-By The New York Times, 11 October 2022
Across Tibetan villages in southwest China, Communist Party officials have been spreading the top leader Xi Jinping’s gospel of national unity: that every ethnic group must fuse into one indivisible China with a shared heritage dating back over 5,000 years.
Thousands of officials in Ganzi, a Tibetan region of Sichuan Province, have been paired with families to collect information and give out gifts of rice, cooking oil and beatific portraits of Mr. Xi — all to hammer home his message of an encompassing Chinese identity, from Xinjiang in the west to the contested island of Taiwan in the east.
“In the future I’ll be a member of your family, too,” Shen Yang, the Communist Party secretary of Ganzi, called Kardze in Tibetan, told one household, according to a local newspaper.
The nationalist impulse behind this campaign is increasingly central to Mr. Xi’s efforts to reshape China, with far-reaching consequences for education, social policy and politics. While appeals to the motherland have long been part of the party’s tool kit, Mr. Xi has taken the imperative to new heights, calling for a unified “community of Chinese nationhood” as a bulwark against threats at home and abroad.
As Mr. Xi prepares to claim a ground-breaking third term in power at a party congress starting on Sunday, he has in effect appointed himself China’s historian in chief, crafting a story — retold in museums, on television shows and in journals — that casts his authoritarian, centralizing agenda as a fulfillment of values rooted in antiquity.
In his vision, all Chinese people, regardless of ethnicity, are bound by cultural ties that reach back earlier than the first emperors. The implication is that anyone who defies Mr. Xi’s priorities is also betraying China’s ageless, sacred values.
At a time when the United States, Russia, India and other countries have experienced their own resurgent nationalism, Mr. Xi’s vision is also aimed at inoculating China against unwelcome influences, especially from the West. In May, Mr. Xi told the Politburo, the party’s top 25 officials, that Westerners often wrongly viewed China as just a modern nation-state.
“They don’t view China from the vantage point of over 5,000 years of civilization,” he said, using an often-used but disputed dating of its origins, “so it’s hard for them to truly understand China’s past, present and future.”
At its extreme, Mr. Xi’s insistence on a singular Chinese identity has led to charges of cultural genocide from scholars and foreign countries, citing the mass detention of Uyghurs and other largely Muslim groups in Xinjiang.
Other indoctrination efforts are underway among Tibetans, Mongolians and Hui Muslims. Mr. Xi’s message is also aimed at Hong Kong and at Taiwan, the island that has grown increasingly averse to Beijing’s demands for unification. “Cultural identity is the deepest kind of identity,” he has told officials.
A decade ago, Ganzi was a center of protests by Tibetans who set fire to themselves, sometimes fatally, to denounce Chinese rule. The new campaign appears intended to eradicate any remnants of potential resistance.
The campaign is “about encouraging the family to think of ways of changing traditional thinking while retaining local cultural features,” Wuji Tsering, a Tibetan hostel operator visited by officials in the campaign, said by telephone. Continue reading