III. Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities

In China regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is a basic policy adopted by the Chinese government in line with the actual conditions of China, and also an important part of the political system of China. Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities means that under the unified leadership of the state regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established for the exercise of autonomy and for people of ethnic minorities to become masters of their own areas and manage the internal affairs of their own regions.

Autonomous areas for ethnic minorities in China include autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties (banners). 1) Autonomous areas are established where people of one ethnic minority live in concentrated communities, such as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; 2) autonomous areas are established where two ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities, such as the Haixi Mongolian-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province; 3) autonomous areas are established where several ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities, such as the Longsheng Ethnic Minorities Autonomous County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 4) autonomous areas are established within a larger autonomous area where people of an ethnic minority with a smaller population live in concentrated communities, such as the Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 5) autonomous areas are established for people of one ethnic minority who live in concentrated communities in different places, such as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province and the Dachang Hui Autonomous County in Hebei Province. For places where ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities but where autonomous areas and organs of self-government are not fit to be established because the areas and populations of the ethnic minorities are too small, ethnic townships are established so that the minority peoples there can also exercise their rights as masters of their homelands. Ethnic townships are a supplement to the system of regional autonomy.

By the end of 1998, five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties (banners) had been established, as well as 1,256 ethnic townships. Among the 55 ethnic minorities, 44 have their own autonomous areas, with a population of 75 percent of the total of the ethnic minorities and an area of 64 percent of the area of the whole country. The number and distribution of the autonomous areas are basically the same as the distribution and composition of the ethnic groups nationwide7.

The following are the three reasons for China to practice the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities: First, it conforms to the conditions and historical traditions of China, because China has been centralized and united country over a long period of time. Second, over a long period of time China's ethnic groups have lived together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. The Han population accounts for the majority of the total population of the country, while the populations of ethnic minorities are in the minority. In the early period of the People's Republic of China, ethnic minorities only accounted for six percent of China's total population. In most multi-ethnic group areas the population of the national minorities is less than that of the Han people except in Tibet, Xinjiang and a few other regions. The national minorities are distributed over large areas, in more than half of the total territory of China. Economic and cultural contacts over long periods have evolved among them a relationship in which cooperation and mutual assistance, rather than separation, is the best choice for them. Third, following the outbreak of the Opium War in 1840, all the ethnic groups of China were faced with the common task and destiny of struggling against imperialism and feudalism and striving for national liberation. In the long-term revolutionary struggle against foreign enemies and for national independence and liberation, the various ethnic groups have developed a close interrelationship characterized by the sharing of weal and woe, and the common political understanding that the Han people cannot go without the minority peoples nor can the minority peoples go without the Han people or one minority people can go without another minority people. So a solid political and social foundation for the establishment of a united New China and the practice of regional autonomy in minority areas was laid in that period.

Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities conforms with the national interests and the fundamental interests of the people of all ethnic groups in China. The practice of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities has ensured their equal footing and equal rights politically and satisfied the desire of all the ethnic minorities to take an active part in nation's political activities to a large extent. According to the principle of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities, an ethnic group may establish an autonomous area in a region where it lives in concentrated communities, or it may establish several autonomous areas at different administrative levels in other parts of the country in line with the distribution of the ethnic group. The practice of regional autonomy not only ensures the rights of the ethnic minorities to exercise autonomy as masters of their homelands, but also upholds the unification of the state. It enhances the combination of state policies and principles and the concrete conditions of the ethnic minority areas and the integrated development of the state and the ethnic minorities, the better for each to give free rein to its own advantages.

The system of regional autonomy in China has two distinguishing features. First, regional autonomy is under the unified leadership of the state, and the autonomous areas are inseparable parts of China. The organs of self-government of the autonomous areas are local governments under the leadership of the Central Government, and they must be subordinated to the centralized and unified leadership of the Central Government. The concrete conditions and requirements of the various minority areas must be taken into full consideration and assistance and support solicited from all quarters when policies and plans are formulated and economic and cultural construction is conducted by the organs of state at higher levels. Second, regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China is not only ethnic autonomy or local autonomy, but is the integration of ethnic and regional factors and the combination of political and economic factors. The practice of regional autonomy in China should be beneficial to the unification of the country, social stability and the unity of all ethnic groups; it should also benefit the development and progress of the ethnic group that practices autonomy and assist in national construction.

The establishment of the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities has undergone long period of exploration and practice. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the first provincial-level autonomous region--the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region-- was founded in 1947. The Common Program of the CPPCC, adopted at the first CPPCC session on September 29, 1949 and serving as the country's provisional constitution, defined regional autonomy for ethnic minorities as a basic policy and one of the important political systems of the state. The Program for the Implementation of Ethnic Regional Autonomy of the People's Republic of China, issued on August 8, 1952, embodied overall arrangements for the implementation of regional autonomy for national minorities. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China adopted in 1954 and later amended and promulgated defines such autonomy as an important political system of state. The Law of the People's Republic of China on Ethnic Regional Autonomy, promulgated in 1984, contains systematic provisions on the political, economic and cultural rights and duties of ethnic minority autonomous areas. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, four autonomous regions were established successively: the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, founded in October 1955; the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, founded in March 1958; the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, founded in October 1958; and the Tibet Autonomous Region, founded in September 1965.

The Constitution stipulates that the organs of self-government of autonomous areas are the people's congresses and people's governments of autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. The establishment and organization of organs of self-government of autonomous areas are based on the basic principles of the people's congress system, but these organs are different from ordinary local state organs. The Law on Ethnic Regional Autonomy stipulates that all ethnic groups in autonomous areas shall elect an appropriate number of deputies to take part in the people's congresses at various levels; among the chairman or vice-chairmen of the standing committee of the people's congress of an autonomous area there shall be one or more citizens of the ethnic group or groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned; the head of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county shall be a citizen of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned, and the other members of the people's governments of these regions, prefectures and counties shall include members of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy as well as members of other ethnic minorities as far as possible.

While exercising the functions and powers of a local organ of state, organs of self-government in autonomous areas at the same time exercise other functions and powers as stipulated by the Constitution and the Law on Ethnic Regional Autonomy. These include legislative power, the power to flexibly carry out, or halt the carrying out of, some decisions, the right to develop their economics and control the local finances, the power to train and employ cadres belonging to ethnic minorities, the power to develop education and ethnic culture, the power to develop and employ the local spoken and written languages, and the power to develop technological, scientific and cultural and undertakings.

--The people's congresses of the autonomous areas have the right to enact regulations on the exercise of autonomy and separate regulations in light of local political, economic and cultural characteristics. By the end of 1998, 126 regulations on the exercise of autonomy and 209 separate regulations had been enacted by the autonomous areas.

--If resolutions, decisions, orders and instructions from the higher-level state organs are not suited to the actual conditions of the autonomous areas, the organs of self-government of these areas may be flexible in carrying them out or may decide not to carry them out after approval by the higher state organs. According to Article 36 of the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China, supplementary regulations have been worked out for carrying out the Marriage Law by the five autonomous regions and some autonomous prefectures in line with their own actual conditions. They changed the legal marriage age from ``not below 22'' to ''not below 20 for men'' and from ``not below 20'' to ''not below 18 for women.''

--Organs of self-government of autonomous areas may independently arrange and manage local economic construction within the guidance of state planning, and formulate policies, principles and plans for their economic construction according to their local characteristics and requirements. Owing to the adoption of a series of policies and measures suitable for the concrete conditions of local economic development, the economy of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has seen rapid development. In 1998, its GDP had reached 119.202 billion yuan, with a per capita average GDP of 5,067 yuan, and its revenue was 13.12 billion yuan, with per capita average incomes of 4,353 yuan and 1,981 yuan in urban and rural areas, respectively--increases of 9.6 , 7.5, 17.9, 10.4 and 11.3 percent8.

--The organs of self-government in the autonomous areas have trained a large number of minority cadres, technicians, management personnel and other specialized personnel and skilled workers in line with the needs of national construction and brought their roles in work into full play. There were 372,900 minority cadres in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1998, accounting for 35 percent of the total cadres in Guangxi. The chief leaders of the governments of the 12 autonomous counties of this region are from the ethnic minorities exercising regional autonomy and the heads of the region's 62 ethnic townships are also from the ethnic minorities that have established such townships. Minority Party and government leaders of prefectures (cities), counties and townships in this region account for 26.92 percent, 39.71 percent and 48.03 percent of the total Party and government leaders of this region, respectively. Among the reserve cadres at the provincial, prefectural and county levels, minority cadres account for 46 percent, 32 percent, and 35 percent, respectively. In 1998, Tibetan cadres accounted for 74.9 percent of the total in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and at the regional, prefectural and county levels Tibetan cadres and cadres from other local ethnic minorities accounted for 78 percent, 67 percent and 62 percent, respectively. At the same time, cadres from the Tibetan and other ethnic minorities account for more than 60 percent in the scientific and technological departments.

--Organs of self-government of autonomous areas may decide their own local education programs, including the establishment of schools, the length of study, the forms of school running, course contents, language of instruction and procedures of enrollment and develop independently their own type of education based on their ethnic minority characteristics and within the state education policies and relevant laws (see Table 1). Before 1949, the illiteracy rate was upwards of 95 percent in Ningxia, and there was not a single institution of higher learning. But today, a rational multi-level educational system embracing different types of school that complement each other for coordinated development is in place in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. By 1998, there were 6,100 different kinds of schools in Ningxia, with a total of 1.3 million students. Among them there were five institutions of higher learning, with 11,000 students. As a result, in this region 89.5 percent of the people are literate. In old Tibet, there were no schools in the modern sense, and the illiteracy rate was 95 percent. But by 1998, there were 4,365 schools of all levels in the Tibet Autonomous Region. About 81.3 percent of school-age children now attend school, and the illiteracy rate has been reduced by 47 percentage points

Table 1      Educational Development in National Minority Autonomous
Areas in 1952 and 1998

Item 1952 1998
institutions of higher learning 11 94
students in institutions of higher learning (10,000 persons) 0.45 22.64
secondary schools 531 13,466
students in secondary schools (10,000 persons) 20.94 529.64
primary schools 59,597 90,704
students in primary schools (10,000 persons) 467.31 1,240.90

The Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province has made considerable progress in its education in the past 50 years, proving itself worthy of its time-honored reputation as ``home of education.'' According to the latest statistics, 99.97 percent of school age children in this prefecture were in primary schools in 1998, 99.98 percent of them have entered secondary schools of all types and 95.2 percent of them have entered regular junior middle schools, with a graduation rate of 96.8 percent. Nine-year compulsory education is virtually universal in this prefecture. Higher education, vocational education and adult education have gradually got onto the track of coordinated development. The proportion of graduates from universities and secondary specialized schools and intellectuals of the intermediate rank and above in the population of Yanbian exceeds the average number in the country.

--Organs of self-government of autonomous areas make their own decisions concerning medical and health work. Modern medicine and traditional ethnic minority medicine are promoted, prevention and cure of endemic diseases and maternal and child care have been improved, with the result that the health standards of the ethnic minorities across the country have markedly improved ( see Table 2).

Table 2     Development of Medical and Health Service in National
Minority Autonomous Areas in 1952 and 1998

Item     1952       1998
medical and health institutions     1,176 16,700
hospital beds               5,711        393,000
medical technicians          17,877    605,255
one medical institution per       47,619 people   10,139 people
number of hospital beds per thousand people 0.10     2.32
one medical technician per             3,132 people     341 people

It took only three years for the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region after its founding to check the spread of the plague. The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region controlled the spread of the plague in 1963. In 1961, smallpox was eliminated throughout the whole country, including minority areas. The life span of Tibetans has increased to 65 years from 36 in 1959, the year of the democratic reform started. The infant mortality rate shrank to 3.7 percent in 1998 from 43 percent 40 years previously in Tibet. The life span of the people of Ningxia has increased to 69 from 30 before 1949.