Sublime and Beautiful

China’s Rise and the Diversity Factor

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on March 30, 2009

If you have lived in China long enough you have probably heard the ‘ethnic diversity spiel.’ It is usually given by a Chinese friend, colleague, or tour guide when any topic related to race is broached and it goes something like this: China has 56 ethnic groups the largest of which is Han. Then, almost without exception, the speaker proudly announces: I am Han.

The lesson the listener is supposed to draw from this factoid is that China is a diverse country. However, considering that more than 90 percent of Chinese are ethnically Han and the vast majority of the 55 other ethnic groups are concentrated in the peripheries of the country, it is understandable that the listener is rarely convinced.

China's 56 Nations: Courtesy of China Today

More to the point, the kind of diversity the Chinese talk about when describing their country is not the kind of diversity most outsiders think of. In countries like the United States, Canada, France and England with long histories of relatively open immigration, ethnic diversity tends to be interpreted to mean a population composed of first, second–sixth generation citizens from all corners of the globe. Walking the streets of New York, Paris, London, or Vancouver one sees people of all races and creeds–people who are not just residents but citizens of the countries in which they live. China’s metropolises, on the other hand, are quite different. Even in the most cosmopolitan cities of China you won’t find anything comparable to a Little Italy or a Little Havana. In the major trade hubs of Shanghai and Shenzhen you will see a fair number of Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, French, Dutch, and Germans but virtually all of these people are expats. They live, for the most part, in a separate world from the locals. Many just come and go from the country on business. Others settle with their compatriots in little pockets around their respective cities. They send their children to foreign schools, shop at foreign grocery stores and generally socialize with other expats. However, the expats, as isolated from the general populace as they are, are the closest thing China has to true ethnic and cultural diversity as most outsiders would understand it.

So what impact will China’s lack of diversity have on its future development?
For years people have been watching China, speculating about its economic growth. Some have viewed China’s increasing wealth positively, often arguing that China’s economic growth will lead to more and more political reforms and eventually democracy. Others who are more skeptical of China’s economic might warn that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has no intention of giving up power and that a CCP desperate to hang on to power and flush with cash to fund its military is neither good for the Chinese people nor the international community. But what most everyone agrees is that China will continue to increase its power and influence.

Long before the global financial crisis and the slowdown of China’s economy, people began to question China’s development model. By most accounts China was set to keep growing for years and years and would almost certainly surpass the United States as the preeminent world power. But when people started to look beyond GDP numbers and really consider China’s social and political issues they found reasons to doubt the inevitability of its rise to preeminence. Now, many are wondering whether, in the long run, India will be more successful than China due its well established democratic system of government. Still, it seems a forgone conclusion that the United States will not be able to maintain its position a top the world hierarchy. Either the democratic behemoth or the communist giant will win out. How could the U.S. be expected to compete? After all what does it have that neither China nor India can easily acquire? The answer is diversity.

For centuries America has been at the forefront of social development. The country itself is the greatest experiment in social cohesiveness ever. Founded by immigrants, sustained by immigrants, the United States has experienced great social turmoil and been faced with enormous social challenges due to its unique history and demographics. Black marks like the brutal conquest of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans have and continue to test American race relations. Bigotry and racism are still very real problems in America. Yet the diversity of the American population is exceedingly the country’s greatest strength. It has given rise to a hotbed of creativity. A hotbed that has produced such remarkable things as jazz music, the internet and the atomic bomb.

Although certain minority groups within the United States may be disgruntled with the government, the U.S. has been much more successful at satisfying its citizenry than has the Chinese government its. While the threat of violence and even terrorist acts by disgruntled minority groups exists within the U.S., that threat pales in comparison to the threat the Chinese government faces from Tibetan and Uighur separatists. During the lead up to the Beijing Olympics China was plagued by domestic terrorism. China’s official media, Xinhua, reported that during August 2008, at least 23 security officers and one civilian were killed by Uighur separatists in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Likewise, violent riots by ethnic Tibetans in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, Sichuan and Gansu provinces illustrates the long road China has ahead of it to build a “harmonious society” with anywhere near the comparative racial harmony of America.

It is impossible to say if and when China will ever surpass the United States as the most powerful nation in the world. Maybe we are even wrong to be paying so much attention to China when it could be India that will prove more successful. Or, what if we have it all wrong? What if there is something to America’s social dynamics and, in the end, a special synergy causes it to spring up once again to lead the world? Perhaps we will learn something about power as we watch the drama of China’s rise unfold.

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7 Responses

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  1. Han said, on April 3, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I think you are comparing apples to oranges.

    Unlike America and some Western countries, China is not a country of immigrants, and most likely it will remain so, because one thing China doesn’t need is people, it’s land just can’t sustain such a big population.

    All ethnic minorities in China are indigenous people, after 5000 years, they still live on the land of their ancestors’. They still speak their own languages and practice their own religions. That itself is a miracle, doesn’t it prove something?

    In America, all immigrants are required to assimilate into the American culture. For a Chinese immigrant, if he doesn’t learn English, the highest job he can get is dishwasher or busboy in a Chinese restaurant. The reason that Chinatowns still exist is that there are constant new immigrants coming into the country. If you stop the immigration, 200 years from now, there won’t be any “Chinese” (in the cultural sense) left in America.

    If China does the same thing to ethnic minorities as America does to it’s immigrants, it will be called “cultural genocide.”

    Don’t get me wrong though, I have no problems with America’s immigration policies. I think new immigrants should learn English and assimilate, because they were outsiders before they came into the country.

    Of course America had it’s own indigenous people too, I bet if you look in the right place and look hard enough, you should be able find traces of their existence. Try the museums. 🙂

    The situation of ethnic relation in China and the Western countries are completely different. China wants to preserve its minority culture while the Western countries want to assimilate their immigrants.

    As for ethnic tensions, you should ask yourself, there are 55 minorities, why only two have problems? Hint: it has more to do with international politics than anything else.

  2. Hui said, on April 7, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Let’s start with an ethnic minority called Hui. Mostly muslims. There are zillions of concentrated Hui settlements all around China, much in the way as a little Italy or Chinatown in western cities.

    This breaks your first argument. btw, I’m proudly Hui.

    Lack of diversity? What do you think the origin of Han people is? You must have assumed they all descended from the same village somewhere? The truth is, Han is the biggest racial/ethnical mixing pot on this planet, if you know something about the history of China. If USA has the luck to survive another millennium, you will see the American people will start to look just like that of China nowadays. Got it?

    In term of diversity and social development, let me tell you this: firstly the Americans wiped out the native Americans; secondly they slaved black people for centuries. Thirdly, Americans are known to be most race conscious among the western world. Yes, Australians, Canadians, europeans, they all call you racists behind your back.

    But that’s the past; if you look at the future, let me point out something that is way more scary to you: your so-called diversity is untested. What is a test? Well, once again, if I can refer to the history of China – There were times that the entire Chinese civilization were ruled by barbarians; there were times that mighty nomads invaded from North and took away most of our land; there were times that the dynasty was over thrown, hundreds of nations broke away from the empire and everything was in turmoil.

    Yet, once and once again, China heals and became one.

    That’s where our strength and confidence come from.

    America has NEVER been tested, even once, at that scale. And look at the social and racial problems you have now, I don’t have much confidence on you. And if you think America may never face that kind of challenge, you better think again.

    About American gov satisfying its minority citizens better than what the Chinese gov can do……dude, you don’t know that most of the black young males in your country is either being locked up right now or is on his way into jail sometime soon? Plus, not every country supports separatists of other nations like the US of A government do. That’s probably the only reason that Tibet/XinJiang appears to be having issues while Hawaii does not.

  3. moobagoo said, on April 25, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    France and England has a long history of immigration? Ha ha! France and England only began to allow immigation after WW2, and only because of economic necessity.

  4. Jon-Paul said, on April 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    -Chaoren 超人

    What a magnificent blog you have here! I saw where you popped by one of my sites, American Age, so I thought I’d have a look.

    WOW! This is one of the more impressively accurate, filled with information, pleasure reading blogs I’ve come across. You deserve far more than my praise! You need to be socially networked! I am going to nominate you and your blog for an annual award perhaps, “Best Foreign (Matters) Blog” or Best Insightful Blog; I don’t know, I hope to communicate with you more before I actually nominate you.

    Of course I had a lot of passion after reading some of your work; perhaps, more with the commenter’s than you. So if you don’t mind, I would like to correct some ugly errors.

    Hui—Your writing and exposition would be far more creditable if you were to use real numbers. How much is a ‘zillion’? When one compares Hui communities to Western Chinatown’s, I hope you get my meaning—there is a great difference between a thousand, million, and a trillion.

    Moreover, we would like to be assured that you know what you’re talking about. The first settlement of Western Europeans was in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. However, the French and Spanish were at constant war in the Mississippi Valley that was completely unknown to the ‘newer settlers’ from primarily Holland and England.

    Another important fact to understand is that at the precise same time there were also Russians, Africans, Prussians, Caribbean’s, Middle and South Americans, and Mexicans in the spatial parameters as well. One would be well informed so as to say that “…diseases, different and strange animals, and flora/fauna brought to the region from outside assisted in disseminating the indigenous people of the America’s.

    Furthermore, one needs to put ‘reality’ into perspective. Many scholars, archeologists, linguists, and scientists have voluminous research and artifacts that easily support that contrary to popular belief, Africans inhabited the ‘New World’ indeed prior to Columbus’ journeys.

    It is also worthy to mention that Africans came as explorers, servants, slaves, and journeymen. Another great notion is that there was a Negro working in Columbus’ crew (Pedro Alonso Niño); now, if Mr. Niño was not Negro then it would serve one to remember that in 1501 Spain lifted their ban on Negros going to the New World; in fact, when Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean he had 30 African’s with him; furthermore, when Cortez sojourned to the New World (Mexico) he also took with him several African’s to plant what was to be the New World’s first wheat crop and harvest.

    There can be nor will there ever be tolerance for slavery; yet, it is important to remember that African’s were used as slaves in Africa; many untold stories of those who were put into slavery by the Europeans, British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and just about every where else.

    Just for the record, most ‘slaves’ that were put aboard ships and sailed to the New World (what is now America) were actually prisoner’s of war being held against their will by neighboring factions, tribesman, or Chieftain’s. Sources: From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin and Moss; Africa and the Discovery of America by Leo Weiner; and The Came before Columbus by Ivan Van Sertima. All can be found here:

    I respectfully disagree with the notions of British and French immigration, and maybe that writing will be for another time.



    • jerry said, on June 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm


      While you are complaining “Hui” about his lack of “real numbers”, I wonder whether how much you really know about the Hui minority in China. Before you claim others not being “credible”, don’t you do some research youself first? Say, google the “Hui people” in wikipedia?

      Let’s see how many Chinatowns do we have in US? Besides the top 10-15 US major cities, how many more do we have? I live in Minneapolis-St. Paul which is among the top 25 metro areas in US. I did search long and hard for a “Chinatown” here, but so far, hasn’t been successful. The fact that such an entity as “Chinatown” ot “Little Italy” ever existed in the first place is a testimony to the discriminate and racist past of the US. There is nothing to be proud of.

  5. jerry said, on June 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I think Hui has made several good points.

    The Western myth about Chinese, or the Han Chinese if they actually know about such a thing, is that it is a monolithic group. This is totally wrong. The reason that Han people is more than 90% of the Chinese population today is because the Han people are descendants of many diverse groups. Just google “Xianbei” in wikpedia, a historic ethnic group that dominated North China between 300-700AD.

    Talking about China lacking diversity? Wow, you know what many “Han” Chinese speak different languages, yes, different languages, but all part of the same “Chinese language” group, like Germanic or Romance, or Slavic language groups in Europe (again google “Chinese languages” in wikipedia). In fact, the standard “Mandarin” Chinese comes from the version of the Chinese languages that were mainly spoken by “Hu” people who conquered Northern China starting from Xianbei.

    Again as Hui pointed, one reason that there are strong ethnic tensions betwen Tibetans and Uiguys and the rest of the Chinese (not simply Han Chinese) is that they have support from the outside world, in particular, the US and Europeans.

    Look, today US can’t even tolerate Cuba that is/was supported by the Russians/Soviet that is not even part of her territories, and impose embargo and other “un-humanitarian” measures against Cuba. What would it do if some Native Americians, Native Hawaii, or Southwestern Mexicans, want to reclaim their ancestors’ lands, and separate from US? Or African Americans want to be independent and form their own little kingdoms, supported by outsiders. Well, it won’t happen now. Let’s see a century down the road, say, when Mexico becomes far more powerful than US?

    Again, the claim of “diversity” of US (and the “harmonious” relations among the White and other racial groups” is mostly propagated by the White Americans and the media they control (Obama and Michelle had/have to play along, remember the uproar they caused during the election, when they uttered something that the White Americans did not want to hear?). If you visit any major American cities, go to the richest part and poorest part of the town, you’ll be ashamed and saddened to see two “different” and “segregated” countries. Here goes the “success” of the ethnic integration of the great American society. Well, in fact, these disparities (which in the case of China, exist mostly in remote and inner regions of China, due to historical reasons) are to a large extent, causes or complaints of the alleged “unequal” treatment of the ethnic minorities in China, by the Chinese government.

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