By William Wan and Xu Yangjingjing | Washington Post
BEIJING, China, 17 August 2014
During their controversial six-decade-rule of Tibet, China’s Communist Party leaders have been accused by human rights groups of trying to tame the restive region by imprisoning Tibetan political prisoners, keeping in exile their leader, the Dalai Lama, and repressing Tibetan religion and culture.
Now, China has turned to interracial marriage in an apparent attempt to assimilate Tibetans and stamp out rebellious impulses.
In recent weeks, Chinese officials in charge of the Tibetan Autonomous Region have ordered a run of stories in local newspapers promoting mixed marriages. And according to newly published government reports, the government has adopted a series of policies in recent years favourable to interracial couples.
Urging officials to push mixed marriages harder, China’s highest official in the Tibetan region, Chen Quanguo, recently staged a photo opportunity with 19 mixed families.
“As the saying goes, ‘blood is thicker than water,’ we should make our ethnic relationship like that,” Mr Chen said at the meeting in June, according to the state-run Tibetan Daily. The government must “actively promote intermarriages”.
So far, the government push has seen some success. In a report published this month celebrating such policies, the Communist Party’s research office in Tibet said mixed marriages have increased annually by double-digit percentages for the past five years, from 666 couples in 2008 to 4795 couples in 2013.
While avoiding specifics, the report attributed the growth to favourable policies in areas such as social security, reproduction rights, vacations, prizes and special treatment for children born from such marriages, including education, employment and Communist Party membership.
The government has focused on Tibetans marrying Han Chinese. Tibet’s population is roughly 90 per cent Tibetan and 8 per cent Han Chinese. Demographics for China as a whole is the reverse, at 92 per cent Han Chinese and less than 1 per cent Tibetan.
The government has sold the effort in state-run media as a way to achieve ethnic unity, but critics argue that its true aim is to further weaken Tibetan culture.
Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser, an activist who has frequently clashed with authorities, likened the promotion of intermarriage to the worst practices of colonisation.
There’s nothing objectionable about couples from different backgrounds coming together naturally, she said. Woeser herself is married to a Han Chinese, dissident writer Wang Lixiong. But when the authorities use it as a tool and create policies to encourage it, she said, it feels wrong. She compared it to Japanese police being encouraged to marry local women during Japan’s occupation of Taiwan.
Among Tibetans, there is great fear about losing their culture and traditions. Government policy requires mixed couples to choose early on what ethnicity to designate their children in official documents. Many choose to name their children as Han rather than Tibetan, believing that it gives their children a chance at a better life, said a 28-year-old Tibetan woman who works at a local government department.
Nationwide, China has long offered ethnic minority groups favourable treatment as a way to try to integrate them into society, a policy that is often criticised by Han and ethnic minorities alike.
When one or both spouses are an ethnic minority, a couple can generally have up to three children, despite China’s one-child policy. Ethnic students are given extra scores for their minority status in college entrance exams. Intermarried families are also often awarded honours for being “models of ethnic unity” and are sometimes favoured for government positions.
And Chinese history is dotted with examples of interracial marriage as a strategy to maintain peace. One of the most famous stories is the marriage between Chinese Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty and Songtsan Gambo, then king of Tibet, which sealed a peace treaty.
The story was turned into an outdoor musical last August, promoted by the government, and is now showing in Tibet.