Obstacles to ethnic harmony

Sixteen leading scholars from China, Hong Kong, the USA and Australia will meet in Melbourne this week to discuss ongoing obstacles to inter-ethnic harmony and national integration in China.

chinese-culture China promotes itself as a harmonious and stable multicultural society, says the event’s lead organiser, Dr James Leibold.  

But there has been a disturbing spike in ethnic violence. ‘We have watched with concern outbreaks of inter-ethnic discord and hostility in Lhasa, Ürümqi, Shaoguan and other cities over recent years,’ he says.

This has the potential to destabilise the world's fastest growing economy – which is also one of Australia’s largest trading partners.

‘National integration and inter-ethnic stability are crucial determinants in China's ability to maintain the rapid economic growth that is currently underpinning world growth.’

To shed light on these matters, the Australian Academy of the Humanities and La Trobe University have jointly sponsored a two-day workshop on Thursday 2 and Friday 3 December.

Dr Leibold says China comprises 55 distinct ethnic minorities and a single Han majority.

Since China launched its policy of ‘reform and opening up' in 1979, it has notched up some impressive achievements in the area of multicultural education. It has more than doubled the number of minority students in China – from 10 million to nearly 22 million last year. And it has produced a dramatic 35-fold increase in those attending tertiary institutions – from 37,000 to 1.3 million.

‘In some regions, like parts of the Southwest, these initiatives have produced real socioeconomic results, improving the livelihood of some minorities.’

‘Yet, the party-state's use of minority education as a civilising and propaganda vehicle has tended to work against its larger objective of national integration – and affirmative action is engendering growing resentment among the Han majority that comprises 91% of the population.’

While China's minority population comprises less than 10 per cent of the population, it inhabits more than 60 per cent of China's territory - much of it along strategic and resource rich frontier regions.

Key international speakers include educationist Professor Naran Bilik from Fudan University, Professor Rong Ma from Beijing University, a specialist in bilingual education in Tibet and Xinjiang, and Professor Gerard Postilgione from The University of Hong Kong.

The workshop’s organisers are Dr Leibold, a senior lecturer in Asian Studies and Politics, and Dr Chen Yangbin, Lecturer in Asian Studies.

The workshop aims to forge new collaborative research networks between China, Australia and the United States in the area of Chinese ethnicity, multiculturalism and intercultural studies.

While sessions are not open to the public, Dr Leibold and some key speakers will be available for interviews.  

Dr James Leibold  

Phone: +613 9479 2089;
Email: J.Leibold@latrobe.edu.au