Ethnic Intermarriage in Beijing and Xinjiang, China, 1990*

By Mamet, Rizvan; Jacobson, Cardell K. et al. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Intermarriage in Beijing and Xinjiang, China, 1990*


Mamet, Rizvan, Jacobson, Cardell K., Heaton, Tim B., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Researchers have paid considerable attention to intergroup marriages in western societies, such as the United States and Australia. Few, however, have studied intergroup marriages in nonwestern societies. In this paper we examine ethnic intermarriage patterns in China, a society that many perceive as ethnically homogeneous, but one that recognizes 55 minority nationalities in addition to the dominant Han group. The study of intermarriage in China provides an interesting contrast to Western societies, while contributing to the study of ethnic relations in China.

We use Blau's (1971) macrostructural proposition about group size as a general framework to examine ethnic intermarriage in Beijing and Xinjiang. Blau's (1971) basic proposition, a simple but salient insight, argues that relative group size is an important factor predicting outgroup marriage rates for racial minorities. It suggests that group size is inversely related to the likelihood of intermarriage. Thus, small minorities are more likely than larger groups to be assimilated into the larger culture, and they are more likely than larger groups to intermarry. More recent reformulations of Blau's (1971) proposition have emphasized that mitigating factors and institutional arrangements affect Blau's basic proposition (Kalmijn, 1998; Kalmijn and Flap, 2001; Heaton and Jacobson, 2000)

Several mitigating factors operate in China to reduce the rates of intermarriage. These include the history of intergroup conflict, religion, language, culture, normative sanctions, and geographic isolation. Thus, we present a brief history of ethnicity in China.

Ethnicity in China

In the 1990 China Census the minority nationalities numbered 91.2 million composing 8.1 percent of the total population in China. They reside mostly in border areas such as southwest and northwest China, and their settlements constitute about 60 percent of China's total territory (Wu, 1997).

Nationalities in China are designated by the central government. Early in the 20th Century the Sun Yatsen government recognized only five nationalities--Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan and Hui, and all Muslims in China originally were defined as Hui (Gladney, 1996). After the Communist revolution of 1949 China exerted control over Tibet and Xinjiang. The central government expanded the designation of ethnic groups and allowed groups to apply for national minority status. Initially, over 400 ethnic groups claimed minority nationality status, but the central government granted official recognition to only 20. Later, using the criteria of common language, territory, economic life and culture, the government recognized the current 55 groups (Heberer, 1989; Lee, 1997).

Studying Beijing and Xinjiang

Beijing, a municipality and the capital of China is located in the North China and has a total area of 16,800 square kilometers. We elected to study Beijing because of its cosmopolitan character and its diverse ethnic composition. As the center of politics and economics of China, it is one of the most prosperous and fast-developing cosmopolitan areas in China. In 1990, Beijing's total population was 10.5 million, which included members of all 56 ethnic groups in China. The Han accounted for 97 percent of the total population and the 55 minority nationalities constituted the remaining three percent.

Xinjiang Province, one of the five Minority Autonomous Regions in China is located in northwestern China with a total area of 1,626,000 square kilometers (635,000 square miles--about three times the size of France), or about one-sixth of China's total area. In contrast to Beijing, Xinjiang is one of the poorest areas in China. We selected Xinjiang primarily because of its culturally diverse ethnic composition and because it has experienced a dramatic immigration of Han since 1949. In 1990, Xinjiang's population was about 15 million consisting primarily of Uighurs (47. …

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