Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Regional discrimination in China

The people of China are overwhelmingly Han (+90%), but there are many minorities among the remaining 10%. Regional prejudices are also a factor in the political culture. (Think about the regional stereotypes common in the USA.)

Many Chinese suffer discrimination based on their regional origin
Han Chinese are more than 90% of the population and their prejudice against ethnic minorities is well documented. In Tibet and Xinjiang it has reinforced the Communist Party’s repressive tendencies. Discrimination by Han people against members of their own ethnic group is less well-known, but also common. Its consequences are not as appalling, but it makes life tough for tens of millions of people. Over the past three decades it has been fuelled by the migration of more than 200m rural dwellers into cities, which has turned urban areas into mosaics of people from hugely varied backgrounds.

Urban Chinese are often contemptuous of these internal migrants, wherever they are from. But people from certain regions suffer higher than usual levels of negative stereotyping. Regional discrimination “is hard to see and touch” yet its impact is as painful as getting “a bloodied face”, said an academic quoted by a north-eastern newspaper. Yang Yong, a migrant worker from Henan who lives in Beijing, has felt this. He says he was once refused a construction job in the capital because of his home province. “When I answered I’m from Henan the boss said goodbye,” he recalls. Online job advertisements for domestic maids in Beijing often specify that “applicants from Henan and the north-east need not apply.”…

People from Henan and the north-eastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning are among those most commonly targeted, partly because those areas are such big sources of migrants…

Even among better-educated urban residents, north-easterners are often stereotyped as quarrelsome and pugnacious, and Henanese are commonly regarded as thieves and cheats… Some regional stereotypes are harboured only by people from a particular area. In a book published in 2015, Agnieszka Joniak-Luthi of the University of Zurich says that Shanghai residents sometimes describe people from northern Jiangsu, a province that borders on the city, as “boorish” and “unkind”. However, people from that region are not so despised in Beijing…

In China’s state-controlled media, diyu hei, or “regional blackening”, is occasionally condemned. In an article about [an] episode a newspaper controlled by the prosecutor-general’s office quoted a lawyer as saying that such discrimination had probably occurred in tens of thousands of companies but had never come to public attention. Beijing News last year quoted Bai Yansong, a Chinese television anchor, as saying that regional discrimination was getting worse. If allowed to continue, he said, the problem could turn into “a huge cause of social instability and division”…

Some lawyers say a legal loophole is partly to blame. China’s employment law prohibits discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, social background and health. Regional origin, however, is not mentioned. Some legal scholars and legislators have called for a wider law that would prohibit all kinds of unfair discrimination, including the region-based sort. The government, however, does not appear enthusiastic. Some conservative officials may fear such a law would also have to specify gay rights… they may also worry about a clash with the country’s hukou system, which allows officials to discriminate openly against migrants from other parts of China in government employment and the provision of public services.

It may be that the problem of job discrimination will be alleviated by a growing shortage of migrant workers. Employers will find it harder to act on their prejudices… But region-based prejudices will long remain. In an open-air dating market in Beijing, where parents gather to try to arrange matches for their adult children, some participants admit they would not welcome a Henanese in the family.

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