Interstate Relations, Perceptions, and Power Balance: Explaining China’s Policies toward Ethnic Groups, 1949-1965

Why do multi-ethnic states treat various ethnic groups differently? How do ethnic groups respond to these state policies? We argue that interstate relations and ethnic group perceptions about the relative strength of competing states are
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  Security Studies  , 23:148–181, 2014Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0963-6412 print / 1556-1852 onlineDOI: 10.1080/09636412.2014.874210 Interstate Relations, Perceptions, and Power Balance: Explaining China’s Policies Toward Ethnic Groups, 1949–1965 ENZE HAN AND HARRIS MYLONAS Why do multi-ethnic states treat various ethnic groups differently?  How do ethnic groups respond to these state policies? We argue that interstate relations and ethnic group perceptions about the relative  strength of competing states are important—but neglected—factors in accounting for the variation in state-ethnic group relations. In particular, whether an ethnic group is perceived as having an ex-ternal patron matters a great deal for the host state’s treatment of  the group. If the external patron of the ethnic group is an enemy of  thehoststate,thenrepressionislikely.Ifitisanally,thenaccommo-dation ensues. Given the existence of an external patron, an ethnic group’s response to a host state’s policies depends on the perceptions about the relative strength of the external patron vis-`a-vis the host  state and whether the support is srcinating from an enemy or anally of the host state. We present five configurations and illustrate our theoretical framework on the eighteen largest ethnic groups inChina from 1949 to 1965, tracing the Chinese government’s poli-cies toward these groups, and examine how each group responded to these various nation-building policies. Enze Han is a lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies,SOAS, University of London. He is the author of   Contestation and Adaptation: The Pol-itics of National Identity in China  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). His re-search interests include ethnic politics in China and China’s relations with Southeast Asia.Harris Mylonas is assistant professor of political science and international affairsat George Washington University. He is the author of   The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities   (New York: Cambridge University Press,2012). His research revolves around the processes of nation- and state-building, immi-grant and refugee incorporation policies, and the politicization of cultural differences.Both authors have contributed equally to the writing of this article.148   Interstate Relations, Perceptions, and Power Balance   149  Why do multi-ethnic states treat various ethnic groups differently? How doethnic groups respond to these state policies? We argue that interstate rela-tions and ethnic group perceptions about the relative strength of competingstates are important—but neglected—factors in accounting for the variationin state-minority relations. In particular, whether an ethnic group is perceivedas having an external patron matters a great deal for the host state’s treat-ment of the group. If the external patron of the ethnic group is an enemy of the host state, then repression is likely. If it is an ally, then accommo-dation ensues. Given the existence of an external patron, an ethnic group’sresponse to a host state’s policies depends on the perceptions about therelative strength of the external patron vis-`a-vis the host state and whetherthe support is srcinating from an enemy or an ally of the host state. Inthis article we are testing this theoretical framework on state-minority rela-tions in the Chinese context. We present five configurations and elucidateour framework on the eighteen largest ethnic groups in China from 1949to 1965, tracing the Chinese government’s policies toward these groups,and examine how each group responded to these various nation-buildingpolicies.The official People’s Republic of China (PRC) discourse holds that “Chinais a united multi-ethnic country.” 1  According to the 2000 Chinese Nationalcensus, there are fifty-six ethnic groups residing within the PRC. The Han Chi-nese core group comprises about 91.6 percent of China’s population. Thus,there are 109 million non-Han Chinese comprising the remaining 8.4 percentof the population of China. The Chinese state explicitly proclaims itself to bea multi-ethnic state, having adopted the Soviet model of granting autonomy to ethnic groups and alternately permitting or sanctioning certain expressionsof cultural diversity. In parallel, however, key elements of a European stylenation-building project are still actively promoted by the Chinese state, asevidenced in efforts to impose a common language—Mandarin—and instillloyalty to the Chinese nation-state. 2 The Chinese Constitution of 1954 made provisions for autonomous gov-ernment for various ethnic groups, following the Soviet model, but the Chi-nese model is distinct in that it excludes the right of secession for recog-nized ethnic minorities. At the same time, however, the Chinese state hasbeen trying to integrate these ethnic minority peoples into the majority HanChinese. 3 The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in particular its Han Chineseelites, considers itself as the most economically and culturally advancedentity in China and thus has a mission to “help” the more backward ethnic 1  Xiaotong Fei,  Toward a People’s Anthropology   (Beijing: New World Press, 1981). 2 Stevan Harrell, “Linguistics and Hegemony in China,”  International Journal of the Sociology of   Language   103 (1993): 97-114. 3  We use the term “integration” because despite this institutionalized perpetuation of differences, theChinese state is actively pursuing the transformation of the whole population into loyal Chinese citizens.  150  E. Han and H. Mylonas  minority groups through teaching them the “Han Chinese way.” 4 In recent years, this effort manifested itself through the gradual elimination of bilingualeducation programs, as well as through the encouragement of Han Chinesemigration into ethnic minority regions to help the locals develop. 5 Chinahas followed all three policies—exclusion/repression, accommodation, andintegration—toward different groups over time.Moreover, different ethnic groups have followed different political strate-gies in response to Chinese nation-building policies. Some are more rebel-lious, such as the Tibetans and the Uyghurs. Yet other ethnic groups havesought either limited cultural autonomy or even assimilation—the Manchusare a case in point. Its multiple large non-core groups and the apparentcontradictions in its nation-building policies render China an ideal case tostudy. There are important studies focusing on how China’s domestic pol-itics affect its strategic behavior in the international system. 6 In this article, we focus on how interstate relations and power balance dynamics impactChina’s policies toward ethnic groups. In particular, we systematically exam-ine the formative years of the PRC’s nation-building process after its foundingin 1949.The structure of the article is as follows. First, we review existing ar-guments on majority-minority relations before offering our own theoreticalframework. We then justify our case selection and present the basic charac-teristics of the various minority ethnic groups in China. In the third section, we provide an overview of the nation-building policies implemented by theCCP from 1949 to 1965, right before the Cultural Revolution. 7 In the fourthsection, we evaluate our theoretical configurations against alternative expla-nations by looking in greater depth at the strategic interactions between thePRC and five ethnic groups over time. Finally, we conclude with a discussionof the insights gained from studying Chinese nation-building for the literatureon state-minority relations at large. 4 Stevan Harrell, “Introduction: Civilizing Projects and the Reaction to Them,” in  Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers  , ed. Stevan Harrell (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 26. 5 On the elimination of bilingual programs, see, for example, Eric T. Schluessel, “‘Bilingual’ Educationand Discontent in Xinjiang,”  Central Asian Survey   26, no. 2 (2007): 251-77. 6 M. Taylor Fravel,  Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial  Disputes   (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); M. Taylor Fravel, “Regime Insecurity andInternational Cooperation: Explaining China’s Compromises in Territorial Disputes,”  InternationalSecurity  30, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 46-83. 7 The Cultural Revolution represents a significant juncture in the history of the PRC. Mao dismantledthe whole CCP party structure, and any sensitivity toward ethnic cultural expression was abandoned. The year 1965 was also when Tibet Autonomous Region was founded, symbolizing the consolidation of thePRC’s territorial and political control over its periphery.   Interstate Relations, Perceptions, and Power Balance   151 THEORY: STRATEGIC INTERACTION AND NATION-BUILDING This article examines three policy options toward ethnic groups that can bepursued by states to attain social order: (1) repression/exclusion, includingtargeting the whole or part of an ethnic group for deportation, mass killing,or segregation; (2) accommodation, referring to policies that maintain thecultural specificities of the group and institutionalize its minority status; and(3) integration, referring to policies that aim at the adoption of the core groupculture and way of life by the targeted ethnic group. Similarly, we focus onthree possible response strategies ethnic groups can pursue: high-intensity mobilization, low-intensity mobilization, and no mobilization. We focus onidentifying the conditions under which these different policy options areimplemented toward various ethnic groups as well as the factors that ex-plain the divergent responses of these groups to these measures. Before wepresent our theoretical framework, we present some arguments from theethnic conflict and nationalism literatures that we build on to construct ourstrategic explanation of nation-building.There is a long tradition in the comparative politics literature focusingon the domestic dynamics of state-minority relations. Scholars have consid-ered a variety of factors that influence this dynamic, from access to politicalpower, regime type, ethnic geography, and relative deprivation to ethnicantipathy and status reversal arguments. 8 These are all worthy explanationsthat help explain different aspects of inter-ethnic relations. In the context of this article, however, some are more pertinent than others. Given that oursis a subnational study that focuses on the impact of external involvementin state-minority relations over a short period of time, we consider certaingroup-specific characteristics to remain relatively stable. We do take into ac-count internal regime dynamics and policy shifts at the national level, suchas the imposition of direct rule, and we hypothesize that these should havea uniform impact across groups when they are applied uniformly. 9 Barbara Walter has put forward two important interrelated arguments.The first one focuses on the role of reputation building and argues that agovernment faced by more than one large, restive, and territorially concen-trated minority is more likely to crack down on it in order to preempt any  8 Roger Petersen,  Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe   (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2001); Roger Petersen,  Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment inTwentieth-century Eastern Europe   (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Lars-Erik Cederman, Andreas Wimmer, and Brian Min, “Why Do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis,”  World Politics  62, no. 1 (2010): 87-119; Monica Duffy Toft, “Indivisible Territory, Geographic Concentration, and Ethnic War,”  Security Studies   12, no. 2 (2002/3): 82-119; Ted Robert Gurr,  Minorities at Risk: A Global View of   Ethnopolitical Conflicts   (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1993); Stathis N. Kalyvas,  The  Logic of Violence in Civil War   (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 9 For more on direct rule and the emergence of peripheral nationalism, see Michael Hechter,  Con-taining Nationalism  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).  152  E. Han and H. Mylonas  others from rebelling. 10 Relatedly, Walter also contends that ethnic groupslearn from the experiences of other groups and may become more restive when they face a government that has a reputation for making concessions. 11 However, the effect of reputation and learning may indeed work differently in democracies than in authoritarian regimes. In authoritarian regimes, thegovernment heavily controls domestic information flow. Thus, the said gov-ernment can moderate the reputation effect of its current policy by control-ling the information flow and adding its own spin to the events. Moreover,from the ethnic groups’ perspective, in a tightly controlled information en- vironment, groups cannot effectively communicate with each other. Thissignificantly reduces the possibility of cross-group learning.Contrary to the scholars discussed above, Myron Weiner has highlightedthe sensitive triangular relationship among a nationalizing state, an ethnicgroup, and the national homeland of the ethnic group. 12 Building on Weiner,Rogers Brubaker points out that the fate of an ethnic group is predicated notonly on the tactics employed by the nationalizing state, but also on whetheror how the group receives support from its external kin. 13 Brubaker specifi-cally argues that if an ethnic minority group does not have external kin, it ismore likely to be targeted for assimilation. 14 More recently, Harris Mylonashas argued that a state motivated by a homogenizing imperative is not likely to employ a policy of accommodation toward a non-core group—an ethnicgroup perceived as unassimilated by the core group ruling elites—that isbacked by an enemy external power because such a group is likely to oper-ate as a “fifth column.” 15 Deportation, population exchange, or mass killingsare more likely in such cases, depending on the time horizon available tothe core group elites. 16 Turning to ethnic group mobilization, Monica Duffy Toft, James Fearonand David Laitin, Donald Horowitz, and others have pointed out that ethnicdemography and geography significantly structure ethnic group behavior. 17 In particular, they find a strong correlation between ethnic groups that are 10 Barbara Walter, “Building Reputation: Why Governments Fight Some Separatists by Not Others,”  American Journal of Political Science   50, no.2 (2006): 313-30. 11 Barbara Walter, “Information, Uncertainty, and the Decision to Secede,”  International Organiza-tion  60, no. 1 (2006): 105-35. 12 Myron Weiner, “The Macedonian Syndrome: An Historical Model of International Relations andPolitical Development,”  World Politics   23, no. 4 (1971): 665-83. 13 Rogers Brubaker,  NationalismReframed:NationhoodandtheNationalQuestionintheNewEurope  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 14 Ibid., 66-67. 15 Harris Mylonas,  The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 16 Harris Mylonas, “Assimilation and its Alternatives: Caveats in the Study of Nation-Building Policies,”in  Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict  , ed. Adria Lawrence and Erica Chenoweth(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Belfer Center Studies in International Security, 2010). 17 Monica Duffy Toft,  TheGeographyofEthnicViolence   (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 2003); JamesFearon and David Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,”  American Political Science Review   97,
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