Chinese Party official promotes inter-racial marriages in Tibet to create ‘unity’

  • A senior Chinese official has urged intermarriage between Tibetans and Chinese in order to promote ‘ethnic unity’. At a ceremony in Lhasa, the Party chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region congratulated 19 mixed families for their contributions to “the happiness and harmonious nature of our motherland”.
  • The move is unlikely to influence who Tibetans or Chinese marry in practice, and the over-statement of the message appears to indicate official insecurities over a lack of genuine unity in Tibet. This was underscored by an incident last week (August 12) in Kardze, eastern Tibet, in which Tibetans protested the detention of a local official who had objected to the harassment of Tibetan women by Chinese officials, culminating in troops opening fire on an unarmed crowd.[1]
  • The new emphasis indicates the level to which the Chinese Party state seeks to interfere in people’s private lives, and could indicate a shift in approach on ethnic minority policy following recent statements by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “No one would object to individuals coming together of their own free choice, whatever their race or ethnicity. But the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to set itself up as “match.com”, awarding economic and social privileges to mixed couples, reveals only a cold-hearted lack of insight into what will create genuine harmony in Tibet, not to mention a troubling attempt to impose a political agenda on what should remain a private sphere. Furthermore, this builds upon decades of oppressive policies in Tibet, which have already greatly undermined the existence of a free Tibetan culture, way of life and the respect of basic human rights”

Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo’s exhortations towards “fraternal ethnic intermarriage” were promoted on the front page of Tibet Daily, the official Party newspaper, and given prominence elsewhere in the state media in the past few weeks.

Presiding over a gathering of families of intermarried nationalities on June 18 (2014), Chen Quanguo asked the gathering “to promote fraternal ethnic intermarriage as an important starting point to promote the great unity of all ethnic groups in Tibet,” according to Chinese state media. He spoke “with emotion” saying: “I can see that although each household is made of various nationalities which have different customs, they’re all made of loving fathers and filial children, harmonious mothers and daughters, affectionate brothers, affectionate couples, completely happy. I am very pleased. All of your happy and harmonious nuclear families have made positive contributions both to the happiness and harmonious nature of our motherland, and also to the unity and fusion of all ethnic groups in our motherland.” (The report is translated into English by ICT below).[2]

Chen even spoke about the need for Party officials and departments to set themselves up as ‘matchmakers’ for introducing couples to each other, “building a bridge to connect [singles from all ethnic groups] to their soulmates.”

To reinforce the message on the need for mixed marriages, the state media evoked the marriage of Chinese Princess Wencheng to a Tibetan king in the 7th century, which is the main story used officially in modern China to describe the Sino-Tibetan relationship.[3] In their re-telling of this story, the Chinese authorities rewrite history by using the symbolism of this marriage in an attempt to convey that there is harmony between Tibetans and Chinese, underline their dominance over Tibet and prove the Chinese brought ‘civilisation’ to Tibet.[4] A year ago, on August 1, 2013, the first performance of a multi-million dollar spectacle about Chinese Princess Wencheng was staged in a replica Potala Palace in Lhasa, in an ambitious show that will also be staged elsewhere in the PRC.

New generation of leaders questions ethnic minority policy

Chen’s remarks comes after Xi Jinping’s recent comments on the importance of ethnic ‘mingling’ (jiaorong)[5] among citizens of the PRC.[6]

The emphasis on ethnic ‘mingling’ made by Xi during the Xinjiang Work Forum in April reveals a new emphasis in policy and has intensified fears of Sinicization, and the undermining of Tibetan culture and religion.

Since he became Party Secretary and President, Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of forging a shared national identity; in Inner Mongolia earlier this year, he spoke about the need to “bind the people of each ethnic group into a single strand of rope.” (Xinhua, January 29, 2014).

Analyst James Leibold wrote: “In the Xinjiang Work Forum summary there is repeated talk about the need to remove ethnic barriers and forge collective identity. The statement includes the controversial phrase ‘strengthen interethnic contact, exchange and mingling’ (jiaqiang minzu jiaowang jiaoliu jiaorong).” This phrase implies a ‘new policy orientation’, according to influential Qinghua University economist Hu Angang, in the context of contentious proposals outlined in the so-called ‘second generation of ethnic policies’.[7]

The proposals referred to emerge from an intense debate in policy and scholarly circles in China over the past few years on possible reforms of ethnic policies in the PRC, with some influential officials and academics including Hu Angang advocating a further scaling back of ethnic autonomy and preferential policies towards Tibetans and other ‘ethnic’ groups.[8]

The Chinese government’s ethnic policy is laid out in a framework of laws and institutions characterised by the authorities as seeking to protect the autonomy of each of the 56 recognised ethnic groups (Chinese: Minzu), including Tibetans. Details on the legal equality of each minzu is enshrined in the Constitution of the PRC, Article 4, with the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy outlining specific provisions to protect and promote the cultural, economic and political development of each minority group. These include a series of controversial legal, education, employment, and family planning preferential benefits.

But Communist Party control always supersedes the practice of regional ethnic autonomy in Tibetan areas of the PRC – the Party’s interests come first. It is also eroded by the large numbers of Chinese settling in Tibetan areas, marginalising the Tibetan population still further. This means that the level of autonomy that Chinese laws and regulations provide to local Tibetan autonomous governments to protect their language, culture and religion, and to manage policy implementation on issues such as economic development and the environment, is negligible. In the current political climate, it is becoming even more tenuous.

Prior to this, Zhu Weiqun, who has been associated with Tibet policy as a United Work Front official engaged in the formal dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys, and now works under Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Yu Zhengsheng, as the Director of the CPPCC’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, had made several recommendations that would undermine the status of Tibetans and their culture still further.[9] Referring to “serious problems in the Party’s ethnic and religious work,” he recommended removing ethnic status from identification cards; a freeze on new areas being recognised as ‘autonomous,’ and universal adoption of Mandarin and ethnically mixed schooling. The latter implies a downgrading of Tibetan language, an issue that is passionately felt by Tibetans.[10]

Also involved in the debate on ethnic policy in China are a new generation of leaders and policy advisors who have understood that promoting economic development alone has not prevented deep tensions and unrest in the ‘ethnic minority’ regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. While the Chinese authorities have sought to blame the Dalai Lama and ‘outside forces’ for the wave of self-immolations and unrest across Tibet, in China, intellectuals, netizens, bloggers and even some officials believe that these incidents reveal deeper failures in policy. Some policy analysts and prominent scholars have urged the authorities warning of further divisions and deepening instability if the genuine grievances of Tibetans and Uyghurs are not addressed, and if ethnic and cultural diversity are not protected. They have argued for ‘preferential’ ethnic policies recognising this diversity to be maintained.

While not directly naming Zhu Weiqun, one group of Chinese scholars who convened for a symposium on ethnic policies said that: “Problems can and will arise if a society lacks tolerance of cultural diversity.” They even went so far as to say that “rampant Han chauvinism” was behind the recommendations, and that a “deficiency in mutual trust, which can be seen everywhere across the ethnic spectrum in today’s China” is turning gradually into a “social governance tragedy.”[11]

Chen’s new comments underlining Xi Jinping’s assertion on the importance of ethnic mingling represent a sidelining of those more moderate and progressive views, and a push towards greater integration of Tibetans into the Chinese Party-state and downgrading of their culture and religion. They are likely to intensify fears over the survival of Tibetan national and cultural identity.

Inter-marriage directive evidence of Party state’s intrusion into private lives

TAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo’s comments on the importance of inter-marriage are also likely to alienate educated and other Tibetans still further, amidst growing despair at the penetration of Party policies on individuals’ private lives.

Since 2008, Chen Quanguo has presided over a strategy of actively establishing Party presence in rural areas as the answer to ‘instability’, with a more systematic approach to ‘patriotic education’ and a dramatic increase in work teams and Party cadres in rural areas of Tibet. Party cadres are often placed in private homes, and are required to report on every aspect of individual’s lives; they are also encouraged to befriend monks and nuns and gather information about them and their family members, while guiding them to be “patriotic and progressive”.[12] As part of this campaign, the TAR government has tested a trial of “one Party member to make contact with five families” in Lhasa; the official media reported that their responsibility is to watch them and “deeply understand the political thoughts and concepts which influence their lifestyle” (Tibet Daily, May 26, 2009).


Regional Party Secretary Chen Quanguo chairs ethnic intermarriage family forum

People’s Daily, Lhasa, June 19, 2014
(Translations into English by ICT)

At this forum TAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo stressed the need to conscientiously implement CCP CC General Secretary Xi Jinping’s guiding speech in Xinjiang on the second working conference to promote mutual understanding among ethnic groups, mutual respect, mutual tolerance, mutual appreciation, mutual learning and mutual help to promote fraternal ethnic intermarriage as an important starting point to promote the great unity of all ethnic groups in Tibet as a part of the large [ethnic] fusion [mingling]. Regional leaders TAR Party Committee Deputy Secretaries like Wu Yingjie and Qizha La, Head of TAR Propaganda Department and TAR Party Committee Standing member Dong Yunhu, TAR Party Committee Standing member Liang Geng Tian, TAR Party Committee Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary of Politics and Law Committee Rui Lian, TAR People’s Congress Vice-Chairman Zhou Chunlai, TAR People’s Government Vice-Chairman Lobsang Tenzin, CPPCC TAR Vice-Chairman Lobsang Dorje attended the forum. There were 19 families’ representatives who had inter-married among Tibetan, Han, Miao, Mogolian and Hui. Chen Quanguo said that intermarriage is the lifeline of national unity and mutual understanding.

Chen Quanguo: Effectively grasp intermarriage between brotherly nationalities, promote nationality unity and fusion.

[…]

After listening carefully to speeches, Chen Quanguo said with emotion: “Tibetans have a proverb that goes, ‘Love each other, like tea and salt.’ I can see that although each household is made of various nationalities which have different customs, they’re all made of loving fathers and filial children, harmonious mothers and daughters, affectionate brothers, affectionate couples, completely happy. I am very pleased. All of your happy and harmonious nuclear families have made positive contributions both to the happiness and harmonious nature of our motherland, and also to the unity and fusion of all ethnic groups in our motherland. I express my gratitude to you and your families.”

Chen Quanguo stressed that everyone should further implement the spirits of Secretary Xi Jinping’s visit to Xinjiang and the 2nd Central Xinjiang Work Forum, hold nationality unity as a lifeline for every nationality, always hold high the banner of nationality unity, promote the mutual understanding of each nationality, mutual respect, mutual inclusiveness, mutual appreciation, mutual learning, and mutual aid, strengthen the mutual contact and exchanges that fuse the nationalities, promote the establishment of the embedding of various ethnic groups in social structures and community settings, actively encourage the intermarriage of the various brotherly nationalities of the entire region, and promote the great unity and fusion of all ethnic groups in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Unity comes first. The Chinese nation is composed of a big family of 56 nationalities. Each of these nationalities jointly created the long history of the Chinese nation together, and jointly created our great motherland. Intermarriage among nationalities has a long and glorious tradition in our country, is part of the identity of our motherland, a recognition of the Chinese nationality, a recognition of Chinese culture, and is a concrete manifestation of the recognition of the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It’s an important part of the Party’s nationality policy, and is an important channel for fusing the contact and exchanges of various nationalities. In order to actively promote intermarriage between nationalities, and in striving to create the closest nationality relations, we should make the flower of ethnic unity more splendid.

The second is make the right orientation. Make good guidance of public opinion, political orientation, social orientation, and economic orientation. Encourage intermarriage throughout society, have a strong atmosphere of support for intermarriage, so that intermarried families have political standing, get real economic benefits, are respected in their communities, with a sense of honor, pride, and happiness.

Third, platforms are to be created (for interracial-marriages) [meaning that opportunities are to be created]. From all levels of party committees, and relevant authorities and departments of the government to come up innovative ideas and methods, making themselves as positive ‘match makers’ to set up ‘the bridge’. Adhere to a combination of traditional ways and modern means, as well as a combination of tangible support and network platforms, providing good communication for all male and female singles from all ethnic groups, building the bridge to connect their soul mates, and helping them walk together toward for happiness.

Fourth, policies should provide incentives. In accordance with the relevant national policies and regulations, closely connected to the reality of the Tibet Autonomous Region, we must formulate and introduce preferential policies that encourage nationality intermarriage. Preferential policies can be used in schools, employment, entering the Party, joining the military, entrepreneurship support, and other creative areas in order to effectively mobilize the enthusiasm for marriage among different nationalities, promote sharing the wealth between different nationalities, a common destiny, with one heart, living in harmony and pulling together, laying a solid foundation for harmonious development.

The fifth point is to create a good environment [for ethnic mingling], with various levels of Party committees and the government promoting ethnic unity, putting the promotion of nationality intermarriage at the top of their agenda, and do a really good job. The leadership should deal in specifics, remain deployed,[13] keep the relevant departments secure and dedicated, and achieve good results. Departments at all levels should make concerted efforts, work together, give intermarriage a glorious atmosphere across all of society, and continuously write a new chapter in the improvement of ethnic unity in the Tibet Autonomous Region.


Footnotes
[1] ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/tibetans-with-bullet-wounds-after-shooting-denied-medical-treatment-deployment-of-military-leads-to-mass-detentions-in-village-in-kham/

[2] A report by the Chinese Communist Party’s research office in Tibet celebrating the new directives stated that mixed marriages have increased annually by double-digit percentages for the past five years, from 666 couples in 2008 to 4,795 couples in 2013. Washington Post, August 16, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-promotes-mixed-marriages-in-tibet-as-way-to-achieve-unity/2014/08/16/94409ca6-238e-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html

[3] June 21 (2014), www.CRNTT.com (in Chinese)

[4] It is an indication of the efforts by the authorities to gain tourist dollars as well as presenting the state discourse on Tibet.

[5] This has also been translated as ‘fusion’.

[6] In his comments, Chen emphasized the need to “earnestly implement the spirit of Secretary Xi Jinping’s visit to Xinjiang [in April] and the 2nd Central Xinjiang Work Forum, an important Party meeting to set policy for the region.

[7] James Leibold, Xinjiang Work Forum Marks New Policy of ‘Ethnic Mingling’, June 19, 2014, Jamestown Foundation China Brief Volume: 14 Issue: 12, June 19, 2014.

Hu Angang made the comments in late 2011 (Aisixiang, March 31, 2012).

[8] “Rethinking Ethnic Policy,” May 30, 2012, China Policy, see: http://brief.policycn.com/rethinking-ethnic-policy/ See also: “Towards a Second Generation of Ethnic Policies,” July 6, 2012, Jamestown Foundation, at: www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=39590&cHash=f6546cfc679f21c0f476fa77da69f849

[9] “James Leibold points out that in an interview with Phoenix TV in Hong Kong in 2011, Zhu Weiqun admitted the concept of interethnic ‘mingling’ elicited a strong response following its inclusion in Hu Jintao’s remarks at the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in January 2010. Leibold writes: “This was due to fears that, in his words, ‘this would mingle the ethnic minorities out of existence’, and thus the phrase was subsequently left out of the official statement that concluded the First Xinjiang Work Forum.” James Leibold, Xinjiang Work Forum Marks New Policy of ‘Ethnic Mingling’, June 19, 2014, Jamestown Foundation China Brief Volume: 14 Issue: 12, June 19, 2014

[10] It led to major protests by students in Amdo in 2010 (see ICT report, ‘Protests by students against downgrading of Tibetan language spread to Beijing’ October 22, 2010, ICT, see: www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/protests-students-against-downgrading-tibetan-language-spread-beijing). A number of Tibetans who have self-immolated have cited the necessity for protecting the Tibetan language as the bedrock of their culture and identity.

[11] The more than 40 scholars from several different Party organisations including the National People’s Congress and the United Front Work Department, who convened for a symposium of the Chinese Association of Ethnic Theory Research in 2012, concluded: “The delusion in the split of minority groups and their instability held by a handful of scholars from mainstream society is in fact a sign of rampant Han chauvinism and weakening of the rule of law. The blind spot in knowledge, the erroneous zone in education, and the deficiency in mutual trust, which can be seen everywhere across the ethnic spectrum in today’s China, are turning gradually into a social governance tragedy.” (‘Persist in the Basic Political System, Resolve Ethnic Issues Through Development — An Outline of the Chinese Ethnic Theory Association Symposium’, February 23, 2012, Liu Ling [刘玲], Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, see (in Chinese): http://iea.cass.cn/content-BA0810-2012031609383390681.htm). “Rethinking Ethnic Policy,” May 30, 2012, China Policy, see: http://brief.policycn.com/rethinking-ethnic-policy/ See also: “Towards a Second Generation of Ethnic Policies,” July 6, 2012, Jamestown Foundation, at: www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=39590&cHash=f6546cfc679f21c0f476fa77da69f849

[12] Cited by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report 2012, Tibet section. Chen Run’e, ”Be a Close Friend to Monks and Nuns” [Zuo sengni de tiexin ren], Tibet Daily, 18 April 12, reprinted in China Tibet News. According to the report, cadres posted to monasteries ”must establish and perfect records on monks and nuns who hold professional religious personnel certification, detailing and recording their individual information and their family circumstances.” The CECC observed in the same report that Monastery Management Committees, in terms of status and function, are more intrusive and repressive than Masses Supervision and Appraisal Committees (MSACs) established in Qinghai province by prefectural-level Tibetan Buddhist affairs regulations.

[13] ‘Deployed’ is the literal meaning of the term.

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