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The Intellectual Foundation of Assimilationism in PRC Multiethnic Governance

China
Knowledge
Marxism
Race
Liberalism
Policy Change
Political Engagement
Sinan Chu
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Sinan Chu
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Abstract

This essay investigates the linkage between the changing ideological landscape of mainland Chinese intellectual discourse and the PRC government’s accelerated shift towards assimilationist ethnic policy during the past two decades. Different from existing studies that seek to casually explain this significant policy shift by tracing signals in academic discussions, this essay adopts a discourse analytical approach to critically examine the intellectual foundation of the “assimilationist shift”. Using a collection of mainland Chinese publications as my primary source, this essay argues that the ideological alliance between the Chinese Liberals and New Left played the central role in legitimizing the shift in PRC ethnic minority policy, while a loose coalition of Old Left and moderates came to defend the existing policy that features a nominal guarantee of territorial autonomy and preferential policies for ethnic minorities, among other things. The study builds off social constructivism’s insight on the productive nature of language to create possibilities for certain actions while excluding others, as well as the New Sinology’s emphasis on the multifaceted culture and society that has existed in counter distinction to the orthodoxies as propagated by the party-state. It contributes to our knowledge about contemporary Chinese politics by exploring the political ramification of the changing configuration of mainland Chinese ideological landscape, while challenging the conventional grouping of intellectuals. More broadly speaking, the study demonstrates the utility of a context-sensitive, agent-centered approach to intellectual politics in both contemporary China and beyond.