The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 53 of the Common Program

Timeline concerning nationalities

  • October 19. 1949 State Ethnic Affairs Commission of the GAC is formed. Li Weihan chairman
    November 24, 1950 GAC sets up the Central Nationalities Institute
    February 5,1951 the Government Administrative Council established a Guidance Committee for Research in the Spoken and Written Languages of National Minorities, under the Ministry of Culture and Education
    March 1951 GAC decides to establish the ethnic work conference system
    May 16, 1951 GAC issues directive against misuse of names etc., offending national minorities
    June 1, 1951 the Central Institute Nationalities opening ceremony in Beijing
    September 20, 1951 MOE organizes 1st national conference on minority education
    October 12, 1951 GAC sets up a committee to study the language of the national minorities
    December 21, 1951 Regional autonomy for Nationalities
    April, 1952 the GAC announces its decision to establish administrative structures for minority education.
    September 1952 China National Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble founded
    September 20-28,1951 the Ministry of Education holds the first national conference on minority education
    April 1–14, 1953 the First National Folk Music and Dance Festival is held in Beijing
    September 1954 opening of the Beijing Dance School, China’s first professional dance conservatory for Han and ethnic performers

From July 1950 onwards, several goodwill missions are sent to minority Regions. Members of these missions are high-ranking ethnic minority cadres or famous non-communist, but pro-communist leaders and scholars.They educated minorities about the CCP's new ethnic program, expressed apologies for past errors, distributed gifts, visited minority leaders and representatives, and organized numerous discussion sessions and gatherings. All these efforts were aimed at bridging mutual distrust and instilling confidence among minorities in the new state. (see Article 50). Local ethnic leaders were extended invitations to partake in the inaugural National Day celebration on October 1, 1950, and/or the May Day celebration in 1951. Their visits to the Chinese capital and participation in national political ceremonies marked the commencement of what can be termed as minority elite political tourism. Following these festivities, they were escorted to various parts of China where they would visit three distinct types of locations: first, large modern factories exemplifying China's technological progress; second, military installations such as airfields and naval vessels showcasing China's military capabilities; and third, scenic spots including rivers, gardens, and urban centers where they could unwind and experience local hospitality. Sightseeing was not intended as a leisure activity but rather served as a means for political integration and cultural assimilation of frontier peoples into the new Chinese state.

In 1953, the identification of minorities starts (see Article 50). There is also another classification taking place, one based on the Marxist theory. This categorization wants to identify the social-economic status of ethnic groups in terms of modes of production. The 5 successive stages are primitive, slave, feudal, capitalist, and socialist. In 1953, the Han are considered in the late feudal state, while most ethnic groups are considered in earlier stages. Throughout China's history, ethnic groups have often been perceived as culturally inferior. Despite the emergence of the concept of China as a multi-ethnic state among Chinese intellectuals and political leaders since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, historiographical writings during the Republican era were predominantly Han-centric. These narratives perpetuated ethnic and racial nationalism, contributing to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The earliest history textbooks of the PRC exhibit a clear continuity with these narratives, partly because the new educational system, in its early years, utilized history textbooks from regions formerly controlled by the Guomindang. Baranovitch(2010) underlines his statement with an example of an 1951 textbook which uses “extremely negative depictions, in which they appear not just as nomads living a backward life, but also as aggressive and brutal, destructive, and morally inferior. These peoples not only “invade,” 5 but also “brutally massacre” (cansha or tusha), “take masses of captives” (fulu daliang nannü), “loot” (lüeduo), and “destroy” (pohuai or cuihui). Consistent with this negative representation, the evaluation of the periods in which China was ruled by these “foreign peoples” is also extremely negative.” In 1951, the Central People's Government promulgates the directive on dealing with appellations, place names, monuments, tablets, and inscriptions bearing contents discriminating against or insulting ethnic minorities, and such names, appellations, etc. are resolutely to be abolished.

In its approach to minorities policy, the CCP grapples with the dilemma of whether "local nationalism" should be accepted as an inevitable phase preceding ultimate mutual integration or discouraged as hindering the potentially rapid advancement toward communism. Mao Zedong recognizes the problem and states "it is impossible to thoroughly solve the nationality problems and to completely isolate minority reactionaries without a large number of communist cadres with minority backgrounds" Put differently, this policy strives for the utmost efficiency in government propaganda and the indoctrination of the Party's ideology. The minority language policy was directed towards the comprehensive development and active utilization of minority languages. Available evidence indicates that, at that time, the government regarded the advancement of minority languages as a significant and far-reaching initiative. In practice, although the planning process was somewhat rudimentary, it was well-structured and received full support from the State. In the first years of the People's Republic of China (1949-1957), the government recognizes minorities' language rights, establishes infrastructure for minority education, develops prototypes of bilingual education, and develops writing systems. In the initial years of the PRC, the state continued its efforts in script development. In the 1950s, 14 new scripts, all derived from the Latin alphabet, were created for minority use, with some designed to supplant the existing missionary scripts. However, the Miao community rebuffed an alternate Latin alphabet proposed by the authorities. They justified their rejection by stating that abandoning the Pollard script would signify acquiescence to the state's endeavor to undermine their educational and cultural accomplishments, which had been facilitated by the missionaries. Minorities in China speak more than 80 different languages from five language families: Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Austro-Asiatic, Austronesian, and Indo-European. (See Table and Map ) In the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Korean is used in conjunction with Chinese as the official language. The Korean language is the medium of instruction from primary school to higher education. In the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region the Mongolian language is used in conjunction with Chinese. The Mongolian language is the medium of instruction from primary school to higher education. In Xinjiang, Uyghur or Kazak have the same status.

Before 1949, many minority groups did not have modern schools, especially those living in mountainous areas. The only places to learn reading and writing were monasteries or private teaching houses. In most minority Regions, education and religion are related. More than 80 percent of the ethnic population was illiterate. When in 1950 the government insisted on abolishing all religious schools in Xinjiang , there is strong resistance and from 1952 on, two hours of optional religious teaching has been allowed in elementary schools. Young Female Han Chinese schoolteachers are employed in Islamic schools, in this way by reconfiguration of the age and gender of teachers, the new regime controlled the religious schools. In 1950, the total number of students with an ethnic background in institutions of high, middle, and primary learning are respectively, 0,9%, 0,4%, and 0,2%. At that time, the total ethnic population reached about 6%. Teachers trained to teach in local language and Putonghua were quite hard to find, an issue that has plagued bilingual education. Another obstacle for minorities students is passing the examination to advance to a higher school. This examination tests the knowledge of Chinese (Putonghua) and although the law stipulates tests should be given to minority students in their native languages. In practice, this rarely occurs. See also Article 43.
On September 20, 1951, the CCP convened the inaugural national conference on minority education. During this gathering, it was determined to establish an "ethnic education system." The rationale behind this decision stemmed from the belief that the geographically remote and culturally "backward" frontier regions made it impractical for minority students to integrate fully into the mainstream education system and society. Consequently, a remedial educational track was deemed necessary to nurture talent, ultimately facilitating the development and consolidation of Party control over these remote regions. At the conference, prioritizing "patriotic" and "political and ideological education" was emphasized as crucial for the extensive, multi-tiered network of minority institutes being established throughout the Chinese heartland. In Xinjiang, there is a rapid growth of minority schools. The minority languages are supposed to be used as the medium of instruction. However, most textbooks are largely imported from the Soviet Union. In the ethnic education system, the leadership of Mongolian and joint schools was frequently held by Han cadres. While Mongolian schools had Mongolian headmasters, the school Party secretaries were typically Han. In many Mongolian-Han joint schools, both headmasters and Party secretaries were Han, with Han students outnumbering Mongol students. Additionally, the management of school activities tended to emphasize Han styles. Tibet's monastery education system operated without charging fees, leading impoverished families to perceive no necessity for new Tibetan schooling or educational policies. Moreover, it represented an external reform as it was introduced by educators from a different nationality, using their own language which the students did not comprehend, and was initiated by an external political agency. Hence, it is unsurprising that there was significant resistance to the externally imposed mass education, mandated through compulsory school attendance, lacking linguistic or cultural adaptations, and devoid of local demand, during the 1950s.
The almost total lack of research facilities and of qualified personnel strongly obstructed the program to introduce language reform and education for minorities. In 1951, the earliest steps taken in implementing the central language policy are in Inner Mongolia. In November 1954, the reforming and creation of minority languages starts in the Southwest. However, during the initial pluralistic stage from 1949 to 1957, education in minority communities underwent rapid advancement, marked by significant reductions in illiteracy rates and notable increases in the number of individuals completing primary and secondary education, along with greater enrollment in universities. It's important to note a significant hurdle: The nationalized curriculum policy, aimed at fostering national unity, diminishes the emphasis on the culture and identity of ethnic minorities. This educational approach encounters practical challenges in regions inhabited by ethnic minorities, who possess distinct linguistic and cultural backgrounds compared to the Han majority. One issue arises when minority nationality children feel a profound sense of inferiority upon discovering the absence of references to their own culture or history in school materials. The lack of content that could instill pride in their nationality causes a decline in their self-esteem and interest in education, contributing to the high dropout rates among minority children. It's worth noting that there was an argument asserting that minority languages inherently lacked quality, which facilitated the promotion of Standard Chinese. According to this viewpoint, minority languages were deemed insufficient for meeting the demanding communicative requirements of modern life, particularly in fields such as modern science.

Minorities Dances

Commencing in 1949, the portrayal of minority individuals engaging in traditional dances was incorporated into official state discourse as a means to advocate for nationality policies emphasizing "unity and equality" among ethnic groups. The inaugural large-scale presentation showcasing this vision was "Long Live the People’s Victory," a song and dance spectacle that debuted in Huairen Hall on September 26, 1949. See Part 6 . In this popular song and dance gala, there are no minority artists, and all roles are played by Han students and teachers. The first ethnic performances started on September 29, 1950. The entertainers came from 4 Regions: Southwest, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Jilin Yanbian (near North Korea) and they gave eighteen shows in Beijing and Tianjin. In the early years of the PRC, minority dance emerged as an official emblem of state multiculturalism, advocating for fresh ideals of equality and cooperation aimed at confronting prevailing ethnic tensions and entrenched disparities. Instead of depicting minorities as sensual, exotic, and primitive, minority dance during this era conveyed images of minorities as dignified, forward-thinking, and culturally refined. This formed part of a broader reconstruction of Chinese identity, where the concept of "China" was redefined not solely as a Han nation but rather as a mosaic of numerous nationalities Interest in ethnic minorities extends beyond the theater to cinema as well. It was in 1950 that ethnic minority films emerged as a distinct category of cinematic production. This shift is part of an ideological movement aimed at representing populations traditionally absent from mainstream cinema, such as peasants or minority minzu, within the framework of the socialist "new society." Films serve as a bridge between these marginalized groups and Han urban society, encouraging urban dwellers to intensify efforts to "liberate" Tibetan slaves or oppressed peasants. This redefinition of "the people" is pivotal in shaping film production, leading to the creation of around twenty ethnic minority films during the 1950s. The movies are made by Han directors and actors, they are made for Han urban male audience. The ethnic groups are displayed as backward and are “guided” by Han “educators” "...,these minority films share a standardized narrative configuration that overlaps with that of another genre: anti-spy movies. Minority anti-spy films are always about an innocent ethnic group that are vulnerable to the manipulation of some nationalist spies or a privileged class from the pre-socialist era (like the Tibetan clergy), and that finally recognize their affinity with the Han Chinese communists." The portrayal of minority women in films tends to center on their attire, dancing, singing, and romantic relationships, positioning them as subjects of a gendered perspective. This emphasizes the eroticized femininity of both the women themselves and the ethnic minorities they symbolize. By situating oppressed individuals from minority nationalities alongside liberated workers, peasants, and soldiers within the same narrative framework, class surpasses ethnicity as the shared attribute defining the "people" of the People’s Republic. Meanwhile, the metaphorical concept of "advanced" or "backward" development serves to explain ongoing distinctions and hierarchies.

Bulag (2012). Page 137 [↩] [Cite]
Bulag (2012) Page 138 and Page 144 [↩] [Cite]
Bulag Page 141 [↩] [Cite]
Schein (2000). Page 83. [Cite]
Bulag (2000) describes the situation in Inner Mongolia: "Mao’s class struggle, for all its egalitarianism and ‘emanicipationism’, reproduced a power hierarchy, so the reclassification of Mongolian class status relocated many in the ranks of the enemy and thus subject to Chinese and class dictatorship, threatening the lives and livelihood of Mongols, individually and collectively." Bulag (2000). Page 555-556 [↩] [Cite]
Baranovitch (2010). Pages 89-90 [↩] [Cite]
Baranovitch (2010). Page 91 [↩] [Cite]
In the RMRB of September 5, 1951 a writer complains about a comic book "The Long March of Twenty-Five Thousand Miles" (tenth edition, March 1951) printed by Shanghai East China Bookstore. With the words "Correction" already printed on the cover. In the comic book ethnic minorities are called "barbarians" and ethnic minority areas "barbarian places". These are the names used by the GMD's reactionary government to discriminate against and insult ethnic minorities. Today, all ethnic groups have equality, mutual assistance, solidarity, and friendship. To call them still so is wrong. The title printed on the book should be reviewed and corrected. [↩]
Zhou (2001). Page 149 [↩] [Cite]
Cited in Blachford (1999). Pages 132-133 [↩] [Cite]
Blachford (1999). Page 171 [↩] [Cite]
"...the writing systems of China’s ethnic minorities could be divided into four categories: (1) writing systems that have considerable readings and are used for wider communicative purposes, i.e. Tibetan, Mongolian, Uygur, Kazak, Korean, Russian, Xibe, Uzbek and Tatar; (2) those that do not have new readings but are used for wider communicative purposes, such as Dai, Jingpo, Lisu, Va, and Lahu; (3) those that are not used for wider communicative purposes, such as Man (Manchu), Yi, Naxi and Miao; and (4) no writing systems, such as the Miao, Dong, Yao, Bouyei, Tu (Monguor) and Hezhen in some of Regions." Zhou (2004). Page 56. [↩] [Cite]
Elazar (2015). Page 198. Pollard script is loosely based on the Latin alphabet and invented by Methodist missionary Sam Pollard. [↩] [Cite]
"Chinese as spoken across China was hardly uniform or unified. But by grouping these languages as though there were one, the state demoted the status of these languages to mere “non-standard dialects”, thus strengthening the authority of the Mandarin-speaking center. Except for Mandarin, speakers of the six other modern Chinese “dialects groups”, the Min, Yue, Wu, Gan, Xiang, and Hakka (Kejia), are found in central and southern China. Despite being called “Chinese dialects” nationally and internationally, they are largely mutually unintelligible." Dwyer (1998). Page 83 [↩] [Cite]
Johnson (2002). Page 143 [↩] [Cite]
Leibold (2019). Page 5 [↩] [Cite]
Borchigud (1995). Page 296 [↩] [Cite]
Jia (2009). Pages 80-81 [↩] [Cite]
Zhou (2001). Page 156. In 1952 there was throughout the country, not a single formal institution of higher learning for ethnic minorities. [↩] [Cite]
Johnson (2002). Page 144 [↩] [Cite]
Dwyer (2005). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
Wilcox (2016). Pages 4-5 [↩] [Cite]
Wilcox (2016). Page 20 [↩] [Cite]
Frangville (2007). Page 125-126 [Cite]
Original text: C’est à partir de 1950 que le « shaoshu minzu pian » 少数民族片/电影devient une véritable catégorie de production cinématographique.53 Ce changement s’inscrit dans un courant idéologique qui cherche à inclure les populations absentes du grand écran, comme les paysans ou les minzu minoritaires dans la « nouvelle société » socialiste.54Le film devient alors un médium entre ces marginalisés et la société urbaine han, qui sont exhortés à redoubler d’effort pour « libérer » l’esclave tibétain ou le paysan oppressé. Cette nouvelle approche et définition du « peuple » est déterminante dans la production cinématographique. Une vingtaine de shaoshu minzu pian sont produits dans les années 1950,…"
During this period (1949-1966), more than 40 ethnic minority-themed films were created, involving Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, Miao, Zhuang, Yi, Qiang, Bai, Dai, Dong, and Li , Buyi, Lahu, Jingpo, Hani, Kazakh Tajik, Uyghur, Korean and other 19 ethnic groups [↩]
Tang (2014). Page 448
"While a common theme can sometimes define a genre, none can be found in minority cinema between 1940 and 1966, even when including the most common themes associated with socialist realist films, such as class struggle." Tang (2014) Page 450. [Cite]
Gladney (1994) ascertains "While minorities are no longer portrayed as barbarians in China, and many of the disparaging Chinese ideographs that formerly scripted their names with "dog" and "bug" radicals were changed in 1949, their portrayal in the public the media is not only much more "colorful" and "cultural" than the Han (thanks, perhaps, to Stalin, whose four criteria adopted by the Chinese state for recognizing a people as a nationality included "culture"), but also much more sensual." Gladney (1994). Page 103 [↩] [Cite]
Brown (2012). Page iv. [↩] [Cite]
Berry (2006). Page 184 [↩] [Cite]


20-09-1951 - 28-09-1951: 1st national conference on minority education

Chapter 6 of Common Program