This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethnic Discrimination in China

For the most part, East Asia does not get on the radar screen over issues of immigrant and minority discrimination because none of the countries in the region allows more than a very limited and highly selective level of immigration. But China is a vast country both in terms of geography and population and, as the Economist has pointed out this week, its minority groups are generally left out of the mainstream of society.
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.


  1. Its a complex problem. In the case of Tibet, the Chinse government actively encouraged the migration of Chinese citizens from central and coastal areas to Tibet. These people were given all of the economic opportunities, while the Tibetans were marginalized. Hence this type of process represents a "long term cultural dictatorship" of a region. It is less visible than a full scale military invasion, but no less harmful over the long term.

    I have no idea how it will all play out. I doubt that the Chinese can achieve any kind of real national unity - unless they have a political system based on respect of different cultures within their own country. They are still a long way from reaching this goal at this stage.

    Pete, Redondo Beach

    1. Yes, you are right that the Chinese have tried to pacify and control minorities by moving members of the Han majority into those regions. The Soviet Union also did this with its Central Asian Republics.