Evil Olympics, Day Four: Race Relations

It may surprise some Readers to learn that China is far from a racially homogeneous nation. We tend to think of Chinese as people who are identified as “Han Chinese” — but in fact there are dozens of ethnic groups in China. In particular, the western portion of the country is inhabited by ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs, Pashtun, and Burmese; and the urban East sees appreciable numbers of Mongols, Vietnamese, Laotians, and Koreans, and the government claims that these and other groups of 55 recognized “ethnic nationalities” make up about 10% of the residents of the territory controlled by the People’s Republic.

I will leave to the side the question of whether Tibetians are ethnically different from east-coast Chinese; the cleavage there rests more on nationalistic rather than ethnic lines.

Official racism becomes most overt when considering the unequal and disproportionate burden of taxation imposed on the provinces of Xinjiang (in the west), Inner Mongolia (in the north), and Tibet (in the southwest). Coastal regions, which are overwhelmingly inhabited by Han Chinese, are the ones that enjoy tax-preferred status for economic development zones and placement of medium and heavy industry. In part this is an accident of geography — the eastern regions are closest to the seaports and much industry is aimed at creating exports to buttress the economy. But this does nothing to address the fact that if you’re not Han in China, you’re very likely to be poor, uneducated, and have virtually no opportunity of improving either your lot in life or that of your children.

Particularly in the industrialized northeastern provinces, the equivalent of our Rust Belt, there are quite a few refugees and escapees from North Korea. (How bad does it have to be for you to seek better treatment at the hands of the government that you try and get into China?) Some Koreans are forcefully repatriated to Pyongyang, and others are paid cash under the table to perform menial work, much as Mexican and Central Americans are treated in the United States and Turks and Central Asians are treated in Europe. Repatriations to North Korea take place even in the case of marriages that have produced children. The children of “mixed” marriages are deprived of educations, and are unlikely to see the mothers or fathers taken from them because North Korea treats repatriated escapees as traitors and subjects them to torture and education.

Similarly, members of ethnic minorities find themselves in dangerous jobs such as coal mining, welding the skeletons of China’s new skyscrapers, and sex workers. Both internal and international critics of the government have pointed out that coal miners who suffer collapses (our nation suffers near paralysis once every five years or so when a coal mine collapses and a dozen or so miners’ lives are put at risk; this happens about once a month in the PRC and scarcely anyone in or out of China takes notice) are much more likely to be rescued if they are ethnically Chinese. Construction workers of non-Chinese racial backgrounds are significantly more likely to suffer corporal punishment as a means of on-the-job discipline than their ethnically Chinese counterparts, and denied medical care and other social services. (It should go without saying that the workers must also face tragically unsafe working conditions, but irony reigns supreme in that in a theoretically Communist nation, they are also denied the right of forming labor unions.)

It should also be of little surprise that while the basic charter of rights in China’s constitution provides for the theoretical equality of all racial groups, the reality of it is that there are few laws to enforce such ideals, no private rights of action to allow those with grievances to bring them to light, and no courts willing to put teeth in the laws that really do exist. This may have something to do with the fact that you must be Han to hold any position above Tea Service Custodian or Local Secret Police Informant within the Chinese Communist Party.

Of course, membership in a non-Han ethnic group also means that you are considered much more likely to subscribe to a subversive religion (like Christianity or Islam) or have sympathy for treasonous political causes (like the rule of law, autonomous government for Tibet, or a final settlement of territorial disputes in Kashmir). So that means your political activities are likely to be much more circumscribed and your daily life is more likely to be monitored by the secret police. The advantage is, your services as an informant for the vast array of domestic spies, and the petty advantages this sort of service offers like extra tobacco or alcohol rations, will be in greater demand — assuming that you are willing to periodically rat out your friends, neighbors, and family members in exchange for tasty foreign cigarettes.

Not that all racially Chinese people get a great deal, either. China’s agricultural sector relies as much as does America’s or Europe’s on migrant workers, some of whom are members of these in-country ethnic minorities, some of whom are barely-tolerated immigrants from the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, and some of whom are ethnically Chinese. A system called hukou stratifies even Han who have rural roots from their more “sophisticated” urban-dwelling counterparts. If your hukou indicates a western origin to your family, you are likely to be excluded from health care cooperatives and insurance plans available to urban dwellers or industrial workers, even if you move to a city. Moreover, if you leave your hukou, you are at risk of paying increased taxes; in this way, rural serfdom survives, albeit in the form of tax incentives rather than the overt command of the mandarins.

Education, always a challenge for both migrants and rural residents, is made more difficult by the government closing thousands of schools intended to educated the children of these workers, helping to further embed the generational disadvantages of this poverty-stricken underclass. However, a great many of these schools have been closed around Beijing and it is thought this has been to encourage “undesirable” rural or non-Han Chinese from maintaining residence there during the Olympics.

All part of China doing its best to put a happy, smiling veneer on top of a society with a very dark, very ugly side that bears eerie echoes of South African-style apartheid.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

One Comment

  1. .Great piece, thinking about China being given the Olympics really is maddening. At least more people will be talking sooner rather than later about how there are really two very different Chinas in one. Maybe in the future it will be in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela..absurd thought -God of the Universe saysjust host sporting eventscommunists must always seekplanetary approval.absurd thought -God of the Universe lovescorrupt governmentsdenying outside helpwith tragic avalanche.absurd thought -God of the Universe lovescapitalism’s faultsbut prefers communismwith its many miseries.absurd thought -God of the Universe saysnever admit mistakescling to false ideologiesbrainwash your countrymen.absurd thought -God of the Universe sayscause food shortagesimplement price controlsdestroy all family farms.All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech, there can be no real freedom..Philosophy of Liberty Cartoon.Help Halt Terrorism Today!.USpace:).

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