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The Laws on the Ethnic Minority Autonomous Regions in China: Legal Norms and Practice
Loyola Chicago International Law Review (2012)
  • haiting zhang
One of the most important aspects of China’s central-local relations is the Ethnic Minority Autonomous Regional System. China officially recognizes fifty-six nationalities. Because the Han nationality is the major part of the population (91.51 percent), other nationalities are generally called ethnic minorities. Based on the 2010 census, ethnic minority population reached 113,792,211 and constituted 8.49 percent of the whole population. Article 2 of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) regulates that, “[r]egional autonomy is practiced in areas where ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities. Ethnic autonomous areas are classified into autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties.” Autonomous regions are autonomous areas at the provincial level; autonomous prefectures fall hierarchically between provinces and counties; and autonomous counties are autonomous areas at county level. Currently, China has 155 ethnic autonomous areas, including five minority autonomous regions, thirty autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties (banners). According to the fifth national census, of the fifty-five ethnic minorities, forty-four had their own ethnic autonomous areas. Ethnic minorities practicing regional autonomy constitute seventy-one percent of the total ethnic minority population, and ethnic minority autonomous areas cover sixty-four percent of Chinese territory. Although most ethnic minority areas are less developed, the overall percentage of autonomous territory in China is extraordinary. The laws regulating the minority autonomous system include the Constitution (articles 4, 112-122), the REAL, relevant laws and regulations by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, State Council and central governmental departments and committees, and self-government regulations, separate regulations, etc. The REAL implements the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities as provided in the current Chinese Constitution. It covers all aspects of regional autonomy, including politics, the economy, culture and society; relations between the central government and ethnic autonomous regions; and relations between different ethnic groups in ethnic autonomous areas. The laws grant numerous autonomous powers to minority regions that other provinces cannot enjoy. While legally broad, in practice these powers are not all enforceable. Efficient solutions to this inconsistency between legal norms and practice shall focus on improving the legal status of the REAL and, as a breakthrough point, seriously initiate regional self-governing regulation legislation to ensure legal guarantees and the sufficient exercise of the autonomous powers. Section I of the article categories the broad regulated autonomous powers into autonomous legislation powers, special personnel arrangements and other authorities. Section II investigates the problems in the legal and political practice in China in the respects of the local governmental nature of the autonomous agencies, regional autonomous regulations, the scene behind the personal arrangement, historical vulnerable autonomy, the economic gap and the resource issue. In an effort to seek practical remedies to the gap, section III recommends to improve the constitutional legal status of the REAL and more significantly conduct central government dominated regional autonomous regulation legislation.
  • Ethnic Minority Law,
  • China Law,
  • Legal Norms,
  • Practice
Publication Date
Citation Information
haiting zhang. "The Laws on the Ethnic Minority Autonomous Regions in China: Legal Norms and Practice" Loyola Chicago International Law Review (2012)
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