Staunton, August 26 – Until a decade ago, the Chinese communists followed the Soviet model of nationality policy, forming non-Han republics and promoting the development of their titular nationalities so that they would be in a position to cooperate with the dominant Han in the construction of a communist society, Yaroslav Shevchenko says.
But when many non-Hans resisted, Beijing changed course with Chinese leaders increasingly referring to the disintegration of the USSR and of Yugoslavia and especially to Moscow’s failure to hold the Baltic countries, the Far Eastern Federal University sinologist says (carnegie.ru/commentary/85190).
Beginning with a series of scholarly articles in 2011 and then in speeches by Chinese communist leaders, Beijing changed its view that economic progress among the non-Han would lead to their integration and began to reflect on the fact that the Baltic republics despite their advantages and economic success remained the most committed to leaving the USSR.
If non-Han peoples would not be grateful to Beijing for the advantages they were being shown, Beijing concluded, there was no reason to continue to promote their development. Instead, they would be forced to assimilate by reducing the status of their languages, diluting their numbers by population transfers, and engaging in open repression.
This shift from Soviet-style korenizatsiya (“rooting”) to a program of forced denigration of the eight percent of the Chinese population which is not part of the Han nation enjoys widespread support, Shevchenko says. It is not a policy which is likely to change anytime soon because Beijing believes it is behaving in ways that will prevent a Chinese version of 1991.
It is entirely possible, the Vladivostok scholar says, that in a few decades, China will succeed in assimilating even the Uyghurs. But there is a lesson from the Baltic experience the Chinese have not drawn: many peoples even if they are doing well economically never give up their ethnic attitudes.
Today, he concludes, “80 years after deportation and mass purges, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians remain among the most anti-Russian peoples of Europe.” If its policy of forcible assimilation if a voluntary method doesn’t work, Beijing could find itself surrounded by non-Han peoples who have attitudes toward the Chinese much like the Balts toward Russians.