Ethnic and Religious Policy in Soviet Asia and the People’s Republic of China

AHA Session 175
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 302 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Benno Ryan Weiner, Carnegie Mellon University
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel will explore and compare the experiences of ethnic and religious groups in Soviet Asia and the People’s Republic of China during their respective periods of High Socialism and address wider questions of identity and nation-state building. In the course of establishing revolutionary regimes, both the Bolsheviks and the Chinese Communist Party came into contact with “minority nationalities” on the far flung peripheries of the multi-ethnic empires they were replacing. These regions and peoples were highly important for national security and the successful construction of a multi-ethnic polity, but also highly problematic, as their identities were based on lineage ties and religious beliefs inimical to ideological perceptions of ethnicity/religion and the imperatives of centralized state-building. During periods of strongly assimilationist policies such as the Great Purge, the Cultural Revolution, and Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign, these tensions could result in a violent cycle of opposition and repression. During more moderate political periods, such as the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union and New Democracy in China, officials had to delicately balance religious and minority policies that respected local cultures while also advancing toward Socialism. In doing so, the Communist regimes attacked “Great Nationality Chauvinism,” recruited cadres and allies from local ethnic groups, trained cadres of the national majority ethnic group to respect local culture, and developed selective local histories. They also established nominally autonomous administrative units for various ethnicities and set up regional or national religious-administrative bodies to act as an intermediary between the party and the local population.

Collectively, this panel will confront several important historical lacunae, including: What similarities and differences were there between Soviet and Chinese Communist ethnic and religious policies? How did the policies of Communist regimes compare to their imperial and quasi-imperial predecessors, the Tsarist Russian Empire, the Qing Dynasty, and the Chinese Republican government? Was the relationship between the regime and local subjects purely exploitative, or did the context of quasi-imperial Socialism develop into a “Middle Ground” of exchange and negotiation? What were the internal dynamics of religious and ethnic groups and how did these affect their relationship to the state?  What effect did collectivization efforts have on relations between religious/minority groups and the party-state? Was there any connection between readjustments in religious and minority policy in the late 1950s in both states? To address these questions, the individual papers will discuss the following topics: Eren Tasar will examine Soviet institutions tasked with building bridges between the Muslim communities of Central Asia and the Soviet state; Benno Weiner will look at the United Front policies of the People’s Republic of China in northeast Tibet (Amdo) in the early-mid 1950s; Loretta Kim will explore twentieth-century language policies towards minority nationalities in China’s far Northeast, where minority nationalities also encountered the Japanese Empire and the Soviet Union; and finally, Steven Pieragastini will consider the overlapping effects of minority policy, religious policy, and land policy in China’s restive Northwest during the early-mid 1950s.

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