Lecturer in Chinese Studies Room 420, Asian Studies Program, School of Social Sciences La Trobe University Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia Email: email@example.com
This paper intends to explore the minority Muslim Uyghur students’ perceptions of Han Chinese in China. The evidence has been drawn from a group of Uyghur high- school students in a dislocated state school in mainstream Han Eastern China. The paper analyses their Chinese essays entitled ‘Han people through my eyes’. Their views of Han people feature a dichotomy from idealization to criticism. This reflects the strong political indoctrination of ethnic integration in schools from the Chinese government in Xinjiang, as well as a harsh inter-ethnic relationship.
Perceptions of Other Ethnic Groups, the Xinjiang classes, Uyghur, Han.
1 This paper was presented to the 18th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Adelaide, 5-8 July 2010. It has been peer reviewed via a double referee process and appears on the Conference Proceedings Website by the permission of the author who retains copyright. This paper may be downloaded for fair use under the Copyright Act (1954), its later amendments and other relevant legislation.
The riots in Xinjiang in early July 2009 shocked the world, given the numerous deaths of mainly Han majority civilians in Urumqi, China’s foremost north-west city.2 Since it signalled some Uyghurs’ resentment to ethnic Han people in Xinjinag Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), it is imperative to re-examine Uyghur-Han inter-ethnic relations within Xinjiang, as well as in China as a whole.
In fact, China has also been addressing the Uyghur issue in a long-term strategy. In 2000, a national policy started to be implemented to run four-year boarding high- school classes (Inland Senior High School Xinjiang Classes, Xinjiangban, hereafter abbreviated to the ‘Xinjiang class’) in local Han majority schools in eastern cities, mainly targeting minority Uyghur students from Xinjiang (Chen, 2008). The policy of the Xinjiang classes aims to educate a group of young Uyghur talents through the national curriculum and thus enhance ethnic integration.3 Since 2005, the estimated total enrolment exceeded 20,000 in 500 classes across 24 inland cities, which arguably becomes a significant group for the future of Uyghur people.4 This will also show a great impact on Uyghur-Han inter-ethnic relations in China.
This paper examines a specific group of young migrant Uyghur students who have studied in a boarding school in eastern China, exploring their cultural perceptions about Han people. What do these young Uyghur elite think about Han people? How do they form such perceptions? Have their perceptions been changed owing to a life- changing experience?
2 Death toll in Xinjiang riot rises to 156. 7 July 2009. New China News Agency (Xinhua). Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-07/07/content_11663866.htm. 3 The Administrative Regulations on Inland Xinjiang High School Classes (trial version), 5 June, 2000. Ministry of Education. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://www.moe.edu.cn/edoas/website18/98/info1098.htm. 4 The Uyghur population was 8,399,393 according to data from the previous fifth national census in 2000. National Bureau of Statistics of China. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/ndsj/renkoupucha/2000pucha/html/t0106.htm. The opinion on the expansion of the enrolment of inland Xinjiang Senior High School Classes, Ministry of Education, National Committee on Development and Reform, and Ministry of Finance. 17 May, 2005. Ministry of Education. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://www.moe.edu.cn/edoas/website18/28/info12128.htm.
The data has been drawn from 55 copies of the Uyghur students’ Chinese essay practice. In 2003, the author had a three-month field study in one of the Xinjiang classes in a local senior high school in a provincial capital city. These essays have been collected from two groups of the Xinjiang class students. One group consisted of 19 newly enrolled preparation-year students (hereafter called ‘prep students’). The other group consisted of 36 grade-two students (hereafter called ‘senior students’). The former had had very little contact with the local Han community as they had arrived less than one month earlier. In contrast, the latter group had had nearly three years of schooling in the local community. Both groups completed the essay entitled ‘Han people through my eyes’. These essays become an ideal source for examining Uyghur students’ perceptions of Han people.
The significance of this study is to show an example of the Uyghur-Han ethnic relations in the specific context of the inland boarding schools for Uyghurs in mainstream Chinese areas. While seen as a reflection of Uyghur’s ethnic identity, it also demarcates Uyghur ethnic boundaries with the majority Han. Furthermore, the paper also tries to reveal the social and political contexts embedded in such beliefs, such as the increasing inequality of social-economic development between the Uyghur and Han, and the involvement of the state power of legitimacy.
Perceptions of other Ethnic Groups in China
Central to this paper is the concept of cultural stereotypes. Stereotypes are, ‘an individual’s set of beliefs about characteristics or attributes of a group’ (Judd & Park, 1993, p. 110). Blum suggests that: ‘stereotypes are cultural entities, widely held by persons in the culture or society in question and widely recognized by persons who may not themselves hold the stereotype’ (Blum, 2004, p. 252). In the area of ethnic studies, cultural stereotypes are often interchangeable with several similar terms, such as typification (Blum, 2001), personal beliefs or perceptions (Krueger, 1996), as well as group image (Mackerras, 1991).
Within China, the general relationship between the Han and ethnic minorities in China is perceived by most Han people as a parallel of ‘Big Brother and Little
Brother’.5 Even with an increasing attention on researching minorities, the emphasis has been on the dimension of minorities’ voices about minority stories. Studies regarding minorities’ views about Han people have gained little attention as yet (Blum, 2002).
Gladney (1994), Mackarras (1998, 2004), Blum (2001), Smith (2002) and Baranovitch (2003) are noted for focusing on the Han and minorities’ inter-ethnic relationship in the Chinese context. Gladney (1994) considers that minorities are always seen as followers (Gladney, 1994, p. 99) with a sense of ‘otherness’ (Gladney, 1994, p. 114). In particular, he claims the significance of minorities’ symbolic tribute to Han people. In return, the Han majority tends to ‘temporarily’ tolerate the differences among the ‘backward’ minorities’ (1998, p. 116). Mackerras (1998) highlighted the political significance of social relations between Han and Muslims, as well as intra-Muslim groups in the field of political study. These relations affect social stability in north-western China, and also pose a long-term threat to China’s national security and ruling legitimacy. ‘In the early 21st century, Han relations with the Uyghurs are worse than with any other ethnic minority in China, including the Tibetans’ (Mackerras, 2004, p. 226). Based on her field study on the minority views about Han people in south-west China, Blum (2001) claims that: ‘the minority views of the Han are rarely reproduced for outside consideration, aside from periodic complaints in autonomous regions about da Hanzuzhuyi (Han chauvinism)’ (Blum, 2001, p. 176). Smith (2002) emphasizes the emergence of an ‘us and them’ dichotomy between Uyghur and Han people in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs employed a complex system of ethnic boundaries, including symbolic (e.g. language), spatial (e.g. residence) and social (e.g. interaction) boundaries, to emphasize their contrasting ethnic identities. Lastly, Baranovitch (2003) describes the images of Uyghurs and their orthodox representation in China. In Beijing, Uyghur migrants feel that they have been labelled with ‘significant otherness’ and as ‘outsiders’ by mainstream society (Baranovitch, 2003, p. 726). Since the 1990s, the most conspicuous images of the Uyghur in Beijing have been as drug dealers, gangs of young pickpockets, and shish-kebab vendors (Baranovitch 2003, p. 734). Fortunately, some Uyghur
5 See Guan Kai, Images of Minzu in contemporary Chinese society. China’s Minzu News Website. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://minzu.people.com.cn/GB/165242/12100189.html.
entrepreneurs, such as restaurant owners, have strived to create a more positive ethnic image in Beijing.
Taken together, little has been done in examining a future generation, such as young minorities’ views about Han people. By studying this young group, it also can mirror the influences from the adult world of fellow Uyghurs and Han people. In relating to Uyghur young people in this paper, their cultural stereotypes herewith refer to their general perceptions about the majority Han people which have accrued from their schooling experiences and community lives, both in Xinjiang and in inland China. These views are also young Uyghurs’ personal beliefs about Han’s cultural characteristics
Flower and Thorns
Uyghur students’ essays show a set of bipolarized perceptions. While most prep students invariably hold positive views towards Han people, more senior students acknowledge the negative sides. In one of the most popular and ‘political correctness’ Chinese songs for Han-minority relations, the lyrics read, ‘fifty-six ethnic groups, fifty-six flowers’.6 The positive views can be represented as ‘flower’, and the negative views are denoted as ‘thorns’. The contrast may be due to a prolonged real encounter with local Han people in the boarding school, which have helped the senior students to form more critical views. The positive cultural perceptions centre on characteristics such as ‘friendly’, and ‘punctual’. Meanwhile, the negative perceptions concentrate on local Han people’s lack of awareness of Uyghur culture, and sense of Han or local superiority. Consequently, while the positive views make Uyghur students idealize and greatly admire Han people and Han culture, the negative views help to nurture their realistic understanding of Han people and regain their Uyghur ethnic dignity.
6 The song is ‘Love my China’ (1991), lyrics by Qiao Yu, and composed by Xu Peidong. It is the theme song for the fourth Chinese national ethnic minority sports games. One of the key lyric reads: ‘fifty-six minzu (ethnic groups), fifty-six flowers, brothers and sisters from fifty-six minzu all belong to the one family’. It then has been widely sung in China, particularly in official events. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://baike.baidu.com/view/97422.htm.
‘The most beautiful flower in the garden of motherland’
Students create the metaphor by denoting their positive perceptions about Han people as ‘the most beautiful flower in the garden of motherland’. Overall, such perceptions seem well in line with Chinese official rhetoric of ethnic unity and harmony.
Friendliness and diligence
In terms of the most common descriptions for Han people’s cultural characteristics, both the prep students and the senior students consider Han people to be friendly and diligent. Among the 36 senior students’ essays, there appear 10 quotes of Han people, ‘being warm to others’ or ‘friendly’. 6 out of the 19 prep students also state the same. Similarly, the paper also finds 10 entries of ‘diligence’ in the senior essays, and 7 in the prep essays. One prep student writes, ‘I feel that Han people belong to an ethnic group of friendly and very hard-working people’ (No.1 prep student).
Some students also resonate with this perception from their childhood experiences in Xinjiang.
When I was in Xinjiang, Han people also could be seen in rural area. I mean they were very hard-working. During this summer vacation, my mum and I went to my grandmother’s home. We saw around eight to nine Han people working under the scorching sunlight in the farm along the road. They were very efficient. I was curious and asked my mum: ‘why don’t they go home?’ Mum said: ‘Han people are all such hard-working people.’ I was so convinced; they were born to be hard- working. (No. 2 prep student)
Interestingly, the characteristic of ‘diligence’ is always mentioned along with another characteristic ‘friendliness’, for Han people’s attitude to Uyghur people. Uyghur students highly praise that Han people are caring, warm and willing to befriend the Uyghur, including their local teachers and Han peers, as well as Han peers in Xinjiang.
Firstly, I find that Han students are as warm and open as us. They would speak out and make friends with you. Some of them think you are handsome, or distinct,
they would admire you, feel special of you, and intend to make friends with you. (No. 5 senior student)
Among the few students who have frequently encountered Han people in Xinjiang, two senior students and four prep students, in particular, described their childhood Han peers as friendly.
While none of prep students noticed it, 13 senior students, over one third of the whole subgroup, deliberately mention Han people’s punctuality and sense of valuing time. Taking into account more indirect quotes, this perception is very dominant among the senior Uyghur students. One senior student states, ‘my first impression about Han people in the boarding school is that their sense of time is very strong. I dare to say that this far exceeds any other ethnic groups’ (No. 1 senior student). Although the student does not specify ‘any other ethnic groups’ inside China or the rest of world, another senior student’s quote also stresses this point. ‘These Han people inland greatly influence me, such as their punctuality, sense of valuing time, and being able to use time and diligence wisely’ (No. 12 senior student).
One student recalled a memory during his prep year. Once, a Politics teacher came about three minutes late to class. He seriously apologized to the whole class, and explained his notion of time, ‘one minute delay from himself will literally add up to forty minutes delay for the forty students in the class’ (No. 3 senior student), whilst the student felt the case was just trivial, and not worth for mentioning at all.
The reason why the prep students have not realized the point is because they are newly arrived at the boarding school and have not regarded the tight schedule and management rule. In contrast, the senior students have been immersed in this setting for over two years. For those senior students, the understanding of Han people’s time- management always goes further, and results in their involuntary reflection on their own people in Xinjiang.
It has been a taken-for-granted habit for people in Xinjiang without having a sense of punctuality. If you are going to see a friend at eight o’clock in Xinjiang,
they are sure to appear at nine o’clock or nine thirty. We are people without time sensitivity. (No. 26 senior student)
Ideal type and admiration
Eventually, Uyghur students have further optimized their positive views about Han people as an idealized ethnic group and did not spare any words to express their admiration. One student comments extremely:
Around the world, I have seen quite a few bad people, who lack knowledge and just wander on the street, waste their parents’ money, or even fight with each other. Those bad people cannot represent Han people. Only people with virtues can represent Han people, and good people far outnumber bad people. (No. 11 prep student)
The most compelling point in this remark is that the student simply regards ‘only people with virtues can represent Han people’. While the logic underlining the comment obviously is a mistake, it approves that some prep Uyghur students idealize Han people. In relation to Han people’s diligence, one student even writes: ‘diligence is the virtue of our Chinese. However, this virtue normally is best presented by Han people’ (No. 17 senior student). As a result, many students express overtly their admiration of Han people. ‘I really admire Han people and admire whatever they have done’ (No. 6 senior student). Blum (2001) also suggests that ethnic minorities in the south-western China usually regard Han people as an ideal group.
The major factors beneath the idealization and the admiration are their families or childhood experience, and the state schools and media. One can easily identify the strong impact of state education and propaganda in instilling the official rhetoric of ethnic relations in China. Students easily nominate facts such as: ‘Han are the most populous ethnic group in the whole world’; ‘Chinese is spoken by the most populous people around the world’; and ‘Han have the longest history of civilization in the world’. Moreover, they are likely to use the Chinese officially promoted configurations about ethnic relations — ‘fifty-six ethnic groups like fifty-six flowers in a motherland’s pot’— which has been widely sung and heard across the state- controlled mass media. Even more, both prep and senior students have used the
expressions of ‘Two Inseparables’ to indicate the ethnic relations between Han and ethnic minorities. 7
‘There is no perfect ethnic group around the world’
For most of the senior students and some of the prep students, their perceptions of Han people become more rationalized and critical. Evidence can be recorded from the essays about their neutralized or negative perceptions of Han people based on their life experiences. This comparative process also helps students fight against Han people’s superiority and uphold Uyghur dignity and ethnic identity.
Jealousy, lack of awareness and distrust: Encounters with Han people at the school
Ironically, compared with the above positive perceptions of ‘ideological’ Han people, there is a stark difference in students’ perceptions about Han people in real interactions. The campus is the most frequent and important environment for inter- ethnic contact for Uyghur students and local Han people. The main Han counterparts are the local teachers, local students, and school staff (e.g. school supermarket staff and cleaners). Depending on the closeness and the frequency of the interactions, Uyghur students’ negative views of these Han people are related mostly to the Han non-teaching staff, the Han students, and sometimes even to the teachers. I have recorded 14 negative views of Han people inside school from senior students, accounting for over one third of the entire subgroup. Most commonly, they complain of Han people’s jealousy, lacking of knowledge about Xinjiang and ethnic minorities, and even their distrust of Uyghur people.
Most of the negative perceptions are derived from contact with local Han students. While Uyghur students themselves acknowledge their general inferiority in academic competition with local Han students, they all feel they can regain their confidence in
7 It is commonly known as ‘Two Inseparables’ or ‘Three Inseparables’. In 1990, during his trip in Xinjiang, Jiang Zemin, the former CCP leader, firstly raised his designation about inter-ethnic relations in China, ‘Han cannot live without minorities, and minorities cannot live without Han, minorities themselves also cannot be separated.’ News Website for Chinese Communist Party. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://theory.people.com.cn/GB/68294/182630/11030702.html.
the sports arena, as Uyghur normally outperform local Han students at sports competitions. Thus, tension in the sports arena occurs very easily.
Some local Han students have belittled us. When we did well on the sports ground, some Han students would provokingly remark, ‘so what? You Xinjiang people are not great at all!’ Quite a few times, I have heard such kinds of comments. I have overheard from a local Han friend, that some Han students quite dislike us. I asked why. She said she did not know. I hope this is only from a small group of people’. (No. 17 senior student)
Although this kind of conflict may be normal during sports competitions, Uyghur students would unavoidably see them as hostility from Han students to challenge their advantage.
In another case, the negative perception comes from local students and teachers’ lack of awareness of Uyghur culture and customs, and even general knowledge about Uyghur and Xinjiang. One student reports a story about how one of his Han friends once offered him a steamed stuffed bun (Roubaozi), and he rejected as it was normally stuffed with pork. Though the student did not feel particularly offended, he complained: ‘He [Han student] just simply did not know about our ethnic group’s custom and habit’ (No. 21 senior student).
Lastly, the strongest negative views to the Han people come from non-teaching staff. Among others, school supermarket assistants would be most negatively viewed by Uyghur students for their distrust.
Sometimes I feel some Han people look down upon us, particularly those assistants in the school supermarket. They are indifferent to us, and do not care about us. When we shop there, they always follow us behind, spying us in a very strange way; it seems we are not shopping but shoplifting there.’ (No. 11 senior student)
Blindness, arrogance and hostility: Encounters with Han people in communities
Outside the campus, the local community has been a more genuine setting for Uyghur-Han ethnic interactions. Unfortunately, Uyghur students have formed pessimistic views about Han people in communities. The essays have recorded
frequent cases of blindness, ignorance, and even hostility from Han residents in the local community.
Some Han people may not know much about Xinjiang. They only overhear or read the news from books or newspapers. But their views are as obsolete as those outdated books and newspapers. They think Xinjiang is just a piece of desolate desert, even without modern transport vehicles. Moreover, in the first year, some local Han people questioned us, ‘Does Xinjiang have schools? Why do you come here to study? We already have too many people living here’. (No. 31 senior student)
Students have negative feeling about local small business people, ‘those business people on the street, they were cold to us. Even if you buy things from their stores, they don’t care about you. It looks like they are not businessmen’ (No. 24 senior student). An encounter is recorded when some students are shopping in local community.
I was angry with those fruit vendors in the market ... My classmate wanted to buy some bananas. We approached a woman in her thirties or forties. My classmate asked her the price, she replied rudely. Having seen her bad attitude, we decided not to buy and just left her. As soon as we were about to leave, she shouted in local dialect. We could understand a little. She said, ‘Forget about it, you Xinjiang people just like this and that.’ My classmate stared angrily at her. If it was in Xinjiang, I at least would beat her, but I could not do that here.’ (No. 2 senior student)
The misunderstanding or hostility can be best reflected from the following case.
When Ms. A [Uyghur councillor from Xinjiang] was here, she reminded us, ‘Wear your school badge when you go shopping in town, especially when you are on the buses. Because when we are onboard, the minority would be seen as thieves in their mind!’ (No. 36 senior student)
This student also explains his anticipation about the reason for this hostility. ‘In recent years, Xinjiang has been unstable, thus Han people have slightly changed their
attitudes to minorities. Here, some people also have some of these kinds of attitude’ (No. 36 senior student).
One can easily associate the pessimistic perceptions of the local community with Uyghur student life experience in Xinjiang. The prep students exhibit 3 cases while the senior students reveal 14 cases of conflicts. One boy has the detailed description,
When I was little, I always liked to go out and played with Han kids. Because I was Uyghur, I would be dealt with indifferently by those kids and their parents. The adults always grabbed their kids’ hands and said, ‘My good kid, do not play with Balangzi [kids, in Uyghur], hurry up, leave them!’ I did not feel bad as I was little at that time. (No. 8 prep student)
While the case mirrors Han people’s passive attitudes towards Uyghur in Xinjiang, the paper also finds that Uyghurs return with negative perceptions of Han in society or the adult world.
Ideological Perceptions vs. Real Encounters
Positive perceptions, such as diligence and punctuality, are explainable by the gap of social and economic development between Uyghur and Han, between the Western and the Eastern areas of China. ‘A decade after China started its Western Development Programme; the gap between its target regions and the eastern areas remains vast’.8 In terms of economic development, hard work and valuing education, these are the traditional Chinese values which have become rooted in a traditionally agricultural society and in Confucianism (Chen, 1999). Punctuality, as a reflection of time-management, indicates the basic requirement of the industrial and service economies in the eastern areas.9 Nevertheless, as China’s open door and reform policy has been gradually going through the eastern and coastal areas, into middle provinces and finally to the west. While now Han people have shown a fast pace life before
8 Development in the west crucial to nation: Government, 9 July. 2010. China Daily. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-07/09/content_10084471.htm. 9 Zhang Ping. The Differences of Industrial structure among China’s Eastern, Middle and Western Areas. Economic Review, 2007. Issue 5, pp.53-57. Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://www.csscipaper.com/eco/socialist-economy-trend/125418.html.
Uyghur students, Han people also had a slow-paced lifestyle before the 1980s.10 Uyghurs’ attitudes towards work, lifestyle and time also are not necessarily stagnant. Culturally, Uyghur people have long been accustomed to a more sedentary lifestyle, of mixed pastoral and agricultural traditions in the oases (Cao, 1999). Cao (1999) also suggests that the traditional Uyghur lifestyle is gradually undergoing a transformation into a modern style. They are learning to change their social attitudes towards lifestyle and time-management amid China’s acceleration of marketization and the West Development Programme.
Uyghur students’ cultural stereotypes towards Han people are also situated in the broader context of ethnic relations between Han and ethnic minorities in China. Uyghur perceptions towards the Han cannot be isolated from Han views about the Uyghur, as both are intermingled in the formation of ethnic boundaries. Gladney suggests, ‘Majorities are made, not born’ (1998, p. 1). This is also the case for the formation of ‘being minority’. Gladney (1998) puts forward that minorities have been negatively feminized by Han people for their exotic cultures but backward social economic levels. Nevertheless, to protect Uyghurs’ ethnic dignity, Uyghurs also have erected an ethnic boundary to respond to this negative cultural stereotype with their strong religious beliefs and lifestyles (Rudelson, 1997; Teng, 2002).
The positive cultural stereotype of ‘the most beautiful flower’ towards Han people demonstrates a long and intensive political indoctrination from Chinese central Government. Intentionally or unintentionally, the state schools spare no effort in promoting Han dominant culture in Xinjiang. Uyghur students are familiar with all the political terms and have frequently quoted them in their essays, such as the term of Ethnic Unification Week, the song of ‘56 ethnic groups and 56 flowers’, and the catchy slogan ‘Two Inseparables’.
Unfortunately, the effectiveness and overall impact of Han idealization have not been publically examined. The effects of this political propaganda are questionable. Though the state has been relentlessly promoting the official discourse of ethnic
10 Zhou, Xiaohong. The change of social mentality in China since the starting of open door and reform policy. Chinese Social Sciences. 18 May 2010. Official website for the journal of Leaders, Retrieved 10 September, 2010, from http://new.21ccom.net/articles/sxpl/sx/article_201005189715.html.
integration between Han and minorities, both Han people and minorities, in general, lack awareness of the cultures of the opposite groups (Zheng, 2002; Mackerras, 2004). In this paper, they have indeed imposed a stereotypical, but superficial, impression of Han people on the new students, which is why the prep grade students more often tend to quote those official lines. However, when students reach the senior year, they become more critical and mention the official rhetoric much less. Often, their critical reflection comes with their negative feelings of Han people and signals a sense of rebellion. This variation also shows that Uyghur students have awakened their independent judgement and critically rethink the Government discourse. Compared with the positive image of the ‘beautiful flower’, there is much more to be done with the negative images of ‘thorns’.
The impact between the gap of flower and thorns is by no means is trivial for both sides. For the school, most Han people, and the government, it is imperative to hear the Uyghur students’ real voices, rather than indulging in their praise and singing. While Han people are far more used to the positive impressions from minorities, those negative views are yet to be acknowledged, let alone examined openly in official discourse, such as Chinese academic research publications and government documents. In addition, the school curriculum and the school rules all tend to be strictly in line with political correctness and have not yet addressed those negative perceptions from the Uyghurs.
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