V. Preservation and Development of the Cultures of Ethnic Minorities

China's ethnic minorities have formed their unique cultures in the long process of historical development. China respects and preserves the traditional cultures of ethnic minorities, and all of the minority peoples are free to maintain and develop their own cultures.

Respecting the Folkways and Customs of Minority Peoples

The various ethnic minority groups in China differ widely in their folkways and customs. They have different modes of production and life styles, as displayed in dress and adornments, diet, residences, marriage, etiquette and funerals. The minority peoples have the right to retain or change their folkways and customs, which are respected by the state. The government protects such rights in every aspect of social life.

In China, about ten minority peoples have the tradition of eating Muslim food. Taking this into consideration, the state has established Muslim canteens or supplies Muslim food in state organs, schools, enterprises and institutions. In some work units where people eating Muslim food are few, Muslim canteens are jointly established by several units or Muslim food is specially prepared. Muslim food and beverage shops can be found in places where Muslim ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities. In cities, communication hubs, restaurants, hotels and hospitals, and on trains, ships and airplanes, Muslim catering is provided. The state stipulates that ``Muslim food'' must be marked on beef and mutton sold to ethnic minorities which eat Muslim food at all the stages of slaughtering, packaging, transporting, processing and selling. In large and medium-sized cities where there are large numbers of ethnic minority people who eat Muslim food, the relevant state departments have established special beef and mutton wholesale departments or retail shops and given them preferential treatment.

The forms of burial vary among China's ethnic minorities, including cremation, inhumation, ``water burial'' and ``sky burial'' (exposure burial). The government respects minority peoples' burial customs, and has allotted land for cemeteries and established burial services departments specially for Hui, Uygur and other minority peoples that have the tradition of inhumation. Throughout the country, cemeteries can be found in large, medium and small cities where Hui and other minority peoples preferring inhumation live. The burial custom of Tibetans has also been respected; they can choose whatever form of burial they prefer--``sky burial,'' inhumation or ``water burial.''

Ethnic minorities have rich traditions of festivals, including the New Year and Shoton (Yogurt) Festival of the Tibetan people, the Fast-breaking and Corban festivals of the Hui and Uygur peoples, the Nadam Fair of the Mongolian people, the Water Sprinkling Festival of the Dai people and the Torch Festival of the Yi people. The various ethnic minority groups in China are free to celebrate their own traditional festivals, and the state gives them holidays and supplies special food for the holidays.

Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Ethnic Minorities

To preserve the traditional cultures of the ethnic minorities, the state has formulated plans or organized specialists for work involving the collecting, editing, translating and publishing of their cultural heritage and the protecting of their famous historical monuments, scenic spots, rare cultural relics and other important items of the historical and cultural heritage.

A national planning section and office have been established by the state to organize the editing and publishing of ancient books of ethnic minorities. Currently, about 25 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, 130 autonomous prefectures, prefectures and leagues and other minority areas, and some ethnic colleges and schools have established institutions for the same purpose. By the end of 1998, more than 120,000 titles of ethnic minorities' ancient books have been collected, of which, over 110,000 have been edited and 5,000 published. More than 3,000 experts and scholars organized by the state have finished the editing and publishing of five series on ethnic minority issues, including A Brief History of China's Ethnic Minorities, Brief Records of Ethnic Minorities' Languages, and A General Survey of Autonomous Ethnic Minority Areas, comprising over 400 titles and 90 million words. Now each of the 55 minority ethnic groups has a brief written history.

The Chinese government has set up special institutions for the collection, editing, translation and research of the three major epics of ethnic minorities: Gesar of the Tibetan, Jianggar of the Mongolians and Manas of the Kirgiz. The three epics and treatises concerning them have been published in the appropriate ethnic minority languages, Chinese and foreign languages. The publishing of the Corpus of Gesar Studies in more than three million words brought many distinguished Gesar studies experts to the fore. In recent years, the state has earmarked tens of millions of yuan for the publishing of Zhonghua Dazang Jing, an encyclopedia of Tibetan studies in 150 volumes.

Beginning in the early 1950s, governments at various levels and culture and arts departments have organized tens of thousands of experts in anthropology, sociology and ethnology, and writers and artists to collect and preserve traditional folk cultures and arts in regions where minority peoples live. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Chinese government put in much capital and efforts into the collection and editing of the folk cultural and arts materials of the minority peoples. The compilation of ten collections of literature, music and dance of minority peoples, comprising 450 volumes in 450 million words, including the Collection of Chinese Folk Songs, Collection of   Folk Instrument Tunes of China's Ethnic Minorities, Collection of Chinese Folk Tales, and Collection of Chinese Folk Proverbs have been completed, and 310 volumes have already been published.

In addition, in the past decade the state has invested a great deal of capital in maintaining cultural relics and historical sites, including the Drepung, Sera and Gandan monasteries in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, the Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai Province and the Kilzil Thousand-Buddha Cave in Xinjiang. Between 1989 and 1994, the state invested 53 million yuan and 1,000 kg of gold in repairing the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa. In addition, museums and cultural centers have been established in various places for the collection and preservation of cultural relics of ethnic minorities. Among them, the Tibet Museum cost nearly 100 million yuan to construct.

Promoting Ethnic Minorities' Cultural and Arts Undertakings

The state and relevant departments devote great efforts to fostering literary and artistic talent among the minority peoples, and promoting the creation of literature and art by setting up literature and art organizations, art institutes and schools, cultural centers and mass art centers. In the early 1950s, the national-level Central Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble was established in Beijing. It is composed of performers from various ethnic groups, and performs ethnic songs and dances of its own creation both in China and abroad. To date, in autonomous areas, there are 534 art troupes, 194 sites for art performances, 661 libraries, 82 mass art centers, 679 cultural centers, 7,318 culture-dissemination stations and 155 museums. Furthermore, there are 24 art colleges and secondary-level art schools in the five autonomous regions and Yunnan, Guizhou and Jilin provinces specially for fostering artistically talented people among China's ethnic minorities.

The ``Twelve Mukams'' opera, a classical musical treasure of the Uygur people, which was on the verge of being lost, has been preserved. At the end of the 1940s, only two or three elderly musicians could sing it completely. But now it is flourishing, since the Mukam Art Troupe and Mukam Research Office have been established in Xinjiang. In addition, Tibetan opera, which has a history of over 500 years, is well preserved and flourishing. Every year, it is included in the Shoton Festival, together with other singing, dancing and drama performances.

The state regularly conducts the competition for the ``Peacock Award'' for ethnic minorities' music, dance and drama and the ``Stallion Award'' for films, television programs and literary works dealing with minority peoples. Beginning in 1992, the state started to carry out the ``Long Cultural Corridor Construction in the Nation's Border Areas'' projects in nine autonomous regions and provinces where minority peoples are concentrated, including Guangxi, Yunnan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Jilin. In the past few years, governments at various levels have also put large amounts of funds into the construction of many cultural infrastructure facilities, which have improved and enriched the cultural life of more than ten million ethnic minority people.

In the past decade or more, ethnic minority culture and art troupes have extended their exchanges with the outside world, and over 100 of them, national and local, have performed in other countries and regions.

The ranks of ethnic minority writers are continuously growing. A large number of such writers have come to the fore and created a great number of literary works. Nearly 600 writers belonging to ethnic minorities are members of the Chinese Writers' Association, constituting more than 10 percent.

The arts and handicrafts of minority peoples are a splendid legacy. The mural art of the Tibetans is continuously enriched with contents depicting the development history of the Tibetan ethnic group and the new lives of the Tibetan people. The Tibetan art of scroll painting, or Tangka, is well preserved. The carpets and wall hangings made by the Uygur and Mongolian peoples are very popular on the Chinese and overseas markets. The wax-printing art of the Bouyei, Miao, Yao and Gelo ethnic groups is growing in popularity, with great improvement in designs, patterns and varieties. And the brocade technique of the Tujia, Zhuang, Dai, Li and Dong ethnic groups has developed from small-scale family workshops to today's brocade mills, whose production scale has been on the increase.

Preserving and Developing the Traditional Medicine of Ethnic Minorities

The state has made great efforts to foster medical specialists for minority peoples. It has established medical colleges and universities of Tibetan, Mongolian and Uygur medicine in the Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang autonomous regions, respectively, which have trained 2,531 specialists. Of them, more than 500 have been trained by the Tibet College of Tibetan Medicine, founded nearly ten years ago. Nowadays, there are 127 hospitals of ethnic minority medicine all over the country, of which, 52 are Tibetan medicine hospitals, 41 are Mongolian medicine hospitals, 26 are Uygur medicine hospitals and eight specialize in the traditional medicine of other minority groups. Also, the state has provided active support for the development and application of ethnic minority traditional medicine. In 1992, the state gave permission for the setting up of centers for making of Mongolian, Tibetan and Uygur pharmaceutical preparations. They manufacture more than ten kinds of pharmaceutical preparations and over 100 kinds of traditional medicines with the combination of traditional and modern expertise.

Developing the Traditional Sports of Ethnic Minorities

The traditional sports of ethnic minorities originate from the daily life of the people and are rich in content and form, and have distinct characteristics and a long history. They call for skill of a high order, and most of them are accompanied with music, or singing and dancing. They include horse racing, archery, sheep-chasing on horseback, wrestling, swinging, springboard jumping, dragon-boat racing and mountaineering. Physical culture and sports institutions have been established in the various autonomous areas to train people in ethnic sports, develop traditional ethnic and modern sports activities and improve the health of minority peoples. To date, more than 290 kinds of traditional ethnic sports have been revived. In 1953, the first traditional ethnic sports show and competition was held in Tianjin, known as the First National Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meet. Beginning in 1982, such meets have been held every four years, and the sixth one was held in Beijing in September 1999, with some contests held in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Throughout the country, there are 25 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities that hold traditional ethnic minority sports meets every four years.

Fifty years of experience has proved that the policies toward ethnic minorities of the People's Republic of China are successful ones. China has blazed a correct way for handling ethnic problems and realizing the common prosperity of the various ethnic groups in conformity with China's reality. In the meantime, however, the Chinese government is well aware of the fact that, due to the restrictions and influences of history, physical geography and other factors, central and western China, where most ethnic minority people live, lag far behind the eastern coastal areas in development. In some ethnic minority areas, the people are inadequately fed and clothed, and while in some other areas sustained development has been adversely affected by poor production conditions. The Chinese government attaches great importance to these problems, and is taking measures to solve them. The Chinese government is convinced that, as the reform, opening-up and modernization drive develop, the various ethnic groups of China will develop in a still more rapid and healthy way, and the relations between ethnic groups marked by equality, unity and mutual help are certain to be further consolidated and developed in the coming 21st century.

 

Notes:

(1) For the population of China's ethnic minorities, see Theory and Practice of China's Ethnic Problems, compiled by Jiang Ping, Central Party School Press, 1994, pp.492-496.

(2) For the distribution of China's ethnic minorities, see An Outline of Ethnic Problems, compiled by Wu Shimin, Sichuan People's Publishing House, 1997, pp. 383-385.

(3) For the formation of China as a united multi-ethnic country, see ``A Study of the History of China's Ethnic Groups and Border Areas'' by Dai Yi and ``Historical Characteristics of Ancient States in China'' by Zhang Chuanxu in the Eight Persons' Forum on the Historical Problems of China and Other Countries, Central Party School Press, 1998.

(4) For relevant laws, see A Selection of Laws and Regulations on Ethnic Policies of the People's Republic of China, China Civil Aviation Press, 1997.

(5) For social conditions of China's ethnic minorities before 1949, see A Brief Introduction to the Human Rights of China's Ethnic Minorities, compiled by Yang Houdi, Beijing University Press, 1997.

(6) For social and historical conditions of Tibet before 1959, see Social and Historical Materials Concerning China's Tibet, China Intercontinental Press, 1994.

(7) For the distribution of China's autonomous ethnic minority areas, see An Outline of Ethnic Problems, compiled by Wu Shimin, pp. 386-390.

(8) See the 1998 Statistics Bulletin of the National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China, Foreign Languages Press, 1999.

(9) See China's The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, compiled by the Information Office of the People's Government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China Intercontinenal Press, 1999.

(10) See The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China, compiled by the Information Office of the People's Government of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China Intercontinental Press, 1998.

(11) See The Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China, compiled by the Information Office of the People's Government of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China Intercontinental Press, 1998.