The Power of Chinese Assimilation

Andrew Clark contributed a post to Politics Daily about China’s minorities and the autonomous regions they call home. As Clark points out, “Han Chinese make up 92 percent of the People’s Republic of China. The remaining 8 percent is made up of minority groups, mainly Tibetan, Zhuang, Uyghur, Mongolian, Miao, Manchu, and Hui (these are the major ethnic groups—China officially recognizes 56 minority populations).” Eight percent may not sound like much, but in China that represents more than 109 million people.

To put that in perspective, there are about 240 countries in the world but only eleven have populations of more than 100 million.

Clark concludes that “It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government can successfully assimilate these groups, or if consistent suppression of uprisings can force social tranquility.”

The Chinese map has inflated and deflated for more than two-thousand years. Some of these minorities have been in China longer than others. The Mongolians Clark visited, like the Tibetans and the Uyghur, are three who haven’t been inside China as long since they were conquered by the Qing Dynasty (the Manchu minority), who ruled China from 1644 – 1911.

Another minority ruled China for a brief time and that was the Mongols as the Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367). Both the rulers of the Qing and the Yuan were assimilated into the Han culture while they ruled China. That was primarily because they were heavily outnumbered by the Han Chinese.

Tibet broke from China in 1913 and stayed out until 1950 when Mao sent an army into Tibet, which has always been a difficult place for China to manage since sending armies there to enforce control was difficult. But today, a highway and a railroad make that journey easy. If those transportation routes are cut, there’s still air transportation. The travel distance between Tibet and Beijing is shorter than it was a century ago.

China is currently adding about 40 thousand more kilometers of rail throughout China and is extending its high-speed rail to reach every major city. This improved transportation system is also bringing about change and causing a Han migration that would have been unthinkable more than a century ago when most of China didn’t have electricity or roads.

For centuries, China ruled over these minorities without moving Han Chinese into their territories, but times have changed and the Han Chinese—like the Europeans in North America moving West—have been migrating into the autonomous regions for years, which may have more of an impact keeping these territories part of China than armies ever have. And if that doesn’t work, China still has the largest standing army in the world.

Clark also claimed, “the United States has seemingly countless ethnic and cultural minorities that are proud to call themselves American…”  While somewhat true, many of almost 2,500 American native tribes still  hold to their old ways and live on reservations proud to be Navaho or Sioux, Black Foot or Apache, maybe more so than being American.

If given a choice,  many of these North American tribes would jump at the chance to have their ancestral homes back. But the FBI keeps a tight watch over these American minorities, and the US Marines are always a phone call away.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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9 Responses to The Power of Chinese Assimilation

  1. The characterization of Han as an ethnic group is highly misleading. The group of people classified as Han actually comprises of many ethnic groups that got organically absorbed into the Han group throughout the millenniums. Remnants of these different ethnicities can still be seen today. Even though all Hans share the same written language, two Hans can have mothers tongues that are mutually intelligible to each other. Han culture is a highly absorptive culture. There is a saying of the Hans, “All men within the four seas are brothers”. The sense of ethnocentrism of the Han people towards its surrounding ethnic group is low and the written language serve as a strong glue to bind all these different ethnicities together. In addition to that in a broad generalization throughout history the ancestors of these different people shares the same culture, celebrates the same festivals, admire the same poets, loyal to the same emperors. These kind of share history gives a strong sense for the Han group to feel as a people. The counterpart of Han in the Western equivalent is probably the group called European.

    Using modern day political jargon by the Dalai Lama, the Han culture is a pretty efficient ‘cultural genocide’ machine. Charges of ethnic repression of the Tibetans (Zang) by the Han people is of course absurd but I can see why it is so believable in a different cultural settings. The Dalai Lama, who is well-versed in the Western culture, knows what language to use and what buttons to push for his audience.

    • I’m aware of the variety of languages and/or dialects between most Chinese outside of the 56 recognized minorities. China has been more successful unifying it’s people than the rest of the world has been. That one written language did the trick.

  2. “Consistent suppression of uprisings can force social tranquility” … since when has that actually work? You can suppress the uprisings, but you can’t “enforce tranquility,” social or otherwise. It’s an oxymoron.

    • I’m not sure what Clark means by that, but I think social tranquility means people aren’t rioting in the streets or causing social unrest. It doesn’t apply to personal stress or anger. In China—at least to the CCP and previous Imperial Dynasties—social harmony is considered more important than individual expression, freedom or feelings. That was one of Confucius’s teachings and the one China’s rulers have promoted the most.

  3. Rajiv says:

    They are also changing the rules to favour those who speak Putonghua

    • I’ve heard that spoken and written Mandarin are mandatory in the public schools along with English. What I find amazing is the fact that China has survived for more than 2 thousand years with so many different spoken languages and dialiects but only one written language.

      I wonder if having one written language—ruthlessly imposed after Qin Shi Huangdi unified China in 221 BC—is the reason why.

  4. Toonng Man says:

    Hi Lloyd,

    How can I share your article in FB.

    Thank you!

    Lumin Chang

    • If you have a WordPress Blog, you may easily Reblog it to your site. Or copy and paste the first paragraph or two and copy them to your FB page with a link back to the original.

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