CHINA is urbanising at a rapid pace. In 2000 nearly two-thirds of its residents lived in the countryside. Today fewer than half do. But two ethnic groups, whose members often chafe at Chinese rule, are bucking this trend. Uighurs and Tibetans are staying on the farm, often because discrimination against them makes it difficult to find work in cities. As ethnic discontent grows, so too does the discrimination, creating a vicious circle.
Part of the problem is linguistic. Uighurs and Tibetans brought up in the countryside often have a very poor grasp of Mandarin, the official language. The government has tried to promote Mandarin in schools, but has encountered resistance in some places where it is seen as an attempt to suppress native culture. In southern Xinjiang, where most Uighurs live, many schools do not teach it.So, you can see that part of the problem lies with minority groups who do not really want to assimilate. This is perhaps the toughest call of all in human society. But I always come back in my own mind to John F. Kennedy's famous quote that the way out of the ghetto (in the US) is through the mastery of English. I cannot imagine negotiating Chinese society without mastering Mandarin, any more than I could imagine negotiating Mexican society without mastering Spanish. Of course, there is more to it than that.
But discrimination is a big factor, too. Even some of the best-educated Uighur and Tibetan migrants struggle to find work. Reza Hasmath of Oxford University found that minority candidates in Beijing, for example, were better educated on average than their Han counterparts, but got worse-paying jobs. A separate study found that CVs of Uighurs and Tibetans, whose ethnicities are clearly identifiable from their names (most Uighurs also look physically very different from Han Chinese), generated far fewer calls for interviews.If these events were playing out in the U.S. among blacks, it might be attributed to the racism arising from slavery. But China reminds us that it doesn't take slavery to discriminate against others--it only takes their being different and less politically powerful.