autonomous regions, prefectures, counties and banners


autonomous regions, prefectures, counties and banners
These are the three main levels of autonomous administrative areas for the PRC’s minority nationalities. There are five autonomous regions (zizhiqu), which are equivalent in level to provinces. They are the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (set up 1 May 1947), Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (1 October 1955), Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (15 May 1958), Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (25 October 1958) and Tibet Autonomous Region (9 September 1965). In 2001, the number of autonomous prefectures (zizhizhou) was thirty, while autonomous counties (zizhixian; termed ‘banners’ for Mongolians) numbered 119.
The principle behind these areas is autonomy for minorities living in concentrated communities. China describes itself as a multinational unitary state. However, there are also ‘preferential policies’ (youhui zhengce) for the minorities in education (see bilingual education, family planning). In May 1984, the PRC adopted its Law on Regional National Autonomy, amended on 28 February 2001, spelling out precisely what autonomy means. For instance, it specifies that the government head of an autonomous area must belong to the minority exercising autonomy there, and requires privileges for the minorities in training administrative personnel. It also gives autonomous rights in the framing of the budget and in the management of culture, education and health delivery.
There are, however, great limitations on autonomy, which makes no pretence to resemble independence, the Law itself (Article 5 of the 2001 version) demanding that the organs of self-government of autonomous areas ‘must uphold the unity of the country’. Two examples suffice to illustrate the limitations.
First, although an autonomous area’s government head must belong to the minority exercising autonomy, there is no such rule for the CCP secretary, and the CCP actually holds far more power than the government. Second, there is a national curriculum in China, with which no autonomous education system may conflict. Many ethnic groups have adopted a curriculum covering their own culture, but it is in addition to the national curriculum, not instead of it. These and other restrictions have led some scholars to consider this system of autonomy a sham. Yet over the years it has proved generally beneficial to the minorities. It has contributed to improving their administrative and professional skills and given them some say in their economy. It has helped raise the ethnic consciousness of most of the minorities, despite generally helping integrate them with the Chinese economy and state.
Gladney, Dru (1991). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic. Cambridge, MA, and London: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University Press.
Kaup, K.P. (2000). Creating the Zhuang: Ethnic Politics in China. Boulder: Lynne Rienner [covers the most populous of the minorities, but includes a great deal of material on policy and autonomy issues].
Mackerras, Colin (1994). China’s Minorities: Integration and Modernization in the Twentieth Century. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
COLIN MACKERRAS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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