The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Great Debates

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-19-2006, 03:51 PM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Tampa, Florida
Posts: 78,508
Will China ever break up the way the Soviet Union did?

China, like the old USSR, is a multinational empire held together, in theory, by a shared ideology. OTOH, it is not quite so multinational as the Soviet Union was; its core Han-Chinese population is much larger relative to non-Han minorities (91.9% of the total population -- than the USSR's non-Russian population was relative to non-Russian minorities (50.78% --; and it has been much more successful in Sinicizing its minority regions than the USSR was in Russianizing its minority regions. The state policy of colonizing non-Han territories with Han (we might call this "ethnic swamping" as opposed to "ethnic cleansing") has produced a situation where some of the historically non-Han territories now have a very substantial Han minority and most have a Han majority:

Gansu Province: 91% Han, 5% Hui, 2% Dongxiang, 2% Tibetan --

Guangxi Autonomous Region: 62% Han, 32% Zhuang, 3% Yao, 1% Miao --

Guizhou Province: 62% Han, 12% Miao, 8% Buyi, several smaller nationalities --

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: 79% Han, 17% Mongol, 2% Manchu --

Historic Manchuria:
Heilongjiang Province: 95% Han, 3% Manchu, 1% Korean --
Jilin Province: 91% Han, 4% Manchu, 4% Korean --
Liaoning Province: 84% Han, 13% Manchu, 2% Mongol --

Ningxia Autonomous Region: 79% Han, 20% Hui --

Qinghai Province: 54% Han, 23% Tibetan, 16% Hui, 4% Tu --

Tibet Autonomous Region: 93% Tibetan, 6% Han --

Xinjiang Autonomous Region: 45% Uyghur, 41% Han, 7% Kazakh, 5% Hui --

Yunnan Province: 67% Han, 11% Yi, several smaller nationalities --

Give this status quo, do any non-Han secessionists but those of Tibet have even a Chinaman's chance? I mean, if you held a genuinely democratic referendum on the status of Inner Mongolia, wouldn't the Han majority vote against independence?
Reply With Quote
Old 04-19-2006, 03:58 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is online now
Join Date: Aug 2005
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
Give this status quo, do any non-Han secessionists but those of Tibet have even a Chinaman's chance? I mean, if you held a genuinely democratic referendum on the status of Inner Mongolia, wouldn't the Han majority vote against independence?
That would depend on how much they've been "contaminated" by the local culture, and how much hostility the central government has created for itself at the time of the vote. The second is unknowable ahead of time, and as for the first I've no idea.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-19-2006, 04:14 PM
Loopydude Loopydude is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
I like "ethnic swamping", and it is indeed a better term than "ethnic cleansing".

Reading Amnesty International's report on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, I'd say no, there is no hope for any sessessionist movement in any region of the PRC. The Chinese govt. can act in these regions with near impunity, and will do whatever is necessary to maintain order. 9/11 has given them an especially potent justification for brutal repression of Muslim dissenters (with a lot of innocents paying the price as well), for instance, and there's little doubt there probably are some jihadists joining the rank-and-file of the sundry Turkic nationalist separatists they can point to and cry "terrorists". I'm quite confident if one of these groups rises up en masse, Beijing would respond powerfully, ruthlessly, and unlike with Russia in Chechnya, the Chinese military is as healthy and well-armed now as it has ever been. The separatists would lose, badly, and we'd barely get a glimpse of the carnage.

Let's face it: In the global economy, China's markets are an enormous bargaining chip. The Google capitulation is just a notable example of the concessions made by Western business across the board. What's good for the PRC is good for our own economy. Internal strife in China hurts our economic interests, so if the PRC sees fit to put down internal strife, we will look the other way, just as we always have done.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-20-2006, 10:49 AM
Pleonast Pleonast is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Los 'Kamala'ngeles
Posts: 6,156
Except for Tibet, I don't think any ethnic-based breakups will occur. A better question is how centralized the future China will be.

My (incomplete) understanding of China's governing structure is that the provinces are rather independent of the central government. The central government issues guidance and enforces them only for gross incompetence or corruption.

As citizens begin to demand equitable enforcement of the rule of law, the central government will feel pressure to bring the provinces into line. I expect that China will become more centralized as it transitions to a more representative government. So a breakup seems unlikely to me.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-20-2006, 04:31 PM
Throatwarbler Mangrove Throatwarbler Mangrove is offline
Join Date: Apr 2002
Nitpick: The modern term "Hui" is used to refer to ethnic Chinese who have converted to Islam. They are not generally considered to be an ethnically or linguistically(their language being Chinese) distinct group, and I've never heard of any sort of "seperatist" tendency amongst them.

It can be ambivious, because "Hui" was at one point used to refer to Muslims in general and to Uygurs and other central Asians in particular. During the Qing dynasty XinJiang was often referred to as HuiJiang, or the Muslim Frontier.

As for the likelyhood of an ethnic breakup, i'd give it about a snowball's chance in hell. Even the Dalai Lama has changed his mission statement from "independance" to "greater autonomy".
Reply With Quote
Old 04-20-2006, 05:42 PM
Hypnagogic Jerk Hypnagogic Jerk is offline
Join Date: Apr 2005
Originally Posted by kawaiitentaclebeast
Nitpick: The modern term "Hui" is used to refer to ethnic Chinese who have converted to Islam. They are not generally considered to be an ethnically or linguistically(their language being Chinese) distinct group, and I've never heard of any sort of "seperatist" tendency amongst them.
I believe that the Hui are recognized by China as a separate ethnic group. The Wikipedia article says so, and implies that they have a culture that is different from the Han's.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-20-2006, 07:23 PM
Throatwarbler Mangrove Throatwarbler Mangrove is offline
Join Date: Apr 2002
Yes, the way the PRC goverment phrases it is a little dodgy, and might lead outsiders to erronously think the Hui are ethnically different. They are not. The Chinese term "min zu" in this context is more accurately translated as "culture", not "ethnicity", although it is sometimes used interchangably. Apart from being of the Islamic faith (no pork, prayers 5 times a day, and whatnot) the Hui are Chinese, speaking the Chinese language, using Chinese names, and so on. There's never to my knowledge been any kind of serious strife or tension between the Hui and non-Muslim Chinese and there are no links between the Hui and the Uygur extremists in XinJiang.

Even many Chinese sometimes erronously refer to the Uygurs as "Hui".
Reply With Quote
Old 04-21-2006, 07:22 PM
China Guy China Guy is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 10,766
search on the "great muslim uprising yunnan." You don't have to look real hard to find historical and eyewitness accounts of Hui rebellions. Lots' of explorer and missionary corraboration is out there - although usually have to find a serious library with real books as most are not digitized.

From the Brittanica online on Hui Muslim uprisings Muslim rebellions in Yunnan and in Shensi and Kansu originated from clashes between the Chinese and Muslims in those provinces. Religious antipathy must be taken into account, but more important were the social and political factors. In the frontier provinces the late dynastic confusions were felt as keenly as elsewhere, which aggravated the problems between the Chinese and the Muslims. Yunnan had been haunted by Muslim-Chinese rivalries since 1821, but in Shensi small disturbances had been seen as early as the Ch'ien-lung reign. Government officials supported the Chinese, and the Muslims were obliged to rise up against both the Chinese and the authorities.

A rivalry between the Chinese and Muslim miners in central Yunnan triggered a severe clash in 1855, which developed into a slaughter of a great many Muslims in and around the provincial capital, K'un-ming, the following April. This caused a general uprising of Yunnan Muslims, which lasted until 1873. Lack of a unified policy weakened the Muslims, and the rebellion was brought to an end partly through the pacifiers' policy of playing the rebel leaders off against one another.

Another Muslim uprising, in Shensi in 1862, promptly spread to Kansu and East Turkistan and lasted for 15 years. The general cause of the trouble was the same as in Yunnan, but the Taiping advance to Shensi stimulated the Muslims into rebellion. The first stage of the uprising developed in the Wei Valley in Shensi; in the next stage the rebels, defeated by the Imperial army, fled to Kansu, which became the main theatre of fighting. Encouraged by the Nien invading Shensi at the end of 1866, the core of the rebel troops returned to Shensi, and sporadic clashes continued in the two provinces. In the last phase, Tso Tsung-t'ang, a former protégé of Tseng Kuo-fan, appeared in Shensi with part of the Huai Army and succeeded in pacifying the area in 1873.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-24-2006, 09:03 PM
Throatwarbler Mangrove Throatwarbler Mangrove is offline
Join Date: Apr 2002
China Guy, I am aware of the Muslim uprisings around the time of the Taiping rebellion, I am of Hunan ancestery myself and have many relatives and friends whose families were relocated with the Xiang/Huai army to XinJiang and live there to this day, but I have always assumed them to be referring to Central Asian and other non-han Muslims, precisely because of the nebulous Chinese terminology. Sources dating from this period generally refer to the rebels as simply "Hui rebels", while referring at the same time to all Central Asian Turkic peoples as "Hui". None the less I trust you as a credible source on this matter.

I will stand by my assertion that the chance of any modern day "Hui" insurrection as opposed to an Uigur one, are remote.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-27-2006, 12:56 PM
New Iskander New Iskander is offline
Join Date: Jul 2003
There are major differences between China and old USSR.

Your own list only shows Chinese provinces and autonomous regions. In USSR, there were 15 Soviet Socialist Republics, of which 3 had own seats in United Nations (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine). In a sense, the potential independence of all 15 SSRs was always acknowledged.

When USSR broke up, those 15 SSRs all went independent. After that, any attempts of 'autonimous regions' to gain independence from old RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, nowadays simply Russia) were unsuccessful. The most determined fight for independence in Chechnya was suppressed by the most brutal means.

So Russia itself doesn't appear to be breaking up, and neither will China.

Also, USSR broke up because it over-extended itself. It was fighting the Cold War and trying to make the whole world Communist. They were spending beyond means on armaments and on international 'help' for every crank willing to waive a red flag.

China is raking in money, doesn't strive for military parity with US, spends on its military within means and doesn't throw money away to support revolutionary movements abroad.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-27-2006, 05:46 PM
Iris Rings Iris Rings is offline
Join Date: Apr 2006
To my mind, there are worse things for Tibet than Chinese domination. Control by a religious mystic is one of them.

As for the others, the main reason the soviet empire broke up was that each country had an expensive army to support and trade restrictions with the west that made everthing more expensive.
In China, the military and economic forces aren't the same at all.
Why would an outlying provice want to trade with it's pauper neighbors in central asia?
And they have no standing army on the border like the Warsaw pact facing off with Nato.

So, no, China won't dissolve. The only open questions are whether it will expand.
It could easily take most of it's indochinese neighbors if it had a use for them.
Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 05:30 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to:

Copyright © 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.