These illustrate the restrictions the government places on movement, to say nothing of the complete lack of freedom of speech. As of last Friday, according to Radio Free Asia, the preeminent source on inside news in Southeast Asia, two Tibetan village leaders were sentenced to “long terms in jail” simply for their resistance to flying Chinese flags; one should note that these two men were arrested for a passive action, rather than the proactive one of flying a Tibetan flag. In Xinjiang, the autonomous region in Northwestern China that is predominantly Uyghur, special police units regularly patrol the streets in an attempt to curb anti-Beijing violence. With all of this in mind, China’s idea of the Zhongguo meng, or “China Dream,” publicized everywhere, as the aspirational expression of economic progress, seems more and more like a nightmare.
Every leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has had his own version of a grand agenda. Jiang Zemin had the “Three Represents,” Hu Jintao the “Peaceful Rise,” and now finally Xi Jinping has his own in the form of “The China Dream.” From Beijing to Lhasa, it is easy to forget the propaganda that confronts citizens and visitors alike, with each painting of that cute, chubby girl or the old man and woman happily hoisting the Chinese flag. In all of these billboards, the messages are clear. Zhongguo meng, wo de meng (China’s dream is my dream), Zhongguo qianjin (China continues to move forward!), and my personal favorite, gongchandang hao, baixing le (When the Communist Party is doing well, the people are happy) all line the streets in cities across the country. But nowhere in this dream are minorities represented, pictured, or even considered. The pictures included with the bold, proud words simply exclude ethnic minorities. The greater interests of the state are put well ahead of those of the minority groups.
Walking through Lhasa, it is hard to miss the signs that read, “a China together is a strong China.” This sense of oneness distinctly masks a neglect of ethnic sensitivity in China, especially in the autonomous regions of the ethnic minorities. As far as the greater population is concerned, the minorities are content with their lives. If a typical Han-Chinese were to compile a list of day-to-day activities for a ethnic minority group based on the government and news outlets’ portrayal, the list would only include singing and dancing, because that is the only thing the government seems to think that the ethnic minorities do every day.
Ethnic discrimination aside, members of the 55 ethnic minority groups do have some privileges otherwise unseen by the majority population. For example, the infamous one-child policy so brutally enforced in the past few decades does not apply to members of a minority group. They also earn automatic extra points on the gaokao, the Chinese equivalent to the SAT. It is small concessions like these that the government believes will keep the minorities at bay, and will save the government against achieving a reputation of being completely discriminatory. This is part of the long stick method of subjugation: keep the dangerous people content, and they won’t rebel.
Or in another form of long-stick security: send the people back from where they came. Deportation is not a word often associated with China. Within the past few months, Beijing has begun the forced internal deportation of ethnic Uyghurs back to Xinjiang, often from provinces thousands of miles away. This internal exile has already begun for some Uyghurs, sent back to Xinjiang, by way of Yunnan, a province in southeastern China roughly 2,500 miles away, simply due to their nationality. Uyghurs in Kunming are the main targets of “internal deportation” due to the recent Kunming rail station attacks that killed 29 people. In China, civil liberties and rights do not have a strong foothold in society, so people—usually ethnic minorities—are left with no other options but to adhere to the government’s decrees. Between what may be called “soft suppression” (i.e. providing ethnic minorities with social and educational benefits) and “hard suppression” (i.e. forced internal deportation), the CPC has successfully begun to administer their current version of the long stick method of subjugation.
In fairness, China has certainly come a long way in its treatment of ethnic minority groups. The modern nation as we know it was only founded 65 years ago, and so it has had a very short amount of time to wrestle with the idea of a true ethno-national identity, let alone time to finish classifying the groups. But in these nearly seven decades, the government has had no shortage of time to crack down on possible dissenting and freedom-fighting ethnic groups. The Uyghurs and Tibetans are not the only groups clamoring for independence, they just happen to be the loudest ones. Until they achieve their goals, or until they are finally silenced, the government will not relent in cracking down on dissent, thereby pushing the ethnic minorities as far away as possible from the position of holding an effective voice and wielding any sort of power. It looks like the long stick has put he tiger back to sleep.