Citizenship education for ethnic minority student at Chinese Universities

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China has witnessed a resurgence of minority ethnicism/nationalism over the past two decades, and minorities are increasingly demanding cultural recognition in the public sphere. This study explores the Chinese universities’ institutional effort to integrating ethnic minority students into the state citizenship agenda; and how minority students respond to it and struggle for recognition. The study focuses on a case of ethnic Mongols, one of the largest minority groups in China. The Mongols emerged as a distinct ethnic group from the 11th century and had in the centuries that followed conquered several parts of the world. However, in modern history, this nomadic group declined in supremacy, and even their survival in China was under threat. This decline is evidenced by the fact that progressively more Mongols have abandoned their native language and traditional customs, especially those who live in the cities. Two discourses are collected: those of the university and Mongol students. The specific research methods involve document analysis (especially of the state’s policy, university regulation, and campus media), interviews of academic/administrative staff and student cadres, narratives with Mongol students, and observation. Fieldwork was undertaken for half a year at three universities: Inner Mongolia Normal University located in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region; Beijing Normal University in Beijing; and the South China University for Nationalities in Wuhan, Hubei Province. These three universities represent three types of higher education institutions that minority students can gain access to in China. Through comparing Mongol students’ discourse and the university’s discourse, this study constructs a framework that depicts the university’s discourse on minority culture policy, institutional structure, and daily life; and Mongol students’ discourse about their experiences, perceptions of recognition, and dedication to representing themselves on campus. Furthermore, comparative analysis is performed across three types of universities, and across the Ethnic Study Program (min kao min) and Regular Study Program (min kao han). This study reveals that minority culture attains little value and further participation in particular during daily life, despite the fact that the state and the university articulate the cultural vitality of minzu and preferential policy. Furthermore, there are some institutional obstacles for minority students to attain cultural recognition. Yet, Mongol students are dedicated to cultural recognition in practice, more so the case for the ESP, although both ESP and RSP embrace Mongol identity. Mongol students’ subjective experiences of university life challenge the authorities’ discourse of minorities as being privileged in the educational arena.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009


Zhao, Z. (2009, June). Citizenship education for ethnic minority student at Chinese Universities. Paper presented at the 5th CITIZED International Conference: Globalising Citizenship Education: Ambitions and Realities, Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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