2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 106

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Ethnicity and State Power in China’s Western Borderlands: The Early People's Republic

Organizer and Chair: Donald S. Sutton, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Discussants: Paul G. Pickowicz, University of California, San Diego, USA; Julia C. Strauss, SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom

In western China after 1949, the People’s Liberation Army and local pro-Communist groups assumed control over frontier regions of diverse culture and social structure and varied ethnic composition. These vast regions, overwhelmingly non-Han in ethnicity and hitherto only nominally or indirectly under central government control, were assimilated with some difficulty into the new People’s Republic. Our panel confronts four questions: How did the Communist Party central and local leaders develop, rationalize and apply ethnic minority policies? How did such policies take account of growing knowledge about local societies? How did policies change as radical collectivization was extended from eastern China in the mid-‘50s? How did minorities respond to increasingly radical measures? The four panelists have all researched heavily minority borderland areas that presented difficult problems of religious as well as ethnic governance. Justin Jacob, tracing the surprising tacit consensus between Taiwan and Beijing over Xinjiang’s place in the new China, studies the choices made by its Muslim elites. Wang Haiguang examines an uprising with shamanistic leadership in response to collectivization in southern Guizhou. Charles Kraus considers the role of “social investigations” and political campaigns in Xinjiang in targeting political enemies. Donald Sutton compares the words and actions of local Party authorities and pro- and anti-government minority leaders before and during collectivization in Tibetan northern Sichuan. Framed by our commentators, the summarized papers should stimulate lively floor discussion of the new state in its most vulnerable and experimental period, and of China’s ongoing ethnic problems in all their variety.

Same Dream, Different Beds: The Convergence of Nationalist and Communist Ethnic Policies in Xinjiang and Abroad, 1949–1971
Justin M. Jacobs, American University, USA

This paper examines the ways in which the mainland Chinese Communist government and Taiwan-based Nationalist government dealt with the “ethnic problem” both in Xinjiang and among Xinjiang refugees throughout Eurasia after 1949. Mutual hostility across the Taiwan Strait and seemingly divergent approaches to frontier governance tend to obscure the shared goal on both sides of preserving Chinese sovereignty in a non-Han land. Using published collections of archival documents in Communist Xinjiang as well as unpublished archival records from Taiwan, this study will explore the process by which two radically different experiences of Chinese frontier rule during the Cold War ultimately resulted in strikingly similar—and mutually reinforcing—ethnic postures in both Beijing and Taipei. Emphasis will be placed on the choices made by local Xinjiang elites as they confronted the long arm of the Chinese state after 1949, the extent of and debate over “ethnic conflict” between Han and non-Han, and the unspoken dialogue between Beijing and Taipei that helped determine the rise of a common frontier policy.

Agricultural Collectivization and the Opposition of Border Minorities: The Mashan Region of Guizhou in 1956
Haiguang Wang, Communist Party Central School, People's Republic of China

In the summer of 1955 the intensification of collectivization promoted by Mao Zedong was forcefully extended to minority regions, arousing violent discontent, and incidents of armed opposition to the government broke out one after the other in many minority settlements. The Mashan region is the most remote and isolated region of minority settlements in Southern Guizhou; the local people’s lives were bitterly poor, they revered ghosts and believed in shamans, and the level of Han acculturation was low; historically they had often exploded in armed opposition to government grain and tax levies. The policies of nationalization of purchase and sale, and agricultural collectivization, hit hard at the livelihood of Mashan inhabitants. In 1956 the locals drew on the power of popular belief and witchcraft to spread propaganda about “the appearance of an emperor,” raising an armed insurrection against both policies. Appropriate modifications were made, but after the opening of the Anti-Right campaign, the Communist Party’s nationalities policy turned sharply to the left, and a number of practical modfied policies were discontinued; the core elements of the Mashan insurrection were executed, and the Party leaders who had advocated peaceful resolution were rebuked. The Mashan incident was the only occasion in the 1950s and 1960s in which a peaceful resolution to armed rebellion was sought. The reasons for its outbreak and the consequences of its suppression vividly reflect the contradictions in the Party’s control over the minority regions and its predicament in dealing with them.

The Centralizing State: Social Investigations, Political Campaigns, and Regime Consolidation in Xinjiang, 1949-1955
Charles Kraus, George Washington University, USA

Using recently published documents from Chinese archives, this paper will examine the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to regime consolidation in Xinjiang between 1950 and 1955. In particular, this paper will analyze the ways in which the CCP understood and interacted with the indigenous elements of Xinjiang’s society through the use of “social investigations” and political campaigns. By focusing on Xinjiang specifically, this paper aims to reveal the CCP’s early policies toward minorities and religions in Xinjiang and to highlight several caveats to the CCP’s oft-generalized governing strategies during the 1950s. While “social investigations” involved the collection and dissemination of economic and social data, the persons responsible for these investigations did not necessarily produce objective analyses of Xinjiang. Instead, “social investigations” unconsciously mimicked imperial-era “knowledge campaigns” and resulted in the distribution of political labels. Special attention will be paid to how the CCP used “social investigations” to interpret, and ultimately undermine, Islam, the most popular local religion in Xinjiang. Similarly, the CCP employed campaigns such as rent reduction and land reform less to achieve genuine socioeconomic reforms than to identify and attack political enemies. The implementation of these campaigns, however, was marked by policy debates between local and national leaders. As national leaders preferred political cooptation, these campaigns were generally less violent than elsewhere in China. With the completion of these campaigns by 1955, the CCP had supplanted non-Party institutions, co-opted or attacked local elites, and generally completed the task of regime consolidation.

The Party and Tibetans in Aba: 'Ethnic Unity', Democratic Reform and Local Resistance, 1950-1959
Donald S. Sutton, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

One of the severest tests of ethnic policy in the new People’s Republic came in the borderland between Sichuan and Qinghai where government power had been weak and indirect before 1950. In 1953, the Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was established despite successive years of uprisings led by Guomindang remnants. Under the slogans of “autonomy,” “ethnic unity” and “united front,” the Party incorporated leading Tibetans into local people’s governments and advisory bodies. In the mid-‘fifties, later than in downriver China, it introduced land reform and collectivization, extending the “democratic reform,” despite earlier promises, to pastureland areas and overthrowing the remaining vestiges of pastoral, monastic and local chieftain authority. This paper examines the decisions and actions of local party leaders in relation to the Party center, local Tibetan allies, and Tibetans openly hostile to the new regime. Using work team reports, and gazetteer and Party publications, the paper pays special attention to radical new pastureland policies of 1958 and 1959. It concludes with the emergence during the campaigns of a younger group of Tibetans who cast their lot with the new order, and were to be the basis of ethnic policy in subsequent years.