not only for the 90% who are Han but covering all minorities. However, it has been widely reported that in minority areas and provinces, the two cultures have virtually no interaction. Even people who work together on a daily basis rarely socialize outside of work. The cultures are different; the Han work hard and put in very long hours, feeling that less effort indicates a lazy attitude. They value the “prosperous” life and enjoy the trappings of success. Many minorities see that same work ethic creating a poor quality of life and want little part of that culture. They prefer to live their lives as their culture has lived for centuries. The Muslim minorities center their life around religion while the Han are nominally atheist. On quite a few occasions I’ve had Han tell me that minorities such as the Uyghurs are “not like us; not Chinese”.
During the Olympic ceremony, children dressed in the different minority costumes paraded around the stadium. Later it was revealed that the children were all Han Chinese. Since cost was no object and it would have been easy to use minority children, this was a conscious choice made by the organizers. My guess is that the actual minorities watching at home did not feel a sense of “inclusiveness”.
How can the Chinese government create a greater sense of unity; of making “Chinese” more than being Han? How can the government develop a more inclusive society? These days, leadership selection is behind closed doors and considered a “state secret” that if reported before the selection is made, is considered a crime. Is that style of governing conducive to minority participation? Or will there need to be changes that take the current opaque selection method and allow a more transparent way of choosing its leaders? Is it simply a matter of government structure or will more need to be done to integrate the society in business, education and social programs? Does China need to develop its own standards of “affirmative action”? Or will the “autonomous regions” need to become more autonomous than they currently are?