Cultural Genocide in Theory and Practice
The CCP’s policy of eradicating cultural, religious and linguistic identities is systematic and stems from Xi Jinping’s reflections on the fall of the Soviet Union.
by Massimo Introvigné
bitter winter has documented in recent weeks the escalation of cultural genocide in Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia. In the three so-called “autonomous regions”, the language, culture and religion of people other than Han Chinese are being wiped out. Since mass detention, extrajudicial executions and the systematic rape of women are also involved, some of our readers have written to bitter winter that it is now more than “cultural” genocide and is in fact genocide in its classic form.
Beyond the legal questions about the definition of genocide, what is certain is that things are going from bad to worse under Xi Jinping. Why does this happen?
Chairman Mao initiated a policy of designating “recognized nationalities” (minzu, 民族), to whom certain limited rights have been granted regarding the use of their language and the preservation of (selected parts of) their culture. Finally, 55 minzu have been recognized. Scholars such as Gerald Roche and James Leibold claim that it was already a “genocide on paper”, because within China’s borders there are hundreds of distinct groups with their own culture and language, not just 55. The existence of other groups beyond the 55 minzu was simply ignored, or they were merged into one of the 55 recognized nationalities. For example, the Baima and Ersu peoples of Sichuan were “merged” with the Tibetan people. minzu and considered as Tibetans, which they claim not to be.
In 2014, Xi Jinping ended all hope for unrecognized minorities to find a place on the list of minzuby announcing that not only no news minzu will be recognized but the number of minzu will eventually be reduced by “merging” some of them.
If “paper genocide”, defined as the denial of their very existence, is the fate of unrecognized minorities, those who have been recognized as part of the 55 minzu face a different threat, which is cultural genocide—and possibly physical genocide as well.
The official name under which cultural genocide is hidden in CCP parlance is “Second Generation Ethnic Politics” (第二代民族政策). This means that measures allowing limited protection of minzu the languages and cultures were acceptable to the early generations, who needed time to adjust to the CCP-dominated system. But they should disappear for the second generations. For example, it was reasonable to grant exceptions to certain minzu rules limiting the number of children, as they needed time to understand and adjust to the CCP system. But it is not reasonable to maintain these exceptions today, nor to help minzu children with extra points in university entrance exams. Ultimately, minzu should be fully “Sinicized” and should learn to use Chinese as their main language, reducing their traditional languages to cultural and folkloric relics to be preserved and studied as a kind of dead languages.
Xi Jinping and the CCP leaders of his generation are obsessed with the downfall of the Soviet Union and other communist countries in Eastern Europe. For them, understanding what happened there is literally a matter of life and death, because their problem is to avoid the CCP sharing the same fate as the communist parties of Eastern Europe. Xi Jinping believes that the reasons for the fall of communism in Russia and its neighboring countries include criticism of Stalin and freedom for independent religion. For this reason, Xi continues to suppress religion and refer to Stalin in his speeches and writings.
There is, however, a point where Xi thinks Soviet Russia actually had a bad influence on China. The republics forming the Soviet Union were never fully autonomous, or as autonomous as the Soviet Constitution proclaimed. Yet some CCP ideologues believe that their autonomy, however limited, was too much, and that the Soviet example was wrongly followed by Communist China when it granted too many rights to the minzu. This is consistent with Xi’s admiration for Stalin, as Soviet “federalism” can be presented as a mistake made by Lenin, or his entourage, and initially opposed by Stalin – a point of view, by the way, supported by Vladimir Putin in terms strikingly similar to those used by CCP ideologues.
In China, this position has been defended by Hu Angang and Hu Lianhe from the Chinese Studies Center of Tsinghua University, in 2011. They linked the “federalist” system to the fall of the Soviet Union and created the formula “second generation ethnic policies”. While Hu Angang was already a hugely influential CCP intellectual long before Xi Jinping became the Party’s General Secretary, it was Xi who wholeheartedly embraced the new ethnic policies.
On September 14, 2020, You Quan, a member of the CPC Central Committee Secretariat and head of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, spoke at a conference on “ethnic solidarity” in Chengdu, Sichuan, calling for “more efforts to expand the use of Mandarin and Chinese characters”.
The same conference was followed by Bater, an Inner Mongol who is You Quan’s deputy in the United Front Work Department and an ethnic Mongol himself. Bater also heads the CCP’s National Ethnic Affairs Commission.
bater wrote an in-depth theoretical apology for the convincing campaign minzu to adopt Chinese as their primary language, quoting Karl Marx that whoever controls the language controls the community, and reminding his readers that the Roman Empire, England and France historically established their hegemony by imposing their language.