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 instructed the minorities on the new ethnic program of the CCP, apologized for past mistakes and distributed gifts, "...they visited minority leaders and representatives, and held numerous discussion meetings and parties, all with the aim of overcoming mutual distrust and securing minority confidence in the new state." (see Article 50).
Local ethnic leaders were invited to participate in the first National Day celebration on October 1, 1950 and/ or the May Day celebration in 1951. "Visiting the Chinese centre and participating in the national political rituals was only the start of minority elite political tourism. After the festival, they would be taken to other parts of China to... Regions outside Beijing, they would visit three types of place: first, large modern factories that showcased China’s technological advancement; second, military facilities, such as military airports and warships, that demonstrated China’s military prowess; and third, scenic places, such as rivers, gardens, and urban centres, where they could relax and enjoy local hospitality."
Bulag (2012) calls the real intention "Sightseeing was not intended as leisure, but largely for political integration and cultural assimilation of the 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 the history of China, ethnic groups are seen as backward. Baranovitch (2010) notices “Despite the fact that since the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the notion of China as a multi-ethnic state had started to gain popularity among Chinese intellectuals and political leaders, historiographical writing during the Republican era was dominated by Han-exclusive narratives that perpetuated the ethnic/racial nationalism that led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. In the earliest history textbooks of the PRC, there is a clear continuity with these narratives, in part because during the early years of the new state, the new educational system used history texts from former Guomindang controlled areas.”
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 the minorities policy, the CCP faces the question of whether "local nationalism" (a CCP term for minorities' nationalism) should be tolerated as an inevitable phase before final mutual integration, or be discouraged as retarding a potentially rapid development 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" In other words, this policy aims at the maximum effectiveness of government propaganda and indoctrination of the Party's ideology, however Blachford (1990) notices “… the general policy pointed towards minority self-government, equality, and common development. The minority language policy was set towards full development and active use of minority languages. The evidence has shown that at the time the government considered the development of minority languages to be an important and long-range program. In practice, the planning process, though somewhat primitive, was well organized and fully supported by 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.
Elazar (2015) states that many Christian converts from minority backgrounds became literate "During the first years of the PRC the development of scripts was continued by the state. In the 1950’s 14 new scripts, all based on the Latin alphabet were devised for the use of minorities, some of them intended to replace the “old” missionary scripts." Elazar notices resistance "...the Miao rejected an alternative Latin alphabet offered by the authorities, explaining their refusal to abandon the Pollard script as resistance to the state’s attempts to deny their achievement in the realm of education and culture, achievements attained through the missionaries " Minorities in China speak more than 80 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 first national conference on minority education. Here it was decided to create a ‘ethnic education system’. "It was believed that the “isolated” and “backward” nature of remote frontier Regions rendered it impossible for minority students to participate equally in the normal education system and mainstream society, and thus a remedial track was required to foster the talent needed to ultimately develop and secure Party control over these remote Regions …. At the conference “patriotic” and “political and ideological education” was identified as a top priority for the extensive, multi-tiered network of minority institutes ..being built across 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. Borchigud (1995) describes the situation in Mongolia "Within the ethnic education system, actual leadership of Mongolian and joint schools often was in the hands of Han cadres. In Mongolian schools, headmasters were Mongolian, but the school Party secretaries were Han. Everyone in China knows that the Party is the true ruler of the entire nation, and therefore of every single unit within it. In most Mongolian-Han joint schools, both headmasters and Party secretaries were Han, Han students outnumbered Mongol students, and the management of school activities stressed Han styles."
Jia (2009) shows that the situation in Tibet is not different. "...,Tibet’s system of monastery education was free, and thus poor families saw no need for new Tibetan schooling or school policies. It was further an external reform, since it was implemented by external educators from another nationality in their own language, which students did not understand, for the purposes of an external political agency. Thus, it is no surprise that massive resistance to mass education imposed externally through compulsory school attendance, with no linguistic or cultural adaptations, and no local demand, was massively resisted in 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.
Still Zhou (2001) remarks "Education in minority communities developed rapidly during the first pluralistic stage from 1949 to 1957, with substantial reductions in illiteracy (Zhou, 2000a) and substantial increases in the number of people completing primary and secondary education as well as enrolling in universities (Zhou,200 Ia)"
Johnson and Chhetri (2002) suggest. To promote a sense of this national unity the nationalized curriculum policy downplays the culture and identity of ethnic minorities. This educational policy meets with practical problems in areas occupied by ethnic minorities, who are linguistically and culturally different from the Han (Postiglione, 1999). One problem is "that minority nationality children become very self-abased when they find no reference to their own culture or history in school materials. When they find there is no content which can make them feel proud of being a person of their own nationality, they lose self-esteem and interest in schooling. This is reflected in the high dropout rates of minority children"
Blachford (1999) concludes "Sociopolitically these policies helped to a certain degree to win at least the partial trust and loyalty of the minorities in going along with the socialist scheme and brought much needed support for the young government. Most importantly such poky helped to reduce minority resistance and had a positive effect in securing the frontiers. But at the end of that first decade with the launch of various political movements, such policy and planning for minority language maintenance was not allowed to operate long enough to achieve its intended effects. The planning efforts were clearly a strategy to assist integration without forced assimilation"
Dwyer remarks "In minority areas, the argument that minority languages were inherently low quality aided efforts to promote Standard Chinese: Minority languages were allegedly inadequate for the rigorous communicative demands of modern life, especially modern science."

Minorities Dances
"Beginning in 1949, the image of the dancing minority was introduced into official state discourse as a tool to promote nationality policies calling for “unity and equality” between ethnic groups (Mackerras 1984). The first large-scale performance that presented this vision was Long Live the People’s Victory, a song and dance gala that premiered 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.
Wilcox (2016) concludes "In the early years of the PRC, minority dance emerged as an official symbol of state multiculturalism, promoting new ideals of equality and collaboration designed to challenge existing realities of ethnic tension and entrenched inequality. Rather than portraying minorities as erotic, exotic, and primitive, minority dance in this period presented images of minorities as respectable, progressive, and culturally sophisticated. This was part of a larger reconstruction of Chinese identity, where “China” was defined not as a Han nation but, rather, as a composite of many nationalities."
Not only in the theatre there is interest for minorities but also in the cinema. "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.53Ce 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,…"
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."
According to Brown (2012) the appearance of minority women in movies, is restricted to "...the focus on the costume, dance, singing, and romantic affairs of ethnic minority women place them as the object of a gendered gaze, underscoring the eroticized femininity of them and the ethnic minorities they represent."
Berry (2006) concludes "By placing the exploited members of minority nationalities in the same narrative position as liberated workers, peasants, and soldiers, class overrides ethnicity as the common characteristic constituting the “people” of the People’s Republic, while the metaphor of more “advanced” or “backward” development accounts for continued difference and hierarchy."

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 [↩] [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]
Blachford (1999). Pages 274-275 [↩] [Cite]
Dwyer (2005). Page 10 [↩] [Cite]
Wilcox (2016). Pages 4-5 [↩] [Cite]
Wilcox (2016). Page 20 [↩] [Cite]
Frangville (2007). Page 125-126 [Cite]
Translation: "It is from 1950 that the "shaoshu minzu pian" 少数民族 片 / 影影 becomes a real category of cinematographic production.53This change is part of an ideological current that seeks to include the populations absent from the big screen, like the peasants or the minority minzu in the socialist "new society." The film then becomes a medium between these marginalized and the Han urban society, who are urged to redouble their efforts to "liberate" the Tibetan slave or the oppressed peasant. This new approach and definition of "people" is crucial in film production. About twenty shaoshu minzu pian are produced in the 1950s, ... " [↩]
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