Tuesday 7 March 2017
4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room
University of Cambridge
Visible and Invisible ‘Masters’ of Ethnic Regional Autonomy in China
China is now bracing itself for the 70th anniversary of its first provincial level autonomous region, Inner Mongolia, founded on the 1st of May 1947. While there will be no shortage of celebration of achievements, I propose that the anniversary provides an opportune moment to examine the nature of China’s ‘nationality regional autonomy’ system. Who will host the congratulatory delegations from the national capital and other provinces and autonomous regions? This is a key question because the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is officially defined as a multinational autonomous region with the Mongols as the core/master (zhuti) nationality, and the Han Chinese as the majority (duoshu) nationality. While the tension between the two major entities has been resolved through making one (Mongol) visible and the other (Han Chinese) invisible, we now see open calls for reversing the order, so as to make the majority Han Chinese commensurate with the principle of majoritarian democracy within the autonomous region and their status as the core/master nationality of China at large. In this regard, I will examine two cases of hosting, one by Han Chinese leaders at the national level hosting minority leaders in the early 1950s, and the other by Mongol leaders hosting Han Chinese intellectuals in the early 1960s. These cases show that inter-ethnic relationship within an autonomous area, or between an autonomous nationality and the Chinese central state has become as much one of host-guest relationship as one of master-slave relationship. This conflation suggests that sovereignty (zhuquan, lit. master’s right), both ‘national sovereignty’ in relation to the margin of the state, and ‘ethnic sovereignty’ in relation to other groups within an autonomous area, imply conquest and counter-conquest.