Tuesday, December 1, 2009

China's Zhuang Minority Risks Losing Cultural Distinctiveness

From ChannelNewsAsia, dateline Nanning, Guangxi Province (my childrens' home province), a short but interesting article about the Zhuang minority in China:

Like other minorities, the Zhuangs have benefited from government assistance over the years. The Guangxi province, where nine in ten ethnic Zhuangs now live, was declared a Zhuang autonomous region in 1958.

In China, ethnic minorities are entitled to certain benefits which are not available to the predominant Han majority. For instance, they can have more than one child in
spite of China's strict one-child policy and they also receive special benefits when entering colleges.

Even so, given the dominance of the Han Chinese, ethnic Zhuangs say they often have to explain their culture to the Hans. Another problem that they face is losing their cultural distinctiveness, due to the adoption of the Han language and greater assimilation with the Han Chinese.

"Given modern day progress, many things will have to change. We still maintain many non-tangible cultural characteristics, so we've not become completely assimilated with the Hans," said Gan.
One of the counterweights to assimilation was noted in a New York Times article published almost 20 years ago, but still true today:

[O]ne reason for the relative contentment [of ethnic minorities] seems to be the preferential treatment given to members of minority groups. Typically, ethnic minorities are allowed to marry earlier than members of the Han ethnic majority,
and, most important, to have more children. Their children can also get into universities with lower examination scores than are required of Han students, and model members of minorities are chosen to fill prominent Government posts. The Governor of Yunnan Province, for example, is a member of the Naxi minority.

Because of the affirmative action policy, some families that in the past had tried to assimilate into the Han majority are now applying for declarations that they are members of a minority, and not Han, so that their children will have a better chance of getting into the universities.

Our guide in Guangxi Province when we returned in 2007 told us about the interest in being from a minority group these days, in order to get that all-so-important college admission. He said that lots of people were tracing their roots, hoping to find a family member from a minority group so that they could apply for designation as a minority. Reminded me a bit of some Americans' attempts to get tribal membership just as college applications are due. . . .

[The ChannelNewsAsia article also mentions the famous Zhuang legend of Liu Sanjie. We got to attend Impressions: The Story of Liu Sanjie in Guangxi Province in 2007. Quite a show!]

One of my perennial questions is whether Zoe and/or Maya might be Zhuang. The official story in China would be no, since the one child policy doesn't apply to the Zhuang minority group. But that answer presupposes that the only reason children are available for adoption in China is because they are over-quota children, and we know that's not true. I know of lots of kids adopted from Guangxi Province who have been identified as Zhuang or from some other minority group by Chinese people in the know. I get mixed reactions from people I ask about the girls, so I'm not sure.

I've long been fascinated by the various minority groups in China; click here for one of my favorite websites about the ethnic minorities in China. There's a page for each group.


Sue said...

I vaguely recall our guide telling us that because there are so many Zhuang, they exemption to the one child policy does not apply to them. I could be wrong.

Sue said...

Well, I might not be exactly right in my memory, but here is an article (http://www.atimes.com/china/AJ14Ad01.html) that implies that there are family planning policies in place for ethnic minorities in Guangxi. They may be able to have more than one child, but not necessarily unlimited numbers of children.

Joanne said...

Very interesting! While in China, my guide and another store keeper said Mia is most likely from the Zhuang minority...they said they believed this because of her high forehead! I was told that is one of the characteristics of the Zhuang minority.

AmericanFamily said...

I think the OCP is enforced for minorities with a population of over 10 million members. The Zhuang are much higher than that. Have you checked this map to see if the areas where your girls are from are heavily zhuang? http://www.gmi.org/images/oht_sets/csm4.gif

Wendy said...

On our last visit we were also told the Zhuang are subject to family planning--two child policy as it is in most all of rural China due to the large size of the minority group.
From the beginning we were told M was Zhuang, we were able to confirm that with our last trip.

lllooorrriii said...

When we were in Guangxi our guide told us that the ethnic minorities were allowed to have two children. So abandonments related to family planning policies might still apply.

The Zhuang speak a language much like Thai - presumably ethnically related too - guessing that if you google images of Thai people that would help?

Anonymous said...

Our guide, who was half Zhuang, said high forhead and full lips were characteristics of Zhuang people. I will say that my daughter looks like other people from her town (Guigang in Guangxi). I think it's possible she's at least part Zhuang.

Anonymous said...

When we were in China, our guide said our daughter was Zhuang as she had the physical characteristics. She is from Guigang. We asked about the 1 child policy not applying to this minority group. She said that the biggest issues birth mothers had to face were related to being pregnant out of wedlock.