Thu, 10 Jun 2021 07:00:12 GMT
The brutal clampdown in Xinjiang represents an about-face from the communist party’s original approach to cultural differences
China’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslims – the largest of a religio-ethnic group since the second world war – is not the inevitable or predictable outcome of Chinese communist policies towards ethnic minorities. I’ve spent the past 20 years studying ethnicity in China and, when viewing the present situation in Xinjiang through the prism of history, one thing becomes clear: this is not what was “supposed” to happen.
In the early 1950s the Chinese Communist party (CCP) was holding on to revolutionary victory by its fingernails. The postwar economy was in shambles, and the outbreak of the Korean war brought a nuclear hegemon to its doorstep, in the form of the United States. Not the moment most regimes would choose to enlarge their to-do lists. The CCP did, however, committing to officially recognising more minority peoples than any other Chinese regime in history. While Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists had begrudgingly accepted the official existence of five groups in the 1930s and 40s, the Communists recognised 55 in all (plus the Han majority), many with populations under 10,000.