Official classification, affirmative action and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China
According to the 2000 census in China, 3.23 percent of married citizens are in an interethnic marriage, and 12 of the 56 officially recognised ethnic groups have an intermarriage rate higher than 50 percent, meaning more than half of married people in these 12 ethnic groups are in an interethnic marriage.
While these statistics suggest that the multiethnic population is not small in China, multiethnic identity options are not officially available in China. All Chinese citizens are registered at birth by their parents with only one official ethnic category, which must be the same as at least one of their parents. This exclusive ethnic identity is presented on the person’s ID card, largely influences their life chances in a wide range of domains, and can hardly be changed. How do people with mixed ethnic backgrounds deal with the limited and exclusive identity choices? Compared to the debates and social movements in western countries, why is the topic of multiethnic identity seldom brought up in China?
In my Identities article, 'Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China', I focus on a specific group of people in China who have multiethnic backgrounds – college students who have a Han parent and a Hui parent – and examine how they understand their ethnic identity. Han is the majority ethnic group that constitutes 91.5 percent of the national population. Hui is the fourth largest ethnic group, the largest Muslim group, and the most geographically dispersed minority ethnic group in China. Using interviews with 20 respondents, I investigate whether this group of people experience any discrepancy between their multiethnic backgrounds and their official, single ethnicity, and what their attitudes are towards institutionalising multiethnic identities.
Using an inductive analytical approach, I find that the sole ethnic categorisation principle and preferential policies for ethnic minorities shape the Hui-Han bi-ethnic college students’ ethnic self-identification. While the respondents in my research had very different levels of exposure to Hui culture in their upbringing (and six of them believed that there were no Hui characteristics in their upbringing or lifestyle), they were also registered as Hui by their parents. Most of them identified themselves more strongly as Hui than as multiethnic or Han, and they frequently referred to their ID card, household registration record and the practices of reporting Hui ethnicity on bureaucratic forms when explaining their self-identification.
I also find that college environment plays a role in shaping their experiences of their multiethnic background and official single ethnicity. Students from China’s special 'Minzu University' (university for ethnicities), where the student population is ethnically more diverse and ethnicity is a very salient topic, were more likely to feel frustrated about the discrepancy between their Hui official ethnicity and their multiethnic backgrounds, because they felt their peers and instructors expected them to behave like Hui. Students from regular, Han-dominated universities, on the other hand, tend to see ethnicity as a symbolic label and downplay its salience in their life.
At the end of the interviews, most respondents expressed negative attitudes institutionalising multiethnic identities in China. This may be surprising as they themselves come from multiethnic backgrounds, but is not surprising if we consider that most of them identify themselves more as Hui than as mixed. It is possible that the authoritarian political culture in China makes people more likely to accept official ethnic categories as objective facts. The fact that China has an overwhelming Han population also means that the issue of mixed-ness has not received as much attention as in the Anglophone West.
Blog post by Xiang Lu, New York University, USA
Read the full article: Xiang, Lu. Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757249
In our Identities article, 'Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands', we conceptualised websites as digital institutions. Since the concept of institutions appears to be fuzzy, comprising formal and informal as well as micro and macro organisations, we argued that they, although socially embedded and culturally loaded, conceptually are insufficient to highlight their specificity. In order to specify the institution, we employ the concept of script, defined as recurrent activities and patterns of interaction. Empirically, we apply this concept to detail ethnic websites in the Dutch Hindustani community and to highlight what needs they fulfil for its visitors and in the Hindustani community. We argued that these ethnic websites fulfil a wide range of needs — notably, as a means of communication, a platform on which community members can address ethnic issues, a device through which to build networks, and a place from which to download material — thus fostering the identity of the ethnic group. Since evidence based on one community may be a matter of happenstance, we substantiate our argument with a comparison of ethnic websites from the younger generation of white Dutch, Hindustanis and Moroccans in the Netherlands.
In general, the concept of institutions refers to an interaction of people, be it face-to-face, by means of written communication as many government agencies do, or digital as has become typical for websites. Furthermore, the definition of institution suggests a bundle of roles or an interaction of individuals with a collective. Examples include schools, annual festivals, tax administration, but also informal organisations as households, networks of friends, and websites. This wide range and diversity of institutions indicate that the role performance of individuals may sometimes be very physical and at time less visible as in the case of digital institutions. This digitalisation of institutions has nowadays advanced to the point that the features of conventional institutions have become blurred. Specifically, personal interaction has declined, making the institution increasingly a latent structure.
Take the example of the Hindu festival Diwali, the annual fiesta celebrated with lights, in India as well as in the Indian diaspora that includes the Dutch Hindustani community. It is a typical family occurrence, although the celebration may be different across diasporic Hindu communities. After the family ceremonies, people may stay at home, sing religious songs and enjoy the company of family members. Sometimes, Hindu people visit a temple to attend a service. Alternatively, they may visit relatives and friends. Depending on the circumstances, family and friends may receive a Diwali card, similar to a Christmas card. This custom has become digitalised to a large extent. Wishing people Happy Diwali increasingly occurs by email and SMS messages, decorated with pictures. And nowadays these are extended by WhatsApp, sometimes to people they hardly know. The institutional nature of Diwali, a prominent institution of the Hindustani community, has become less tangible.
These changes comprise almost all institutions, both formal and informal, in communication with school, community institutions, birthday celebrations, Christmas, New Year and the like. In the Netherlands, WhatsApp messages are leading in this communication and have increasingly replaced face-to-face interaction and contact. Diminishing personal contact and interaction erodes the traditional concept of institutions that was characterised by fixed roles and face-to-face communication, even in its informal settings. It has become less a community happening and acquired personal traits since you can avoid being part of the crowd. The digitalisation of institutions fosters selectivity and individualisation, and changes the appearances of the Diwali feast. This development tends to blur traditional concepts that were extracted from an old world and aim to reflect that world. The digital world therefore requires established concepts, such as ‘institutions’, to be adapted and extended.
Blog post by Ruben Gowricharn, VU University, the Netherlands and Jaswina Elahi, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands
Read the full article:
Gowricharn, Ruben & Elahi, Jaswina. Digital institutions: the case of ethnic websites in the Netherlands. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1519239