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Backgrounders> Nation
UPDATED: May 27, 2009
Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China
Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China (February 2005, Beijing)

III. The Right of Self-Government of Ethnic Autonomous Areas

The organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas perform the functions of local state organs as prescribed in Section Five, Chapter Three of the Constitution. They also exercise the right of self-government provided for in the Constitution, the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy and other laws, and of carrying out and implementing state laws and policies in the light of specific local conditions. The state organs at higher levels guarantee that organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas exercise their right of self-government.

(1) Independently Managing the Ethnic Group's Internal Affairs in Its Autonomous Area

People of various ethnic origins in autonomous areas are entitled to vote and stand for election, as provided for in the Constitution and other laws and, by electing deputies to the local people's congresses and establishing other organs of self-government, exercise their democratic rights to manage the internal affairs of their own ethnic groups in their autonomous areas. Among the chairperson or vice chairpersons of the standing committees of the people's congresses of all 155 autonomous areas in China there are citizens of the ethnic groupror groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned. The heads of all autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties are all citizens of the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy in the areas concerned.

To guarantee that the organs of self-government fully exercise their political right to manage the internal affairs of their own ethnic groups in their autonomous areas, the state organs at higher levels and organs of self-government in autonomous areas have taken all measures to train a large number of minority cadres and specialized personnel in the field of science, technology, operation and management. By the end of 2003, minority cadres and other specialized personnel totaled over 2.9 million.

Meanwhile, through electing deputies to the National People's Congress from their own ethnic groups, the ethnic minorities exercise the right to manage state affairs. From the First National People's Congress to the present day, the proportion of deputies of ethnic minorities among the total number of deputies in every NPC has been higher than the proportion of their populations in the nation's total in the corresponding periods. For example, in the 10th National People's Congress there are 415 deputies of ethnic minorities, accounting for 13.91 percent of the total number of deputies, 5.5 percentage points higher than the proportion of their populations in the nation's total. Every ethnic group has its own NPC deputy or deputies. Ethnic groups with a population of more than 1 million have members in the NPC Standing Committee.

(2) Ethnic Autonomous Areas Enjoy the Right to Formulate Self-Government Regulations and Separate Regulations

The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy stipulates, "Besides enjoying the same rights as enjoyed by other local state organs, people's congresses in autonomous areas have the right to formulate self-government regulations and other separate regulations in light of the particular political, economic and cultural conditions of the ethnic group in that autonomous area." The Law of the People's Republic of China on Legislation stipulates, "Self-government regulations and separate regulations may contain provisions that have been flexibly altered on the basis of existing laws or administrative regulations to suit the particular conditions of the ethnic group." It also stipulates, "Wherever self-government regulations and separate regulations have made flexible alterations to existing laws, administrative regulations or local laws and regulations, the self-government regulations and separate regulations shall be applicable in that autonomous area." According to the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, "If the resolutions, decisions, orders and directives of state organs at higher levels are not suitable for the particular situation of an autonomous area, the organs of self-government may report the matter to the higher state organs concerned, asking for permission to flexibly carry out, or halt the carrying out, of those resolutions, decisions, orders and directives." By the end of 2003, ethnic autonomous areas had formulated 133 self-government regulations and 384 separate regulations. In light of the particular situation in each area, ethnic autonomous areas have made flexible alterations or provide supplementary regulations to 68 provisions in such laws as the Marriage Law, the Inheritance Law, the Election Law, the Land Law and the Grassland Law.

(3) Using and Developing Spoken and Written Languages of Ethnic Groups

According to the provisions of the self-government regulations for ethnic autonomous areas, the organs of self-government of such areas shall use one or more commonly used local languages when they are performing official duties. If more than one language can be used for such official duties, the language of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy should be used primarily. Autonomous areas such as Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet have formulated and implemented stipulations regarding the use and development of the spoken and written languages of their own ethnic groups, and rules and regulations for the implementation of these stipulations.

Soon after New China was founded, the state helped a dozen ethnic minorities improve or create their own written languages. By the end of 2003,22 ethnic minorities in China used 28 written languages. In China, the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities are widely used in the fields of law and justice, administration, education, political and social life, and other areas. When important meetings, such as CPC national congresses and NPC and CPPCC sessions, are held, the documents of the meetings are available in Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur, Kazak, Korean, Yi and Zhuang, and simultaneous interpretation in those languages are also provided.

(4) Respecting and Guaranteeing the Freedom of Religious Belief of Ethnic Minorities

Most people of ethnic minorities cherish religious beliefs. In some ethnic groups the majority of the people are adherents to a certain religion. For example, most Tibetans believe in Tibetan Buddhism, while the Hui and Uygur peoples are followers of Islam. Organs of self-government in autonomous areas, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and relevant laws, respect and guarantee the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities, and safeguard all legal and normal religious activities of people of ethnic minorities. By the end of 2003, there were 1,700 sites in Tibet for Buddhists to conduct religious activities, and some 46,000 resident monks and nuns; there were 23,788 mosques and 26,000 clerical personnel in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; and there were 3,500 mosques and 5,100 clerical personnel in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. All religious activities are conducted normally, and the freedom of religious belief of ethnic minorities is fully respected and guaranteed.

(5) Retaining or Altering the Folkways and Customs of Ethnic Groups

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas guarantee the rights and freedom of all ethnic minorities to retain their traditional folkways and customs in daily life or when conducting social activities. These include respecting the habits and customs of minority people, respecting and showing special consideration for their festivals, ensuring the supply of special foods, supporting and ensuring the production and supply of special items, and respecting their marriage and funeral customs. Meanwhile, the ethnic minorities are encouraged to adopt new, scientific, civilized and healthy customs in daily life, as well as in marriages and funerals.

(6) Independently Arranging, Managing and Developing Economic Construction

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas may, in accordance with legal provisions and the characteristics of local economic development, rationally adjust the relations of production or economic structure of the said areas. Under the guidance of state planning, they shall independently arrange local capital construction projects, depending on local financial and material resources, and other conditions. They manage local enterprises and institutions independently. Ethnic autonomous areas can engage in foreign trade in accordance with the provisions of the state. They can also open ports for foreign trade after obtaining approval from the State Council. Autonomous areas enjoy state preferential policy treatment in their foreign trade. All ethnic autonomous areas have formulated their own plans, goals and measures for economic and social development by following the guidance of the overall state plan for national economic and social development, while at the same time taking into consideration local conditions.

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas are bound to protect and improve the local environment, and prevent and deal with pollution and other public hazards. They determine, in accordance with legal provisions, the right to own and use pastures and forests within their autonomous areas. They manage and protect local natural resources by law. They have the priority, in accordance with legal provisions and the unified plans of the state, in developing and using the natural resources that are available to them. For instance, the Sichuan Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture has taken full advantage of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, two World Natural Heritage sites within its borders, in transforming tourist resources into a tourist industry. While developing such industry, special attention is paid to the protection of the two sites.

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas have the right to manage local financial matters. All financial revenue belonging to ethnic autonomous areas under the state financial system can be used by the organs of self-government without any restrictions. According to stipulations of the state, financial budgetary expenditure of autonomous areas should include some amounts as reserve funds, the proportion of which to the total expenditure is higher than those in other areas. In the process of managing financial budgets, organs of self-government of autonomous areas are independent in arranging and using the extra in their revenue or funds saved from their expenditure. In implementing state tax laws, in addition to projects that enjoy tax reduction or exemption upon approval from the state, organs of self-government of autonomous areas can grant tax reduction and exemption to projects that need encouragement and preferential treatment from local revenue.

(7) Independently Developing Educational, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Undertakings

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas determine the educational plan, the establishment of schools, school system, the forms by which schools are run, curricula, language of teaching and method of enrollment, in accordance with principles concerning education and legal provisions of the state. Public ethnic primary and middle schools that provide boarding and allowances to most students are established in pastureland and mountainous regions where families normally have financial difficulties and live in scattered locations to ensure that the students can complete their compulsory education. Schools (classes) and other educational institutions whose students are predominantly from ethnic minority families should, if possible, use textbooks printed in their own languages, and lessons should be taught in those languages. Chinese language courses shall be offered at different times of the primary school period depending on the particular situation, to promote the use of putonghua (standard Chinese).

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas independently develop cultural undertakings with ethnic characteristics, including literature, art, news, publishing, broadcasting, movies and television programs. They organize relevant departments to collect, edit, translate and publish historical and cultural books. They protect scenic spots and historical sites, valuable cultural relics and other important items of the local cultural heritage, and inherit and carry forward the traditional culture of the ethnic group(s). By the end of August 2004, China had 29 world cultural and natural heritage sites. Two of the cultural heritage sites, namely the Potala Palace in Lhasa and the Old Town of Lijiang; and three of the natural heritage sites, namely Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic & Historic Interest Area, Huanglong Scenic & Historic Interest Area and the scenic spot of Three Parallel Rivers, are located in ethnic autonomous areas. In addition, the Dongba classical documents of the Naxi ethnic group are included in the World Memory Heritage List.

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas independendy determine plans for the development of science and technology of their areas to disseminate knowledge of science and technology. They independendy determine development plans for their medical and health work, and promote modem medicine as well as their traditional medicine. By the end of 2003, there were 157 ethnic hospitals in China. Of these, 55 were hospitals of Tibetan medicine, 41 hospitals of Mongolian medicine, 35 hospitals of Uygur medicine, one hospital of Dai medicine and 25 hospitals of other types of ethnic medicine. The total number of beds in these hospitals is 5,829.

Organs of self-government of autonomous areas make their own decisions when it comes to sports and the development of traditional ethnic sports activities. By the end of 2003, China had held National Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meet seven times. The Seventh National Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meet, held in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in 2003, consisted of 14 competitions and 125 demonstration events.

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