Ethnicity & Discrimination in China

Ethnicity & Discrimination in China

China, just like many other places in the world is faced with the problems or discrimination against people deemed to be inferior. Most often, the discrimination is based on the person’s race and ethnic tribe. China has about 56 tribes that are officially listed by the government. However, the Hans are the main group of people and dominate the Asian country. Others like the Tibetans, Muslims and Uyghur are minority groups and are normally considered inferior to the Hans. Generally, the discrimination in China is not as widespread as it is in Western countries in Europe. However, there are many instances of discrimination both at the government and at the individual level (Zhang, 2014). More often, the discrimination based on these lines is shaped by Chinese nationalism and history among other factors.

Acts of racism have continually been reported in China with the government always taking a defensive stand. The government is always quick to state that all the minority groups in China live in harmony with each. This assertion by the government could however not be any further from the truth. The many problems that the Chinese government has in Tibet are testament of preferential treatment of Chinese nationals based on their skin color. The ‘yellow’ or the Hans people are given a better treatment compared to the ‘black’, ‘brown’ or ‘red’ Chinese groups. It is estimated that about 120 million Chinese nationals belong to non-Han tribes and include Koreans, Uyghur, Kazakhs, Mongols and Tibetans (Salam, 2009). These people suffer the brunt of deep-seated ethnic prejudice and racism both from the government and the other citizens.

China’s ethnic problem can be visualized through the many protests and demonstrations that occur based on ethnicity. The government is partly to blame for not dealing with the problem and in some occasions fueling the problem. Whenever earthquakes occur in Tibet, the government does help them but on condition that they cede their demands for inclusion in governance. To the government, these people should subject themselves to the authoritarian rule of the Chinese government without question. Tibetan leaders are considered enemies of the development of China as a country and hunted by the government to answer to fabricated charges. By so doing, the government averts from the real problem of ethnic prejudice and targets the leaders unfairly.

Further afield, there is ethnic discrimination against the Uyghur and this has resulted in numerous retaliatory attacks against other tribes such as Hans and Hui. The Chinese government has often times labeled the Uyghur people as religious extremists and even labeled them as terrorists. Most recently, the government, in  a show of discrimination against the minority Uyghur group phased out the use of minority languages in teaching students. This left the mandarin Chinese language as the official language used in schools. The members of the Uyghur community reacted in violence leading to mass killings of people from other tribes. The community, largely Islamic, has at times reverted to suicide bombings to express their disheartening state (Turtle, 2015). While such actions deserve condemnation as acts of terrorism, doing so would be to sweep the real problem under the carpet. The real problem for the violent reaction is the ethnic prejudice and a lack of inclusivity of minority groups by the Chinese government.

China is also faced with the ever growing challenge of racism both against Chinese nationals and foreigners. Chinese of mixed origins and especially those with African traces receive the brunt of these acts of discrimination. In 2009, a pop idol was ridiculed for gracing the television channels in China in a contest that pitted her against other more befitting Chinese nationals. The only crime that led to the disqualification of the contestant was that she was considered black. Her father was of African-American origin while her mother was a native Chinese. The social media was awash with insults against her race, with some people even calling her act of appearing on television as shameful (Vines, 2009). Despite being born in China’s capital city, that did not cushion her against the racial attacks and she was ultimately disqualified by the judges. Such is the fate of many Chinese nationals who have African traces. The discrimination does not end there, though. Foreigners who look African are discriminated against both in China and in their home countries when Chinese nationals travel to those countries. For instance, it is common for cab drivers to assume black passengers because they think they might run away and refuse to pay up. Although most Chinese companies invested in African raw materials, they did not trust African nationals and usually shipped their employees from China.  Worse still is the fact that most Chinese nationals do not realize that certain behaviors are not acceptable in multicultural societies.

Despite increasing growth of foreign communities in China, reports show that most Chinese nationals have little or no contact with the foreigners. While white foreigners are treated with disdain and admiration, Africans are considered inferior. The Chinese people consider white foreigners as successful and therefore discriminate against them least. In fact, the demand for bleaching is quite high in China due to the urge to have lighter skins that are not associated with peasantry (Jaffe, 2012). The media in China portrays Africa as a hotbed of terror, wars and extremely high crime rates. Moreover, the continent is perceived to have large numbers of people dying from disease. This generalizations and negative perceptions are to blame for the rise in racism against black citizens in China. Students of Chinese origin have many times organized riots and protests against black students to a point of looting their property in the past.

Indians, who come from the same continent as China, are not spared in the racism as their skin is also considered to be dark. Accounts of Indian people being discriminated against are diverse in China including from the government. During the 2008 Olympics for instance, the police officers barred people of Indian origin from booking rooms near the venue of the games. Darker skin is associated with crime and dodgy in China’s capital. Most Indians believe that being brown in China makes one unequal to the other people in China (Jaffe, 2012). White South Africans for example will get better treatment as compared to Indians or other Africans in China. One person reports that the police would rather speak to a white person than to an Indian if they both book a shared room.

The issue of discrimination against people based on their ethnicity and race is a universal problem that affects every region of the world. History has shown that people tend to treat people of their skin color better than other people they interact with. There is a danger of conflict every time people discriminate against others. Oppression has always being associated with resistance and could lead to death of many innocent citizens. Moreover, discrimination has its roots in the education sector and could affect the students’ psychological well being. In an era of globalization, young people are faced with the big task of averting the dangers of ethnic and racial discrimination to make the world a better place.



Jaffe, G. (July 24, 2012). CNN. In Tinted prejudice in China. Retrieved Nov 24, 2015, from

Salam, R. (Sept 11, 2009). Forbes. In China’s Race Problem. Retrieved Nov 24, 2015, from

Tuttle, G. (May 31, 2015). Foreign Affairs. In China’s Race Problem: How Beijing Represses Minorities. Retrieved Nov 24, 2015, from

Vines, S. (Nov 1, 2009). The Guardian. In China’s black pop idol exposes her nation’s racism. Retrieved Nov 24, 2015, from

Zhang, S., & McGhee, D. (2014). Social policies and ethnic conflict in China: Lessons from Xinjiang.

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