Edward Wong, New York Times, September 3, 2014
Officials in the Xinjiang region of western China are offering cash and other incentives to encourage marriages between minorities and Han, the country’s dominant ethnic group, in an effort to soothe growing ethnic violence in the region.
The incentives are part of a new policy in Cherchen County in southern Xinjiang, where violence between ethnic Uighurs–a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim people–and Han has flared in recent years.
Last week, officials in Cherchen County, known as Qiemo in Mandarin, began offering payments of 10,000 renminbi a year, or $1,600, for five years to newly married couples in which one member is Han and the other is from one of China’s 55 ethnic minorities. Official Chinese news reports this week said the payments were intended to help the couples invest in small businesses and start families.
The couples will also get priority consideration for housing or government jobs, as well as other benefits. Their households will receive as much as $3,200 a year in health care benefits. The children of these mixed marriages will have free education from kindergarten through high school. Children attending vocational schools will receive almost $500 a year in tuition subsidies, and those attending university will get an annual tuition subsidy of $800.
The policy, which was announced on the county’s official website, is similar to initiatives in Tibet. In the announcement, the county director, Yasen Nasi’er, said that interethnic marriages were “an important step in the harmonious integration and development of all ethnicities.”
He called such marriages “positive energy” and a means by which Xinjiang could realize the “Chinese Dream,” an amorphous term popularized by President Xi Jinping.
James A. Millward, a scholar of Xinjiang at Georgetown University, said Uighurs might perceive the policy differently. “There is a danger,” he said, “that state-sponsored efforts at ‘blending’ and ‘fusion’ will be seen by Uighurs in China or by China’s critics anywhere as really aimed at assimilating Uighurs into Han culture–in other words, as an attempt to Sinify the Uighurs.”
“This comes at a time when many Uighurs see such recent policies as the destruction of old Kashgar in the name of development, the elimination of Uighur-language education, and continuing Han migration into the Uighur traditional homelands in Xinjiang as all threatening the preservation of a distinctive Uighur culture,” he added.
Cherchen County has a population of 10,000, of whom 73 percent are Uighur and 27 percent are Han, according to statistics from a government website.
In Xinjiang, a region of deserts and mountains that makes up one-sixth of China’s landmass, more than 43 percent of the population is Uighur and more than 40 percent is Han, according to a 2000 census, the most recent data available. The Han population in the region has surged since the Communist takeover of China in 1949, fueling anxiety among Uighurs. Kazakhs make up 8 percent of the population, and the rest are Hui, Kirghiz and Mongols, among others.
At a high-level policy meeting in Beijing in May, Communist Party leaders discussed how to better assimilate Uighurs into Chinese society and tamp down violence in Xinjiang.
Mr. Xi, the Chinese president and party leader, said at the meeting that more Uighurs should be moved to Han-dominated parts of China for education and employment. He said the party and the state should establish “correct views about the motherland and the nation” among all of China’s ethnic groups, so that people of every background will recognize the “great motherland” and “the socialist path with Chinese characteristics.”
The promotion of Han-Uighur marriages is one of the policies to emerge from that meeting, said James Leibold, a scholar of China’s ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. He noted that the most recent data available showed that only 1 percent of Uighurs were in an interethnic family, compared with nearly 8 percent of Tibetans. The average among all ethnicities was more than 3 percent, but the Han also had a low rate, 1.5 percent.
Communist officials have long promoted popular tales of mixed marriages to paper over ethnic conflicts, including the story of the Fragrant Concubine, a Uighur woman who was brought in the 18th century to the imperial court in Beijing to be the consort of the Qianlong Emperor, an ethnic Manchu.