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When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) came into existence in 1949, the demographics within the north-eastern region of Xinjiang noticed change. The Chinese Han began to shift into the predominantly Uyghur area. While religious beliefs, customs, and practices have been tolerated in China to some extent, the degree of toleration has varied considerably from time to time with the change in the political climate. Extensive discontent and growing tensions with Chinese rule concerning the Uyghurs has led to many protests and attacks, some regarding ethnic Chinese civilians.
In an attempt to solve the growing tensions between the Uyghurs and the other cultures in the surrounding areas, the Chinese government has implemented a variety of regulations. However, many view as though these regulations are not enforced or not followed; thus, the Uyghurs still believe they are discriminated on. This report will examine the various policies implemented by the PRC from the Chinese government’s, private sector’s, and Uyghur’s perspectives.
The Chinese government claims to support Uyghur language education, media, and use. Article 4 of the Chinese constitution states that all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs (“Constitution”). But as time went on, the Chinese and Xinjiang government pushed for a stronger belief in a unified country and began taking a harder policy line in the Xinjiang region on the Uyghurs. In June of 2017, the Education Department in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture issued a five-point directive outlawing the use of the Uyghur language in favor of Mandarin Chinese (Sulaiman).
The Chinese state urges implementing “bilingual” education to attempt to create a harmonious and stable country. By promoting monolingualism, the Chinese government hopes to reduce the division in businesses and society. A study done by Huhua Cao, a professor in the department of geography at the University of Ottawa, found that southern Xinjiang’s illiteracy rate ranges from 8.7 percent to 14.2 percent, which is where most of the Uyghurs live. While the most northern part of Xinjiang ranges from 2.2 to 6.5 percent, which is where most of the Han live (Cao).
China takes this to account for the fact that most Hans practice the national language much more than the Uyghurs, proving the apparent success in monolingualism. The government argues that without monolingualism, there is a distinct divide in the nation that prevents businesses, civilians, and minorities to succeed. Most Uyghurs were on board with the early policies. Arienne Dwyer, a professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Kansas expresses that “as long as their language and culture could be maintained, they were on board with becoming bilingual and bicultural in Chinese” (Dwyer). While they were all right with the government’s early policies, that changed once the government began introducing restrictions on their language use and increase the promotion of a national language. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China explains that through bilingual education, Uyghur language use was gradually reduced in schools. Uyghur language was reduced; becoming banned in universities, reduced in middle and elementary school, then eliminated as a teaching language (“Xinjiang Government”).
Even though the government’s goal with this is to attempt to have a quick and smooth transition from their native language to the dominant language, the Uyghurs and their education are being heavily affected making it burdensome for them to learn. Economic Regulations The northern region of Xinjiang is very industrialized, while the south is agricultural based and unindustrialized. The Uyghurs live in the southern portion of Xinjiang, while the Hans predominately live in the north. Because of their difficulty in education as mentioned before, as well as the lack of new technology and resources in order to improve their conditions. Shan Wei is a researcher with a Ph.D. in political science at the National University of Singapore. He worked along with Cuifen Weng, an assistant professor at Peking University HSBC Business School who focuses on and researches international business. In their report, “China’s New Policy in Xinjiang and its Challenges” they noticed that “private owners in Xinjiang are inclined to hire Han Chinese workers instead of local Uyghurs who are disadvantaged by language and technical skills” (Wei).
Because the Uyghurs lack and do not desire to prioritize learning the national language needed for higher-earning jobs, the private sector prefers to hire the well-educated Han that are currently in and entering the Xinjiang region. Even though Uyghurs commonly struggle to find work, the Chinese government claims to treat minorities equally in the workforce. They have promoted that Article 12 of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China states that “Labourers shall not be discriminated against in employment due to their nationality, race, sex, or religious belief.” Article 14 expands this idea by articulating that “In respect of the employment of the disabled, people of minority ethnic groups, and demobilized army men, where there are special stipulations in laws, rules, and regulations, such stipulations shall apply” (“Labour Law”). With distinct laws in place that workplaces and employers are not allowed to discriminate, the PRC attempts to show the equality of treatment of minorities throughout the country. As witnessed by how private corporations handle Uyghurs, this law is not always followed.
In an attempt to prevent the lower employment among the Uyghurs, the Chinese government has been implementing hiring requirements for state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Weng and Wei also noted that “since the late 1970s, state-owned enterprises have been required to employ at least 60% of minority employees. However, in the recent decade, many local SOEs went bankrupt, leading to a great laid-off of minority employees” (Wei). With the goal of increasing employment within the southern portion of the Xinjiang region, China hopes to increase income levels which can lead to further development of the region; thus, due to increased resources, also the hope of increased education. While the Chinese believe that this helps, in reality, because the Han are typically more educated and more prepared for employment, private enterprises flourished; consequently, SOEs shrank.
This led to more and more minorities leaving from SOEs and in search for private sector jobs, but as mentioned from previously, private sector employers prefer hiring trained Hans. Due to the higher literacy and income among the Han, the Chinese government wants them to be present in areas that are not doing as well; Uyghur dominated areas. Gardner Bovingdon, an associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures at Indiana University explains that the government to intices the Han to settle in the Uyghur dominate region by having Uyghurs face economic exploitation by officials and merchants through excessive taxes and inflated prices for imported goods and in some cases even providing Hans choice farmland by forcibly evicting Uyghurs (Bovingdon). The PRC believes that if the Han moved into the Uyghur dominated region, that the Uyghurs would be expected and be influenced to adopt the culture and language of Hans if they wanted to succeed. While the Chinese government believes that the Uyghurs are treated equally among other groups, the Uyghurs are still at a disadvantage in the economy.
Although the Chinese government has laws and regulations in place to protect the minorities in their country, the cultural difference between the Uyghurs and the majority of the population put them at a disadvantage. After examining the Chinese government’s, private sector’s, and Uyghur’s point of view about the language use and economic policies it can be concluded that even though the Chinese government has made an effort to equality, the difference in culture and language place the Uyghurs in a disadvantage.
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