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Political Correctness

In U.S., despite the popularity of Bill Maher, political correctness is a serious business, especially in academia. Any inadvertent comment or joke about race and rape will be attacked as racism or misogyny. Recently Hong Kong media published a conversation of Zhu Wei Qun, he was an official who was involved in negotiation with representatives of Dalai Lama, and Alai, a Tibetan writer, on the question of Chinese minority policies, whether a more flexible policy is needed to reduce tensions. Alai feel as many African-Americans here feel, that too much emphasis on affirmative action or quotas, does not help him to feel as a Chinese, instead of bridging the differences it causes more of the rift and separateness.
Chinese minority policies has been essentially copied from the Soviet model since the 50s. Where minority nationalities predominates, it’s set up as autonomous area where local minority representatives are nominal heads while Han officials are inevitably the party commissioner and real power. It does really showed a distrust and patronizing attitude towards them as backward and needs help. Now with coming September the 50th anniversary of Tibet being autonomous region, and probably Xi will visit there to show its importance, this debate shows different opinions on this issue.
In June, Chinese Nationality newspaper, which is under the control of premier’s office, printed 7 special commentator articles attacking Zhu Wei Qun and Alai. It defended the nationality policies as correct and helpful to the minority nationalities. Yet as a sign of openness, Zhu Wei Qun didn’t buckle under and issued a rebuttal, calling the attacks as reminiscence of Cultural Revolution, where one built up a straw man which distorted the original comments, and dare the newspaper to quote any direct comments as fitting the straw man.
I am glad of this controversy. One of the weaknesses of the present Chinese government is the fear of open debate, where subordinates will never contradict his/her superiors as wrong and that causes more damages long term. Present anti-corruption drive may target corruption, but it’s more important to open up debates than just venal officials.
In U.S., the uneven application of affirmative action policies causes backlash in white communities while minorities feel pigeonholed and devalued as affirmative action babies and not truly on their merits. In China, even when I was in China in the 50s, I felt Uighurs as exotic and not really Chinese, and Uighur traders to be avoided, as any dispute with them will be judged in their favor as local officials avoid any problem with them. This is really destructive to the sense of law and justice and causes negative feeling on the part of Hans while not really helping the Uighurs. With the reform, the mixing of races has accelerated, and the pushback against modernity by religious zealots occurred in China as well as in U.S.. Here the cultural wars are pretty much over except as rearguard actions in some areas. In China as mixing increases, and anti-terrorism policies take hold I expect similar results.

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  1. July 19th, 2015 at 22:17 | #1

    I want clarify that China’s minority policy is not a copy of the Soviet model. There are some similarity but there are fundamental differences. For example, in China the local dialect is introduced as medium of teaching, in many part of the Soviet Union, Russian and Cyrillic replaced local languages. For example, even the Mongolian Republic use the Cyrillic alphabet. Today, countries such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan etc still list Russian as official language. Secondly, local religion and belief were pretty much untouched in China (except for a few years during the CR). In the Soviet Union, open practice of Eastern Orthodox or Islam is cause for jail time. The similarity is that a local chief would be selected or elected but a commissar or secretary would be assigned from the central government, which is not necessary Han or Russian.

    Affirmative action actually didn’t start with the PRC, it was first introduced during the Ming dynasty. The ROC also have its own version. I do agree that many successful minority in China felt a bit insulted by being given extra points or special quota in university or government position. However, one must look at the reality on the ground. I will not compare China’s policy to other countries because China has its own unique challenge here. I know giving extra points to a specific groups of people based on their ethnicity may sound unfair, but is it really so? Let’s look at an ethnic Qiang teenager who grow up in a remote village a few hours drive from the nearest town. He grew up speaking his own native tongues, his only opportunity of using Mandarin Chinese is through mass media and as a second language in his primary and secondary school. If he is to take the Gaokao, would he fare as well as an average teenager from Shanghai or Beijing?

    Affirmative action definitely has its flaw but it is a necessity in China because without it we will see even more distortion in society. The discussion should be on how to improve it and not to abolish it.

  2. Black Pheonix
    July 20th, 2015 at 05:46 | #2

    I agree.

    Affirmative Action (in the Chinese version of it) is designed to mix and integrate various groups of people, by giving them all socioeconomic mobility as much as possible.

    Even if the system is not intentionally unfair /discriminatory toward the minorities, we have to acknowledge that the minority groups are at disadvantage in China, just because of their ethnicity.

    AA seeks to compensate (a little) for such disadvantages. It is not a total compensation, but it is designed to give them better chances. It doesn’t even guarantee them money or jobs.

    Is it unfair toward the Han Chinese? To some, and to a degree, if every thing else is equal (except they are not).

  3. N.M.Cheung
    July 23rd, 2015 at 03:39 | #3

    I am in favor of the affirmative actions. When I visited Tibet 3 years ago, I saw all the homes constructed/donated by other provinces as brotherly help, despite the slander by NYT as forcing nomads to live in towns. I am still drinking tea from the tea bricks we purchased there which were donated by other provinces and the proceeds use to pay for free school lunches there. But I still consider the nationality policy a failure until People’s Daily publishes that the a Tibetan is appointed party secretary for the autonomous region, for symbolism is important.

  4. August 4th, 2015 at 16:17 | #4

    Anyway, Alai got famous for writing a novel named When the Dust Settled(尘埃落定). It was subsequently made into a TV series. It is available here free. http://www.youku.com/show_page/id_zcbfde72c962411de83b1.html

    It illustrates the dealing of the various local chiefs and the red and white Han.

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