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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)

V. Historical Development of Various Undertakings in Ethnic Autonomous Areas

Before the founding of New China, the ethnic minority areas suffered from low productivity, and underdeveloped economy, society and culture. They had little modern industry, few educational or medical services, and poor infrastructure. Most of their populations were illiterate, and they suffered epidemics of such contagious diseases as plague, smallpox and malaria. They mainly engaged in traditional farming and animal husbandry, the slash-and-burn method of farming was still practiced in some of the ethnic minority areas, and iron tools had even not been widely used in some places. The people lived in destitution, and those living in mountainous areas, deserts and on saline-alkali soils were out of food for a few months almost every year. The development of ethnic minorities was seriously hindered, and some were on the verge of extinction.

Since the founding of New China, and especially since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies, the people of various ethnic groups in the autonomous areas have exploited their own advantages, relied on their own efforts, worked with stamina and diligence, and continuously enhanced their self-development ability with energetic assistance and aid from the state and the more-developed areas. As a result of over half a century's efforts, in the ethnic autonomous areas the people's living conditions and environments have remarkably improved, and the local economy and various public services have developed rapidly. Together with the people of the other parts of China, they share the achievements of development brought about by the modernization construction of the country.

(1) Rapid Economic Growth

In 2003, the GDP of China's ethnic autonomous areas reached 1,038.1 billion yuan, exceeding 1,000 billion yuan for the first time. From 1994 to 2003, the GDP of the ethnic autonomous areas grew by an average of 9.87 percent annually, which was nearly 1 percentage point higher than the national average. The proportion of the GDP of the ethnic autonomous areas in the national total rose from 8.5 percent in 1994 to 8.9 percent in 2003. In 1994, the per-capita GDP of the ethnic autonomous areas was 63.5 percent of the national per-capita average. In 2003, the percentage rose to 66.3 percent. Also in 2003, the local revenue of the ethnic autonomous areas reached 67.4 billion yuan, 3.3 times over that of 1994.

In 2003, the GDP of Xinjiang was 187.761 billion yuan, accounting for 1.6 percent of the national total, and an increase of 0.06 percentage points compared with 1993; the GDP of Tibet was 18.45 billion yuan, accounting for 0.16 percent of the national total, and an increase of 0.04 percentage points compared with 1993. In the same year, the per-capita GDP in Xinjiang was 9,700 yuan, equivalent to 106.58 percent of the national per-capita average; and the per-capita GDP in Tibet was 6,871 yuan, equivalent to 75.5 percent of the national per-capita average.

(2) Remarkable Rise of Living Standards

In 2003, the per-capita net income of rural residents in ethnic autonomous areas was 1,895 yuan, 2.31 times that in 1994. The per-capita net income of rural residents in Xinjiang and Tibet were 2,106.19 yuan and 1,690.76 yuan, respectively, equivalent to 80.32 percent and 64.48 percent of that of rural residents nationwide.

In 2003, the housing conditions of the residents of the ethnic autonomous areas continued to improve. The per-capita housing space in urban areas was 19.8 square meters, and that in rural areas was 22.9 square meters. The balance of various kinds of savings in ethnic autonomous areas was 1,175 billion yuan, of which those of the residents of both urban and rural areas at the end of the year was 735.3 billion yuan, four times that in 1994.

(3) Distinct Improvement of Infrastructure

In 2003, the total investment in fixed assets in ethnic autonomous areas was 473.4 billion yuan, 3.7 times that of 1994. Of this, 283.7 billion yuan was invested in infrastructure construction, 4.2 times that of 1994. By the end of 2003, there were 22.73 million fixed telephone users in ethnic autonomous areas, among whom 15.32 million were urban residents. The number of mobile phone users reached 23.07 million. In 2003, the state-owned railway operation mileage in ethnic autonomous areas reached 15,100 km, a near three-fold increase compared with 1952; the highways open to traffic in those areas totaled 547,800 km, 21 times that in 1952. In addition, the urbanization levels of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Xinjiang have exceeded the national average.

(4) Protection and Fostering of Traditional Cultures

From the 1950s to the 1980s, the central authorities organized over 3,000 experts and scholars to compile and publish five series of books on ethnic minorities, totaling 403 volumes and over 90 million Chinese characters. The series are: The Ethnic Minorities in China, A Series of Books on the Brief History of the Ethnic Minorities in China, A Series of Books on the Brief Record of the Languages of the Ethnic Minorities in China, A Series of Books on the Survey of Autonomous Areas of Ethnic Minorities in China and A Collection of Research Materials on the Societies and Histories of the Ethnic Minorities in China. Over 500,000 copies have been distributed. Today, each of the 55 ethnic minorities in China has its own brief written history.

The 55 ethnic minorities in China, except for the Chinese-speaking Hui and Manchu, each have their own language. The Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur, Korean and Yi languages have coded character sets and national standards for fonts and keyboard. Software in the Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur and Korean languages can be run in the Windows system, and laser photo-typesetting in these languages has been realized. Applied software in languages of ethnic minorities are emerging one after another, and some achievements have been made in research into the OCR (optic character recognition) of languages of ethnic minorities and machine-aided translation.

The state has set up special institutions to collect, assort, translate and study in an organized and programmed manner the three major heroic epics of China's ethnic minorities, i.e., Gesar (an oral Tibetan epic), Jangar (a Mongolian epic) and Manas (an epic of the Kirgiz people). In the past decade, the state has appropriated over 30 million yuan for the collation and publishing of 160 volumes of the Buddhist Tripitaka in the Tibetan language. It has also earmarked a large amount of funds for the renovation of the Zhaibung, Sera and Gandain monasteries in Tibet, the Tar Monastery in Qinghai, and the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves in Xinjiang, and many other key national cultural relics. From 1989 to 1994, the state invested 55 million yuan and 1,000 kg of gold in the first-stage renovation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and in 2001, 330 million yuan for the second-stage renovation.

With the assistance of the state and efforts of the ethnic autonomous areas, by 2003, 4,787 titles of books in ethnic minority languages had been published, totaling 50.34 million copies. There were also 205 magazines and 88 newspapers in such languages, totaling 7.81 million copies and 131.30 million copies, respectively. The ethnic autonomous areas had set up 513 art performing troupes, 566 libraries and 163 museums. In 2003, the ethnic autonomous areas had 122 radio broadcasting organizations with 73 radio stations and 523 radio transmitting stations, broadcasting in 15 ethnic minority languages; 111 TV broadcasting organizations with 94 TV stations and 830 TV transmitting stations, broadcasting in 11 ethnic minority languages. There were also 254,900 satellite radio and TV receiving and relaying systems.

(5) Education Level Markedly Raised

In 2003, there were 83,726 schools at all levels and of all kinds in ethnic autonomous areas, with a total enrollment of 29.43 million, an increase of five fold compared with 1952, of 29.7 percent compared with 1984 and of 10.6 percent compared with 1994. There were 1.541 million full-time teachers, an increase of 16 percent compared with 1994. The development of education has greatly extended the years of schooling of the people of ethnic minorities. The Fifth National Census show that the years of schooling of 14 ethnic minorities, including the Korean, Manchu, Mongolian and Kazak groups, were higher than the national average.

(6) Continuous Progress in Medical Services and Public Health

By the end of 2003, the ethnic autonomous areas had 15,230 medical institutions, 13 times the number in 1952; 380,000 hospital beds, nearly 67 times the number in 1952; 460,000 medical technicians, almost 26 times the number in 1952; 934 epidemic-control and specialized prevention and treatment institutions; and 371 clinics and health centers specially catered to women and children. In rural areas, there were 7,234 township hospitals, with 55,000 beds. The development of medical services has greatly increased the life expectancy of the ethnic minority people. The life expectancy of 13 ethnic minorities is higher than the national average, which is'71.4 years, and those of seven of them are higher than the average of the Han people, which is 73.34 years.

(7) Rapid Development of Foreign Trade and Tourism

In 2003, the total value of imports and exports of the ethnic autonomous areas was $13.6 billion, including $7.9 billion worth of imports and $5.7 billion worth of exports. The 3,263 foreign-invested enterprises in these areas used $2 billion of foreign investment in 2003. In the same year, these areas hosted 123.33 million domestic tourists and 2.15 million international tourists, the incomes from domestic and international tourism reaching 56.3 billion yuan and $600 million, respectively.

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