More flexible economic reforms instituted in China after 1978 highlighted the issue of social inequality and differentiation in education. In general, the post-1978 reforms saved China's national minorities from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution and permitted a greater degree of cultural autonomy. However, in economic terms, these reforms were disappointing to the national minorities who occupied the border regions, particularly Northwestern China, because these reforms greatly favored the coastal regions in the east. This applied also to education, since the decentralization of the economy placed more of a responsibility on local sources of educational funding. Even though national minority regions receive generous contributions from the central government for infrastructural development, a portion of which could be used for education, more recent educational reforms, including those aimed at achieving nine years of compulsory schooling, have placed a heavy burden on many national minority areas. Even before June of 1989, there were indications of financial aid from the central government, especially for education. Thus, while the post-1978 reforms were laying the seeds for greater social and economic differentiation within regions of China, including national minority regions, a less direct form of educational inequality and social differentiation was occurring on a regional scale with strong consequences for minorities. With respect to national minority education, intraregional educational inequality and social differentiation is a more complex question because it hinges very much on the ethnic composition of the region and the degree of segregation in schooling. Reference to the Koreans in the Yanbian region of Jilin province, the Hui in the Xuanwu district of urban Beijing, or the Kazak, Uighur, and Xibe in Ili region of Xinjiang illustrate this point.

The lower levels of educational attainment of China's national minorities in comparison with Han Chinese help to explain subsequent educational policies directed at eliminating the gaps between them. It also explains new social consequences such as innovative forms of cooperation between religious leaders and education officials, in particular concerning the use of religious teachers to tackle illiteracy. Although meeting some success, such actions tend to pit Marxist ideological precepts about the functions of religion against an equally strong forces directed at bringing about basic education.

The June 4 incident had a certain meaning for national minority groups, especially those in northwestern China, in so far as it brought issues of official corruption and growing economic disparities to the forefront. However, the renewed calls for autonomy that followed June 4 were largely a result of ongoing contradictions, and in changes of across-border situations in the Soviet Republics, Mongolia, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.

Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This article (which first appeared in "Frontiers Focus" Vol 4 #3 and 5 #2, and is used by permission)
may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.


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