China official denies racial discrimination

Updated: 2007-03-29 15:42

BEIJING - China will give more support to disadvantaged ethnic minorities to protect their culture and boost living standards, a minister said on Thursday.

More money would be pumped into education and health care in minority areas, which are often remote and poor, and special emphasis would be put on minority languages, said Dondrub Wangben, vice-minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.

"Since the country began reforming and opening up, ethnic minorities have made rapid progress," he told a news conference. "But because of historical, environmental and social reasons, the development of ethnic affairs is still lagging.

"There is poorly coordinated economic and social development in minority areas, and fairly large gaps between different areas and rural and urban areas.

"This severely hinders the building of a harmonious society," the official added, referring to President Hu Jintao's oft-repeated goal of removing the causes of social tensions.

China officially has 56 ethnic groups, but more than 90 percent of the 1.3 billion population are Han Chinese.

Minorities range from the populous Manchu and Hui, who have largely assimilated into mainstream Chinese society, to the Shamanistic Ewenki people in the northeast and the tiny Lhoba group in Tibet, with only about 2,500 members.

Dondrub Wangben, himself an ethnic Tibetan, said the minorities generally got along very well, like "the 56 petals of a flower", adding that the central government was investing more money to alleviate poverty in some ethnic minority groups.  

"If there were discrimination, how could I, from a poor background, have gone to school and now be sitting here giving this press conference?" he said, adding that the government believed bilingual education and protecting threatened languages such as Manchu -- the tongue of China's last emperors -- were vital to the country's cultural heritage.

"Culture is the soul of a people, and it is the root and the essence of a people," he said. "The culture of the different minorities is wealth, is life."

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