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A Roadmap for Xinjiang> Archive
UPDATED: September 28, 2009 NO. 39 OCTOBER 1, 2009
Why Does China Adopt the System of Regional Ethnic Autonomy?
Ethnic autonomous areas have been set up throughout China where ethnic minorities live

JOYFUL MOMENT: Dancers from the Zhuang ethnic group perform at an international youth exchange event in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in October 2008 (LIU GUANGMING) 

China practices regional autonomy for ethnic minorities, not other policies. It is the right choice based on China's basic conditions.

The long existence of a united multiethnic state is the historical basis for practicing regional autonomy for ethnic minorities, while the patriotic spirit formed during the fight against foreign invasions in modern times is the political basis for this policy. The population distribution pattern of China's ethnic groups, in which they live together over vast areas while some live in compact communities in small areas, plus the disparities between different areas in access to natural resources and stage of development, make it pragmatic to practice this system.

By now, China has established 155 ethnic autonomous areas. Of these, five are autonomous regions, 30 are autonomous prefectures and 120 are autonomous counties (banners). According to the fifth national census, conducted in 2000, of the 55 ethnic minorities, 44 have their own ethnic autonomous areas. The population of ethnic minorities practicing regional autonomy accounts for 71 percent of the total population of ethnic minorities, and the area where such regional autonomy is practiced accounts for 64 percent of the entire territory of China.

Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities fully guarantees people of various ethnic origins in autonomous areas to exercise their democratic rights to manage internal affairs of their own ethnic groups.

In accordance with the Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the head of government of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county shall be a member of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned. Member(s) of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy shall also serve as the chair or vice chairs of the standing committee of the people's congress, the lawmaking body, in the area concerned.

Now, all 55 ethnic minority groups have their representatives in both the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body, participating in the administration of state affairs and the consultation and formulation of policies on major issues.

Organizations of the Communist Party of China and governments at all levels have attached great importance to the selection and fostering of officials from ethnic minorities. The number of officials and professionals from ethnic minorities has increased from about 10,000 in 1949 to 2.9 million in present day.

The implementation of the regional autonomy for ethnic minorities facilitates the integration of national development with the progress of ethnic minorities and the areas where they live. Due to historical, natural and many other factors, ethnic minority areas are less developed compared with inland and coastal areas. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Central Government has paid close attention to this problem and made great efforts to tackle it. A series of preferential policies have taken effect to prosper ethnic minority areas. Especially after the initiation of the reform and opening-up drive in the late 1970s, ethnic minority areas have made remarkable headway in economic and social fields. The livelihood of ethnic minorities has improved greatly.

From 1978 to 2008, the gross domestic product (GDP) of ethnic autonomous areas increased from 32.4 billion yuan ($4.6 billion) to 3.06 trillion yuan ($440 billion). The per-capita disposable income of urban residents in ethnic autonomous areas grew from 307 yuan ($44) to 13,170 yuan ($1,900) and the per-capita net income of rural residents in these areas jumped from 138 yuan ($20) to 3,389 yuan ($486). In recent years, the local GDP and fiscal revenue of ethnic autonomous areas have grown faster than the national average.

The regional autonomy for ethnic minorities provides legal guarantees for ethnic autonomous areas to exercise the right of self-government in developing education, spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities, science and technologies, as well as preserving local cultural relics. It also allows ethnic minority people to play a leading role in developing their own culture.

By now, the number of cultural relics sites under state protection in ethnic autonomous areas has reached 360. The Potala Palace in Tibet has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those of ethnic minorities also account for 423 of the 1,028 government-approved national intangible cultural heritage items. The Ministry of Culture has recognized 1,488 people as representative heirs to national-level intangible cultural heritage items, 339 of whom are from ethnic minorities. From 2008, they have begun to each receive a yearly work allowance of 8,000 yuan ($1,160).

Sixty years of practice has proven that China's ethnic policies are correct and successful. Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is in keeping with China's actual conditions and the common interests of all ethnic groups. That is why China can maintain ethnic unity and a stable and harmonious society while achieving high-speed growth.


1947, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region was established.

September 1949, the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which served as the provisional constitution of the People's Republic of China, was adopted. A chapter in the document defines regional autonomy for ethnic minorities as a basic state policy.

1952, the Chinese Government issued the Program for the Implementation of Ethnic Regional Autonomy, which includes provisions on the establishment of ethnic autonomous areas and other related issues.

1954, the First National People's Congress included the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in the Constitution. All subsequent revisions to the Constitution reaffirmed the implementation of this system.

October 1955, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was established.

March 1958, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was established.

October 1958, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region was established.

September 1965, Tibet Autonomous Region was established.

May 31, 1984, the Second Session of the Sixth National People's Congress adopted the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, and decided to put it into effect on October 1 of that year.

The author is Minister of the State Ethnic affairs Commission. The article is an excerpt of an interview Yang gave to the China News service

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