Types of policies for managing ethnic relations
Difference between the concepts of “nation”
and “ethnic group”
The two Chinese words minzu (“nation”) and zuqun (“ethnic group,”
“ethnicity”) have, argues Ma, totally different meanings. He believes that
“nation” and “ethnic group” are distinct concepts in western literature.
Given their respective time of appearance and inner meaning, they
represent human groupings at totally different levels and reflect different
forms of identity in human society under different historical conditions.
“Nation” is related to “nationalism” and the political movement for
“national self-determination” taking place in Western Europe in the
17th century. The term “ethnic group”, in contrast, only appeared in
the 20th century and is commonly used in the U.S., being gradually
adopted by other countries. It refers to groups that exist and identify
with a pluralist country with various historical backgrounds, cultures,
and traditions (including language, religion, and place of origin), and
even distinctive physical features (Ma Rong, p. 3)and the varied outcomes
Ma points out that based on historical experiences of both China and
abroad, government policy has always played an important guiding role
during the evolution and development of ethnic relations.
Government policy plays an important role in guiding group identity and
adjusting the boundaries of a political entity. Throughout the history of
social development, governments have generally adopted two contrasting
policies for regulating ethnic relations: one views ethnic groups mainly as
political entities and the other views them primarily as cultural groups.
The former policy emphasizes ethnic groups’ integrity, political power,
and “territorial” conservation. The latter prefers to treat ethnic relations
as cultural interactions, and to deal with the problems between people
of different ethnic backgrounds as affairs among individuals rather than
between groups as a whole, even though the common characteristics
of the ethnic group membership are given recognition. By emphasizing
the cultural characteristics of ethnic groups, their political interests
are diluted. Furthermore, in the processes of migration, the historica
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