Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Nationalities Conflict and Ethnicity in the People's
Republic of China, with Special Reference to the Yi
in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture
Thomas Heberer

Most of the earth's surface consists of states inhabited by several nationalities. Usually, minorities are openly or latently discriminated against or oppressed. The clashes that result constitute one of the main sources of domestic conflicts and instability. The French sociologist Raymond Aron predicted in the 1960s that, from a global perspective, ethnic conflict would take the place of class conflict (1962). If we look at contemporary developments in the world, this prognosis has already become fact.

From such conflict arises the critical need to provide ethnic minorities and folk peoples those rights that will allow them to survive and develop. Only in this way can the chronic potential for conflict be neutralized. This also involves the incorporation of minorities into the state with equal rights, as well as the protection of autonomous culture. This latter includes the protection of language and education; the right to identity, practice of religion, and protection from persecution; the right not to be discriminated against, and equality of rights and opportunities, from which follows the right to constitute one's own cultural organizations and interest groups.

The first part of this essay adopts a political science perspective to deal with basic problems that exist not only in Yi inhabited areas but as well in all areas inhabited by “ethnic minorities” in China (which will also be called non-Han peoples to differentiate them from the ethnic majority, the Han). After this, I briefly come to the crux of nationalities politics—regional autonomy. The second part focuses on a series of examples to discuss the problems of autonomy and the potential for conflict in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. A third section summarizes patterns of conflict, perspectives, and possible preventive measures.

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