Ethnic Questions In South East Asia Cultural Studies Essay

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Firstly Assimilation means a fusion of all cultures into one coherent culture. In other words there is usually a dominant culture that is to be assimilated into. Therefore a form of nationalism occurs. (Grillo, 2005, p 5) Throughout history assimilation as been concurrent with a national ideology of thought. One culture is given priority over other ethnic groups and does not take into consideration the special needs of different groups, socially culturally or politically or even personal religious convictions. For most of the 19th and 20th century assimilation was used to abolish individual cultures within Countries such as China... (Grillo, 2005, p 5) Guillo suggests that assimilation is an orthodox, hegemonic and ultimately simplistic view of the nation-state and its ideal population which may be at odds with the reality of people's lived experience". (Grillo, 2005, p 5). Therefore, assimilation tries to enforce an identity on all of its citizens with disregard to gender, race, ethnicity, cultural ideals and religious practice. "Assimilation usually involves a gradual change and takes place in varying degrees; full assimilation occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from older members" (Sills 1968, Grillo, 2005)


There is a description of integration as being the acceptance of all cultures along side of each other. . Jenkins defines "integration, therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, coupled with cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance" (1967: p 267). Furthermore there is no loss of personal culture or characteristics of the attributes that make up an ethnic group. (Jenkins 1967: p 267). Favell claims "that 'Integration' is a difficult term. The word occurs widely across European languages, though not always signalling the same thing" (Favell 1998) Thus in Chinese society a model of thought was used to integrate all citizens in society. Therefore integration involves a process whereby, "there would be a common public sphere of shared norms and values with equal opportunity in employment, housing, education and health/welfare systems; equality before the law; and protection from racism etc, but distinctive beliefs, values, practices, religion, language, in private" (Guillo, 2005)


Pluralism can mean that there is an acceptance of a social system that accepts other people's differences in culture, education and religion. From a social science perspective it means "that there is a system based on mutual respect for each other's cultures among various groups that make up a society wherein subordinate groups do not have to forsake their lifestyle and traditions but, rather, can express their culture and participate in the larger society free of prejudice" (2007, Matthias p 25) Economic pluralism can mean, "the diversity of economic methods including capitalism, cooperatives and laissez faire"according to the Wiki dictionary. (2005). Thus, pluralism has been consistent with a modern day concept of democracy. For example all people should be considered equal in social, economically and in political circumstances. Democratic pluralism allows all citizens to equal rights and responsibilities in societies. It also can mean, 'the acknowledgment of a diversity of points of view that in liberal democracies power is (or should be) dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure groups and is not (or should not be) held by a single elite or group of elites.' (Sills, Merton, 2005) Thus, Pluralism means that there is no one government that holds political power in society does not lie with the one party in government 'but is distributed among a wide number of groups'. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, 2005)

None of these definitions explain the issue of why policy developed in the way it did with the issue of minorities in China. Chinese government and social infrastructure followed communism from 1949 and dealt with social issues with a set of ideals that meant to include everyone as of the same status. Chinese policy since 1949 followed a system whereby everything was controlled by the nation-state. All rights were given to the government for the people. In the states attempt to decrease inequality there has come to be an even greater inequality among the minorities. Minorities are not given any room or provision for any special needs that they may have to express their individual cultures.

However for the purpose of this essay, I would say that policy has leant more towards policy being assimilative in nature, namely communism. During this period there was an 'assault against, customs habits and culture and old ideas'. (Mackerrass, 2003, p 252) This period is referred to as the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, 'The policies toward the minority cultures were extremely repressive because of the obsession of the main leaders with eliminating national problems as being that of a class problem'. (Mackerras, 2003, p252). The issue of china is that all old ideas of culture was considered bad and needed to be abolished. Communism was a move away from the imperial system where culture, namely the arts and religion were considered to be associated with the Bourgeoisie. In other words it was the elite associated with Capitalism that had access to this means of living. Mao himself was a poet and very educated in the arts and philosophy and considered communism as a way out of the old traditions of China. The idea to place all people of all cultures into one system of government including the legal system, economy, and even regulation of family in my opinion is none of these terms but about state control over people who have no rights of their own. In fact to quote Mao, "There are no natural rights; the only rights the individual has are those which society gives him."(2010 A.Altuni)


Policy during the Cultural Revolution phrase, 1949-1976 of China's history was to transform society into an agrarian economy. Policy in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution leaned towards an economic and social plan used from 1958 to 1961 aimed towards increasing the standard of living for the working class and peasants. (Wikipedia 2010) The main policy was reform of land ownership which supposedly gave land back to the people, for the people, which the state owned and provided the 'people' with their basic needs. The main changes "in the lives of rural Chinese included the introduction of a mandatory process of agricultural collectivization, which was introduced incrementally". (Wikipedia, 2010) In addition, "Private farming was prohibited, and those engaged in it were labelled as counter revolutionaries and persecuted" (Wikipedia, 2010) Therefore, limits were placed on rural people and were monitored by social pressure which included violence and resulted in a great famine where many people died from hunger. (Wikipedia, 2010)

This part of Chinese history can be viewed only as assimilation, but a new system of culture was implemented namely communism. Even though policy initially arose out of the idea of communism there has been a move away from the early years of the socialist system. From 1975, certain rights were given back to people and increased their standard of living. The introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978 means that China has become the worlds, 'fastest growing economy and a main exporter and importer of goods'. (Wikipedia, 1010) Thus it has also joined capitalism but still under a system of communism. However the rights of the different nationalities mean that they are all assimilated into the culture of the Chinese being communism. Also, the urghurs in particular had to abandon the use of their language and practice of their religion and customs. (Dwyer, 2004) "With the transition of power to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) committed itself to support and develop culture by opening ministries and departments that would be in charge of individual spheres of science and culture". (Dwyer, 2004) "Ever since then, music was used to propagate the political agenda and was the centre of attention and preoccupation of the state." (Dwyer, 2004)

Why policy is considered assimilative in nature:

The main reason that policy leant towards being assimilative is that 'it was denied that China was a multinational country'. (Mackerrass, p 136) Furthermore for pluralism to exist there would have needed to be recognition of all minorities as being separate with different needs and practices. (Mackerrass, p 136) Thus, 'Traditional customs, language, and scripts were considered backward". (Mackerrass, p 136) Further proof that policy was assimilative is that there was 'no special policy was made to accommodate minorities need for financial aid and minorities were forced to destroy their pastures and become farmers which resulted in the shortage of livestock' (Mackerrass, p 136). …All holidays and celebrations were forbidden and those who still registered were arrested as counter-revolutionists... (Mackerrass, p 136). In addition press that produced minority reports were shut down and only media that produce dogma about the party was allowed. Also, 'the traditional health' practices were banned and not replaced by official medicine. (Mackerrass, p 136). As a consequence there was a high death rate among the elderly of the Chinese. (Mackerrass, p 136).

Change of strategy towards the minorities (1979-1991)

Since 1975 there was a move towards integration policy, there was a revision of the constitution and certain rights such such as restoration of certain customs and practices has been restored to minorities. (Mackerrass, p 136). The loss of language, for minorities and the state regulation of educated meant there was a loss of identity for the younger members of Chinese society. (Mackerrass, p 136). According to Mackerrass, the Chinese Government were seen to be "Giving to the minorities imaginary rights with one hand, the Chinese government took away even more with the other hand, always keeping in mind the assimilation agenda".( 2005). In April 1979, the Chinese newspaper the 'Peoples Daily' published a program that outlined the assimilation of minorities through the following steps, "the development of a common world language,   the disappearance of common geographical characteristics of nationalities,     the development of common an economic system and the acquisition of a common world mentality and culture." (Mackerrass, p 136).


Therefore, it is fair to say that policy still leans towards assimilation. All moves to restore certain rights to the people of China can only be seen to appease the people in order for them to continue with the old system of Government. If there is one body to follow and all basic needs are met in society but are only what the party allows how can it be viewed in the same way as most democratic societies that allow individuals their own rights.