Professor Gerard A. Postiglione, The University of Hong Kong
Despite the growing debate in China over the continued viability of the ethnic autonomous region framework for sustaining national unity, Fei Xiaotong’s notion of China as an ethnic plurality within an organic unity of the Chinese nationality is still the guiding ideology of Chinese ethnicity. The manner in which ethnic pluralities change within the transition from a planned to a market economy has implications for whether multicultural education could become popularized in China. The shift from a planned to a market economy has challenged poor ethnic minority communities to adapt their value systems to market forces and in many instances to urban living environments in an era of rapid economic, social and cultural change. Economic relations become more multiethnic, the generation gap widens with cultural dislocations, financial disparities become more salient, migration to and from cities becomes more frequent, and new knowledge flows into previously inaccessible ethnic communities. The state seeks to foster a type of education that tempers nationwide ethnicity as it has become situated in a stage of critical pluralism, a state of interethnic relations that is increasing sensitive and dynamic. The state’s response is a harmonious society campaign that is aimed at, among other things, alleviating ethnic tensions. However, the instrumental nature of education fostered by Chinese culturalism continues to drive a process of ethnicization. Rather than leading to a harmonious multiculturalism that expands school access to diverse cultural learning environments, the centripetal forces of Chinese culturalism draw ethnic minority cultures into an acculturation process viewed as essential to national unity, but in the process, ethnic cultures become redefined by educational policies that accentuate the mainstream and favor the accumulation of Han over other ethnic cultural capital. Thus, while China’s ethnic policies have changed often since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, national unity remains a key theme, and as elsewhere, is inextricably linked to both school access and equity, but also the extent to which schooling reflects the multicultural diversity of China. A national system of education has to work to diminish the possibility of plural monoculturalisms, a state of ethnic relations characterized by Amartya Sen as one in which a faith based separatism exists as “a collection of sequestered segments, with citizens being assigned fixed places in pre-defined segments.” While China’s educational policy is aimed at a conservative form of harmonious multiculturalism, the manner in which it is achieved is worthy of study, particularly within the transition from a planned to a market economy. This paper explores these notions within the context of the recent interest in xiangtu jiaocai as an intermediate means of promoting ethnic groups regional culture in school curriculum development.