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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Ethnic unity in China, with the Han on top

August 17, 2008

AFP
August 16, 2008

BEIJING, August 16 -- Beijing's China Ethnic Culture Park features
what it calls "precise re-creations" of life for all China's 56
ethnic groups, but one thing seems in short supply: actual ethnic minorities.

"There are no Uighurs here," said a Han Chinese security guard in the
forlorn-looking section devoted to that restive Muslim ethnicity from
western China's Xinjiang region.

"There haven't been any for several years," he said.

A young Tibetan women said all those in her section were from Qinghai
province -- not Tibet, which exploded in anti-Chinese rioting in March.

The attraction changed its English name from the unfortunate
translation "Racist Park" in recent years. Yet it appears to remain a
monument to the ruling Communist Party's longtime message of Han
Chinese superiority, rather than national diversity.

That paternalistic role was highlighted this week with the revelation
that children representing Tibetans, Uighurs and other ethnic groups
in a key part of the Olympics opening ceremony were actually members
of the dominant Han ethnic group, which makes up more than 90 percent
of China's population.

Games organisers had claimed the 56 children who carried out the
national flag in the ceremony in a moment meant to showcase national
unity were from each official ethnic group in China.

But they were actually all Han, Yuan Zhifeng, deputy director of the
Galaxy Children's Art Troupe to which the children belonged, told the
Asian Wall Street Journal.

The apparent fakery came after ethnic tensions in China made
headlines this year with long-simmering resentment against Han
Chinese rule in Tibet and Uighur-populated Xinjiang erupting into violence.

To world audiences, the opening ceremony incident may have appeared
insensitive to minorities, akin to having white Australians represent
aborigines, but in China it is routine, said China minorities expert
Dru Gladney.

"I would not be surprised if some ethnic minorities in China were
offended by this but they are also accustomed to it," said Gladney, a
professor at Pomona College in the United States.

"In the West, we are obsessed with authenticity in such matters but
it's different in China. I'd guess many Chinese would not have a
problem with it."

Beijing Olympics organising committee vice president Wang Wei
reflected such sentiments when asked about the ceremony's "ethnic" children.

"I see nothing wrong exactly with (where) the children are from... it
is a tradition in China in terms of giving a performance," Wang said.

Gladney said it was Communist Party policy to promote the image of a
harmonious and colourful collection of minorities following the lead
of the "more developed" Han.

Han Chinese, meanwhile, are regularly seen on television dressed as
other minorities.

During the annual sessions of parliament, the roughly 3,000
dark-suited delegates to the rubber-stamp body are sprinkled with
minority delegates who, according to party protocol, show up in full
traditional regalia.

However, only 16 of the 204 members of the Communist Party's Central
Committee are minorities, with the rest being Han, according to
government data.

At the ethnic culture park, three women lounged in the heat of the
Mongolia section in traditional Mongolian gowns.

Speaking perfect Mandarin, they insisted they were Mongolian, but
when asked to say common phrases such as "Welcome to the Beijing
Olympics" in the Mongol language, they could not.

"Some things are harder to translate into our language," said one.

Gladney said China has done much to improve the lives and basic
services of minorities across the country and vast numbers of them
back the "national unity" message. But others worry.

"I think the fear for many is: does harmony and unity ultimately mean
assimilation and surrendering their own identity and autonomy?" Gladney said.
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