The Zhuang and REAL

91.59% (1.2 billion people) are ethnically Han Chinese while the remaining (105 million people) are of some ethnic minority

The major minority ethnic groups are Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 million), Miao (8.9 million), Uyghur (8.3 million), Tujia (8 million), Yi (7.7 million), Mongol (5.8 million), Tibetan (5.4 million), Buyei (2.9 million), Dong (2.9 million), Yao (2.6 million), Korean (1.9 million), Bai (1.8 million), Hani (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.2 million), Li (1.2 million), and Dai (1.1 million).

The above groups are offically recognized by the Chinese government while. The following are not:

  • Ayi people
  • Äynu people
  • Gejia (亻革家人, Gèjiā Rén)
  • Bajia (八甲人, Bājiǎ Rén)
  • Deng (僜人, Dèng Rén)
  • Khmu (克木人, Kèmù Rén)
  • Kucong (Yellow Lahu/Lahu Shi (苦聪人; Traditional: 苦聰人; Kǔcōng Rén)
  • Mang (芒人, Máng Rén)
  • Sherpas (夏尔巴人; Traditional: 夏爾巴人; Xiàěrbā Rén)
  • Tuvans (图瓦人, Túwǎ Rén)
  • Yi (羿人, Yìrén)
  • Youtai (犹太; Traditional: 猶太; Yóutài) (Jewish people of China and Jewish people in general)
  • Yamato Japanese (大和民族) and Ryukyuans (琉球民族) living as permanent residents in Taiwan[citation needed]
  • Macanese (土生葡人, Descendant of Portuguese in Macau since 16th century)

Let’s start focusing on the Han ethnicity, clearly the largest and most politcally influential ethnicity in China. The dominate the eastern half of China. In fact, they are the largest central ethnic group in the world. You may already know that Han Chinese is the most widely spoken language. There are many subgroups of the Han. The name “Han” comes from the Han Dynasty which came to rise in the third century BC, remembered for its significant cultural achievements and expansion over Central, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. It rivaled the Roman Empire in power. This ethnic traces its roots back to the people who lived along the Yellow River. They are associated with the major Chinese empires, the Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin and Han. Important cultural legacy includes Confucianism and Taosim. Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. The People’s Republic of China replaced the Qing dynasty 1912. Hui considered separate from Han but really only differ in the practice of Islam. Moving north to south, different “Han” Chinese can display differences in language, cultural practices, and even DNA. Many Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible, but descend from a common Old Chinese, and Middle Chinese ancestors.

We find the largest ethnic minority of China is the Zhuang at around 16.1 million people. Also known as the Rau, they mostly reside in southern China. The etymology for the word “Zhuang” has a strange history that may be able to throw some light onto longstanding ethnic tensions in China. The original character was 獞 (pronounced “Tong”) which was also the name of a wild dog, giving it a animalistic connotation. With the rise of the Communist party, their kanji symbol was officially changed to 僮, which is also pronounced “Tong” but means “young serf”, which still was a derogatory term. Eventually it was changed to the kanji used today, 壮, which means “strong” or “robust”.

Some tidbits of information I have found that can shed some light on the current political situation in China concerning mintority rights include…

  • Many Tibetans and Mongol people under the jurisdiction of The People’s Republic of China have openly questioned the legitimacy of the Communist party’s rule
  • The PRC has a specific “Minority Policy” when dealing with the rights of ethnic minorities

Veering away from the Zhuang, I think I will use my remaining time to investigate these policies further. A very helpful sight describes in detail the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) of 1984 in the Chinese Constitution. It claims that ethinic minorities may have religious, cultural and limited political autonomy as long as none of their practices or policies conflict with PRC law. They must “safeguard the security, honor, and interests of the motherland,” and place the interests of the state “above anything else.” It turns out, however, that most practices of ethnic minorities are, in fact, against PRC policy, giving the central government justification to impose their authority anyway. The government ignores the right of religious freedom towards the Uighurs and Tibetans. How minority cultural traits, customs and histories are displayed in the media are strictly regulated by the government. The government sometimes holds book burnings destroying documents that contradict with government “official” description of Chinese history. Well, I am out of time now but I hope to look into this report further and expand my research on the Zhuang minority next week.

1 comment for “The Zhuang and REAL

  1. Madigan
    September 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Great post tracing a complicated history, Christina. And I think you’re right to focus in on some of these policies, especially the PRC, as they’re applied and lived. Looking forward to more!

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