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Ethnic Minority Groups in China

Ethnic Minority Groups in China

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Comprehensive Unit
221 pages
Grade Level: High School – Community College

While many outside of China believe that China is an ethnically homogeneous nation, it is actually quite diverse. This unit challenges students to examine this notion of homogeneity of Asian countries and also offers students a chance to examine the experiences and challenges of another country's ethnic groups.

In today's world of diverse cultures and increasing interdependence, it is important and relevant for all students to study issues regarding identity and culture and how and why they are relevant. However, these sensitive issues are often very difficult to address. Through studying about ethnic minority groups in China, students can apply what they have learned about another country's experiences and challenges to studies of their own society and culture.

In addition to learning about the variety of conflicts that surround being a minority in China, students will learn about the geographic distribution, history, language, and culture of various ethnic minority groups in China.

The four minority groups chosen for this unit are the Hui, Tibetans, Mongols, and Miao. The case of the Hui illustrates what it means to have a created identity and group consciousness centering around their religion, but not exclusively so. The lesson on the Tibetans centers on their struggle for sovereignty. Mongols, including dwindling numbers of pastoralists, large numbers of farmers, and some city-dwellers, face issues of assimilation and a changing identity. To the southwest, the Miao deal with issues of representation and stereotyping. While these minority groups are very different from each other, they do share the common experience of living as minorities in China.

Lesson One sets the context for the entire unit by familiarizing students with ethnic minority issues on a general level, starting with notions of identity.

Part One of this lesson challenges students to reflect on their own sense of identity and to think about what defines them both as individuals and as members of particular groups. Students learn to make connections between the ways in which they think about their own identities and how these identities provide them with a feeling of belonging. Students also explore additional criteria used in categorizing themselves and others. Part Two assesses students' current perceptions of Chinese society. Later, after students have completed the entire curriculum unit, they will be asked to reassess their ideas. Students also engage in a "classification" activity in which they receive a photograph of a person in China and explore criteria used to classify minority groups in China. Part Three equips students with more detailed information regarding minority groups in China. As part of an optional activity, images pertaining to China's ethnic minorities are analyzed and discussed for their significance. Students debrief this lesson with a class discussion.

Lesson Two explores the notion of "ethnogenesis" and how it relates to the Hui, a diverse minority group in China whose sense of group identity has been influenced by government policy.

Part One revisits the classification activity from Lesson One, and students write a short description on how they believe the Hui have been classified. Through an informational handout, students then learn about the history of the Hui, their relations with the Chinese, the role religion plays in their lives, and the concept of "ethnogenesis." After answering and discussing the questions on the handout, they view and discuss images of the Hui. Part Two explores Hui, Han, and official government points of view regarding the situation of minority groups in China. Students then present to their classmates the opinions voiced in these interviews and excerpts in the form of television programs, posters, statistical analyses, and action plans. In the final part of this lesson, students debrief this lesson with a class discussion regarding Chinese government policies and ethnogenesis. Students end the lesson by writing a journal entry on parallels between the Hui in China and minority groups in other societies.

Lesson Three introduces students to Tibetan culture and society as well as the history of the relations between the central government of China and the Tibetans.

Part One introduces students to Tibet and different aspects of its culture and society. Students take notes as they view images and learn about Tibetan society and culture. This presentation of images is followed by a class discussion. Part Two provides students with background information regarding various subnational calls for independence that have come from around the world. Students then receive a handout that briefly outlines the history of Sino-Tibetan relations. They answer questions and participate in a discussion based on what they have read. Part Three equips students with documents depicting Tibetan and Chinese views on China's efforts to "modernize" Tibet. Using information from previous handouts and class discussions, students debate the points of each document with the help of a mediator. Students debrief the lesson with a class discussion.

Lesson Four introduces students to Mongolian culture and society in China as well as the history of the relations between China and the Mongols.

Part One introduces students to Mongols, their history, and their relationship with Han Chinese. Students view and take notes on images pertaining to Mongols, their lifestyle, and culture. They engage in classwide and small-group discussion about specific issues relating to Chinese Mongols' relationship with Mongolia, as well as issues pertaining to language, land and lifestyle, and identity. Part Two equips students with poems, excerpts from songs, and interviews regarding Mongols and their experiences. Using information gathered from class discussion and previous handouts, students either create a poster or write a poem illustrating the sentiments expressed in their activity cards. Part Three concludes the lesson with an activity in which students create a flag for the community of Mongols in China. This flag will be representative of as many segments of Mongolian society in China as possible and will be based on what students have learned from handouts, class discussions, and activity cards.

Lesson Five introduces students to the Miao (sometimes referred to as the "Hmong" outside of China), aspects of their culture, the history of relations between Chinese and Miao peoples, and issues regarding perceptions and stereotyping.

Part One provides students with background information regarding the Miao through a variety of images and an informational handout. Students work in groups to answer questions about the Miao. Part Two explores the nature of perception and stereotyping by viewing images from "Miao albums," illustrated documents of minority groups in southwest China from the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries. Part Three further analyzes more recent perceptions and stereotypes, as well as how these have changed over time, through readings about encounters between Han and Miao and poetry written by both Han and Miao. Students also discuss how tourism and media attention help or do not help maintain culture.

The final part of the lesson debriefs the entire curriculum unit by leading students into a discussion about minority groups on a general level. Students draw parallels between minority groups and issues in China and those in other societies.

Unit Goals

Each lesson in this curriculum unit has specific learning objectives listed. The following reflect larger goals for the unit as a whole. Students will

  • understand the basis of identity and how it varies;
  • learn about ethnic minority groups and minority group issues in the context of China;
  • learn to think critically and make informed opinions about controversial subjects;
  • be able to draw parallels between case studies and other situations;
  • learn tools to enhance awareness and communication; and
  • work effectively in small and large groups.