Social Issues

The changing tide for China’s ethnic minorities

By Guillermo Benavides Moine

Changsha, China, Aug 19 (EFE).- The life of Shi Basan, an elderly woman of the Miao ethnic minority in China, drastically changed in 2013 after president Xi Jinping visited her village as part of his flagship project to eradicate extreme poverty in rural areas.

From being a remote Miao settlement, the village of Shibadong in the central Hunan province was quickly turned into a sort of folk recreation park for tourists on which the livelihoods of the some 1,000 Miao residents largely depend on.

Shi, who is proudly standing under a portrait of Xi, went from barely having any electricity to earning 1,500 yuan a month (217 euros) for talking to tourists and showing them the Miao way of life.

The Miao community is just one of the 55 ethnic minorities benefiting from the promotion of folk tourism across the Asian giant.

But while the attraction of ancestral traditions and customs drives many tourists to travel to remote villages across China, what is really making a difference is online business.

The video app Kuaishou — similar to TikTok but more popular in rural areas — had some 19 million income-earning users in 2021 while online sales that year reached a total of 19.3 billion yuan (2.8 billion euros), according to the online platform.

Over 25% of the earning users lived in provinces classified as poor and in which ethnic minorities reside.

The online sales were part of a Kuaishou programme to “alleviate poverty” in rural areas and in which ethnic minorities could sell artisanal crafts and agricultural products to people across the country.

“We have gone from having zero yuan in rice sales in 2011 to 1.13 million yuan (163,930 euros) in 2021,” Gu Li, a resident of the small village of Hequn who sold his rice on e-commerce platform Taobao, tells Efe.

Gu is one of the many people from rural areas who were forced to emigrate to bigger cities to seek better opportunities. He is also part of a new wave of people returning to rural villages since the “revival” of ethnic minorities.

He says that unlike before, many of those who leave the villages to go to university are returning to rural areas after their studies to apply the knowledge they have acquired.

Some scholars in China say that young people returning to rural areas and feeling a strong ethnic identity is the result of a form of cultural control by the authorities.

At the end of the last century, Chinese authorities changed the term for minorities from “nationalities” to “ethnic groups” as a way to change their perception and that of China as a nation.

“Equality of individual rights, rather than minority politics, is the right way to reduce the differences and conflict between majority and minority,” economist and professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Hu Angang, says.

Nearly 9% of the Chinese population belong to an ethnic minority, according to official data. EFE


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