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History and Development of Xinjiang (Part 8)



VIII. Upholding Equality and Unity Among Ethnic Groups, and Freedom of Religious Belief
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government, to ensure equality and unity among ethnic groups and achieve their common development, has formulated a series of ethnic and religious policies on the basis of the actual situations of the various ethnic groups and religions, and these policies have been continuously enriched and improved in practice. Xinjiang, as one of the areas practicing regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China, has fully implemented the ethnic and religious policies laid down by the central government, safeguarded the fundamental interests of the people of all ethnic groups, and formed, developed and consolidated a new type of relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among ethnic groups.
Safeguarding equality among ethnic groups and promoting their unity. It is stipulated in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China as follows: “All ethnic groups in the People’s Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minorities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China’s ethnic groups. Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited; any act which undermines the unity of the ethnic groups or instigates division is prohibited.”
The Constitution ensures that citizens of all ethnic groups enjoy all the rights of equality prescribed by the Constitution and the law. Citizens who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnic status, race, sex or religious belief; freedom of the person and the personal dignity of citizens of all ethnic groups are inviolable; all ethnic groups have the right to enjoy freedom of religious belief; citizens of all ethnic groups have the right to receive education; and all ethnic groups have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. The government has adopted various special policies and measures to ensure that all the rights of equality for all ethnic groups as prescribed by the Constitution and the law are effectively implemented and protected in social life and government behavior.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the local government of Xinjiang promulgated an administrative order to abolish appellations and names of places containing meanings insulting to ethnic minorities. For instance, the place name of “Dihua” was changed to “Urumqi,” and that of “Zhenxi” to “Barkol.” Some appellations, though not implying insults, were also changed at the wish of the given ethnic minority. For instance, the name “Dahur” was changed to “Daur” in 1958, in accordance with the wish of the Daur people.
In order to further consolidate and develop the great unity among ethnic groups, since 1983, the government of the region has launched an “educational month of unity among ethnic groups” throughout the whole region every year. In a lively and up-to-date form, the publicity and educational event is carried out in a concentrated, extensive and profound manner, to promote the concepts of equality, unity and progress as the primary principles in the relationships between ethnic groups, and make mutual trust, mutual respect, mutual learning, mutual support and mutual understanding social norms to be routinely followed by people of all ethnic groups.
Ethnic minorities’ right to autonomy is protected by laws and regulations. According to the Constitution, regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in compact communities. This is one of the basic political systems of China. The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is an ethnic autonomous area with the Uygur people as its principal body. Within the territory of the autonomous region, there also exist other areas where other ethnic minorities live in compact communities. There, corresponding ethnic autonomous areas have also been established. Currently, the whole region has 5 autonomous prefectures for 4 ethnic groups — Kazak, Hui, Kirgiz and Mongolian; 6 autonomous counties for 5 ethnic groups — Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Tajik and Xibe; and 43 ethnic townships.
According to the provisions of China’s Constitution and the “Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy,” ethnic autonomous areas enjoy extensive autonomy. While exercising the functions and powers of local state organs, they shall have the power of legislation; the power to flexibly carry out or decide not to carry out decisions from higher-level state organs that are not suited to the actual conditions of the ethnic autonomous areas; the power to develop their own economy; the power to manage their own financial affairs; the power to train and use ethnic-minority cadres; and the power to develop education and ethnic cultures. The People’s Congress of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and its standing committee have adopted various regulations and resolutions which fit the characteristics and meet the requirements of Xinjiang based on the power accorded to it by the “Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy” and Xinjiang’s actual conditions, thus protecting the right to autonomy granted to ethnic autonomous areas by the law. By the end of 2000, the people’s congress of the autonomous region and its standing committee had altogether enacted 119 local laws and 71 statutory resolutions and decisions, approved 31 local laws, 3 separate regulations formulated by local people’s congresses and 173 administrative rules and regulations formulated by the government of the autonomous region.
Chief leaders of ethnic autonomous areas are citizens of the ethnic group or groups exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned. As stipulated by the Constitution, the head of an autonomous region, autonomous prefecture or autonomous county shall be a citizen of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in the area concerned; and the other members of the people’s governments of these regions, prefectures and counties shall include members of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy as well as members of other ethnic minorities.
In order to thoroughly safeguard regional ethnic autonomy and the various rights of the ethnic minorities, Xinjiang places great importance on creating study and training opportunities for ethnic-minority cadres, sending large numbers of ethnic-minority cadres to study in colleges and universities in inland provinces, running schools and training classes for ethnic-minority cadres at various levels in Xinjiang, and thus training and fostering a large body of administrative and professional ethnic-minority cadres for work in political, economic, cultural and other spheres.
In 1950, there were only 3,000 ethnic-minority cadres in Xinjiang. In 1955, when the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was established, there were 46,000 ethnic-minority cadres. Today, there are as many as 348,000, accounting for 51.8% of the total number of cadres in the autonomous region. Meanwhile, the number of women ethnic-minority cadres has exceeded 46% of the total number of women cadres in the whole region.
Ethnic minorities enjoy full representation rights in people’s congresses at all levels. In order to thoroughly protect the rights of the ethnic minorities, the proportions of the ethnic-minority deputies to people’s congresses at all levels are all approximately four percentage points higher than the proportions of the ethnic-minority populations in the total populations of the relevant areas in Xinjiang in the corresponding periods. The proportions of ethnic-minority deputies in the total number of Xinjiang’s deputies to the National People’s Congress of all previous terms have all exceeded 63% — all higher than the proportions of such ethnic populations in the region’s total population in the corresponding periods.
Ethnic minorities’ freedom and right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages are fully respected and protected. The government of the autonomous region promulgated, respectively in 1988 and 1993, the “Provisional Regulations of Administration for the Use of Ethnic Languages in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region” and the “Regulations for Work Concerning Spoken and Written Languages in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region,” which further enshrine in legal form the freedom and right of ethnic minorities to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. Whether in the fields of judicature, administration, education, etc., or in political and social life, the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities are broadly used.
Government organs of the autonomous region simultaneously use two or more spoken and written languages in handling public affairs. Government organs of autonomous prefectures and counties also simultaneously use the spoken and written languages of the ethnic group exercising regional autonomy in handling public affairs. Ethnic minorities have the right to use their own spoken and written languages in election and litigation. Spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities are widely used in journalism, publications, radio, film and television. The Xinjiang People’s Broadcasting Station uses five languages, namely, Uygur, Han, Kazak, Mongolian and Kirgiz, while the Xinjiang Television Station uses the Uygur, Han and Kazak languages. The Uygur, Han, Kazak, Kirgiz, Mongolian and Xibe have newspapers, books and magazines available to them in their own languages.
Ethnic minorities’ folkways and customs are fully respected. Ethnic minorities’ folkways and customs are closely related to people’s production and life, as well as religious beliefs. To respect ethnic minorities’ folkways and customs, the central and regional people’s governments have promulgated a number of regulations. To guarantee the supply of special food needed by ethnic minorities, Muslims in particular, the people’s government has promulgated regulations and taken a sequence of specific measures, for instance by requiring large and medium-sized cities and small towns with sizable Muslim populations to have a definite number of Muslim restaurants.
At the communication hubs and in units with Muslim employees, Muslim canteens or Muslim catering must be provided. Beef and mutton supplied to Muslims must be slaughtered and processed according to Islamic customs, and must be separately stored, transported and sold. On their respective traditional festivals, such as the Kurban Festival and Fast-breaking Festival, all ethnic minorities may enjoy statutory holidays and be supplied with special festive food. Ethnic minorities which traditionally practice inhumation are exempt from the government requirement of cremation, and are allotted special land for cemeteries. There are no restrictions whatever on folkways and customs of a religious nature, such as wedding or funeral ceremonies, circumcision and giving religious names.
Ethnic minorities’ educational level is continuously rising. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, to change the extremely backward situation in education among the ethnic minorities, a whole array of measures have been adopted.
The development of education among ethnic minorities has been regarded as one of the priorities of educational work. Focus and priority of arrangement and support have been given to the education of ethnic minorities in terms of development program, fund input, and teacher training.
To change the backward educational situation of the ethnic minorities in pastoral areas, huge amounts of funds have been spent on establishing boarding schools; grants are available for particularly poor students in boarding schools, middle schools, polytechnic schools, colleges and universities. In 2002, for instance, free textbooks with a value of 12 million yuan and grants totaling 30 million yuan were given to such boarding schools. Secondary and primary school students covered by the compulsory education period in the three prefectures of Hotan, Kashi and Aksu and the Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture of Kizilsu in southern Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, enjoy free education.
The compulsory education period is extended so as to enable ethnic-minority students to receive 9 to 12 years of compulsory education. Tuition and fees and expenditures for textbooks are waived for primary and middle school students of ethnic-minority origins in some border and poor counties.
A total of 5,882 primary and middle schools serve ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, accounting for 69% of the total number of primary and middle schools in the region. At the same time, many schools practice a mixed enrolment of students of ethnic-minority and Han origins.

 


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