PRC's 56 ethnic subnations

The racialist revolution against racism

By William Wetherall

First posted 15 February 2007
Last updated 1 March 2007

Fifty-six and counting

In the early 1950s, when PRC attempted to determine how many ethnic nations ( mínzú) it had within its borders, about 400 groups applied for recognition as "minority nationalities" ( shăoshù mínzú). By 1957, China had recognized 54, and another was recognized in 1979, making 55 ethnic subnations in addition to Han majorities and unclassified others.

PRC constitutionally declares itself a "unitary multinational state" (I tŏngyī de duōmínzú guójiā). All persons belonging to any of its "minority nationalities" possess the same PRC nationality ( guójí) as the Han majority. In principle, then, every PRC citizen could also have an racioethnic subnationality.

Some PRC nationals, however, are not able to be ethnically classified. Among the unclassified, and even among the Han majority, are groups of people who consider themselves members of a minority ethnic subnation and continue to apply for official recognition.

PRC constitutionally gives its minority nations certain privileges of autonomy ( zìzhì "self-rule"). Minority nations with large enough concentrated populations are allowed a degree of self-rule within an autonomous region ( zìzhìqū "self-rule-area"), which ranges from a township to an entire province. Because many ethnic nations are scattered and intermingled, there are many more such regions than nations.

A minority ethnic nation's "autonomy" is tantamount to the limited "sovereignty" of recognized Indian tribes in North America. No ethnic nation has the right to secede. Secession is so out of the question that advocacy of independence is regarded as seditious and could result in capital punishment. Such laws and policies that a minority ethnic nation itself determines are subject to review and censure by the central government.

PRC nationality as a civil status is identical to nationality in other countries in that, under international law, it is entirely raceless and has no ethnic significance. Whereas the definition of racioethnic subnationality within PRC is a matter of domestic law and has no meaning outside PRC. In this regard, too, minority subnational status can be compared with the legal status of members of recognized American Indian nations in Canada and the United States.

To be continued.

Related articles

The following articles also examine nationality and ethnic status in ROC and PRC today.

The Republic of China as a state: The vicissitudes of recognition politics

Race in ROC's constitutions: China's rise and fall as an ethnic nation

ROC's 2000 Nationality Law: Membership in a stateless nation

ROC's 2001 Aborigine Status Act: The legal embrace of indigenous Taiwanese

ROC's 13 ethnic nations: Taiwanizing Sinified-Japanized aborigines

Race in PRC's constitutions: Principles of ethnic equality and autonomy

PRC's 1980 Nationality Law: A single nationality multiethnic state