CCCH9027 China: Culture, State and Society
China’s Ethnic Groups: Cultural Assimilation or Cultural Pluralism?


Course Description

Few countries in the world have a total population that exceeds the 110 million ethnic minorities in China. What does this mean for China’s rise in the 21st century? As the income gap between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities widens, the centuries old debate over values, identities, and cultural heritage intensifies. China’s rise will be determined by how well it governs the ethnic lands that occupy half of the country and 90 percent of its border. In short, the future hinges on being able to integrate diverse cultural groups, a challenge for any multi-ethnic states. What will happen to China’s 55 culturally diverse minority groups? This course uses basic data and current information to examine the central theoretical question: What social processes occur when people of different ethnic groups come together in a rapidly rising China?

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the basic facts and complexities about ethnic intergroup relations in China, including theories and perspectives used to analyze ethnic intergroup processes.
  2. By working in teams, provide reasons for and innovative solutions to specific cases of interethnic contact and conflict in China (including Hong Kong and Macao).
  3. Show an appreciation for cultural differences in China by gathering information from your own and other’s experience on campus and in the wider world.
  4. Form a data based perspective about assimilation and pluralism in China’s future.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 12
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 50
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 50
Total: 136

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Group project and presentation 50
Essay / Report writing 50

Required Reading

Excerpts from:

  • Beckett, G., & Postiglione, G. A. (Eds.). (2011). China’s assimilationist language policy: The impact on indigenous/minority literacy and social harmony. London: Routledge Press.
  • Fei, X. T. (1980). Ethnic identification in China. Social Sciences in China, 1, 97–107.
  • Postiglione, G. (2009). Education of ethnic groups in China. In J. Banks (Ed.), The Routledge international companion to multicultural education, pp. 501-511. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Postiglione, G. (2009). Ethnic minorities in China. Berkshire encyclopedia of China. USA: Berkshire Publishing Company. [pp. 763-770]
  • Postiglione, G. (2010). Ethnic identity and educational outcomes in China. International encyclopedia of education. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (Ed.). (1999). China’s national minority education: Culture, schooling and development. New York: Routledge Press.
  • Sen, A. (2006). Identity and violence. New York: Norton and Company.
  • Thapa, C. B. (2017, April 4). Who, really, are Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities? No policy can work without understanding. Hong Kong South China Morning Post. From http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2084614/who-really-are-hong-kongs-ethnic-minorities-no-policy-can

Recommended Reading

Specialised Readings (based on empirical research by course teacher)

  • Chen, Y., & Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Muslim Uyghur students in a dislocated Chinese boarding school: Bonding social capital as a response to ethnic integration. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 2(2), 287-309.
  • Gulbahar, G., & Postiglione, G. A. (2010). Ethnic minority education in China: Language policies and practices. Diaspora, Indigenous and Minority Education, 4(1), 2010.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1988). The structuring of ethnicity in Hong Kong: Entering the transition phase. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 12(3), 247-267.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1991). From capitalism to socialism? Hong Kong education within a transitional society. Comparative Education Review, 35(4), 627-649.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1992). China’s national minorities and educational change. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 22(1), 20-44.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1992). The implications of modernization for the education of China’s national minorities. In R. Hayhoe (Ed.), Education and modernization: The Chinese experience (pp. 307-336). New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1995). National minorities and nationalities policy in China. In B. Berberoglu (Ed.), The national question (pp. 259-279). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1997). The schooling of Tibetans (I) & (II). Chinese Education and Society, 30(4 & 5).
  • Postiglione, G. A. (1999). State schooling and ethnicity in China. In G. A. Postiglione (Ed.), China’s national minority education: Culture, schooling, and development (pp. 3-19). New York: Falmer Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2000). National minority regions: Studying school discontinuation. In J. Liu (Ed.), The ethnographic eye: Interpretive research on education in China (pp. 51-71). New York: Falmer Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2002). Strengthening ethnic minority education. Chinese Education and Society, 35(3).
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2005). The way out for Tibetan education: Provide a world class standard, Hong Kong Economic Journal, 338, 58-60.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2007). School access in Tibet. In E. Hannum & A. Park (Eds.), Rural education reform in China (pp. 97-116). London: Routledge Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2008). Education of Tibetans. Educational Review, 60(1).
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2008). Ethnicity and the role of education as a mechanism for national unity in China. In S. Saha (Ed.), Ethnicity and sociopolitical change in Africa and other developing countries: A constructive discourse in state building (pp. 145-168). New York: Lexington.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2008). Making Tibetans in China: Educational challenges of harmonious multiculturalism. Educational Review, 60(1), 1-20.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Dislocated education: The case of Tibet. Comparative Education Review, 53(4), 483-512.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Education of ethnic groups in China. In J. Banks (Ed.), The Routledge international companion to multicultural education (pp. 501-511). New York and London: Routledge.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Ethnic minorities in China. In L. Cheng (Ed.), Berkshire encyclopedia of China (pp. 763-770). USA: Berkshire Publishing Company.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Tibetan rural education development and capital forms. In G. Xinjia & J. Hung (Eds.), 21st century China. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2010).  Higher education since 1949. In D. Pong (Ed.), Encyclopedia of modern China. New York: MacMillan.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2010). Ethnic identity and educational outcomes in China. In P. Peterson, E. Baker & B. McGaw (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2011). Ethnic autonomous regions. In J. Banks (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of diversity in education. Sage Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2014). Education and cultural diversity in multiethnic China. In Y. B. Chen & J. Liebold (Eds.), Minority education in China: balancing unity and diversity in an era of critical pluralism, (pp. 27-43). Hong Kong University Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A. (2016). Making Tibetans: Educational challenges. In Y. K. Cha, S. H. Ham & M. Lee (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of multicultural education research in Asia Pacific. Routledge.
  • Postiglione, G. A., & Jiao, B. (2007). Language in Tibetan education: The case of the Neidiban. In A. Feng (Ed.), Bilingual education in China: Practices, policies and concepts (pp. 49-74). New York: Multilingual Matters.
  • Postiglione, G. A., & Jiao, B. (2009). Tibet’s relocated schools: Popularization reconsidered. Asian Survey, 49(5), 895-914.
  • Postiglione, G. A., & Jiao, B. (2011). Student perspectives on the inland schools. In M. Rong (Ed.), Contemporary Chinese ethnology and anthropology: Studies on social development in Tibet. Beijing: Nationalities Publisher.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., & Gyatso, S. (2005). Education in rural Tibet: Development, problems and adaptations. China: An International Journal, 3(1), 1-23.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., & Gyatso, S. (2006). Household perspectives on school attendance in rural Tibet. Educational Review, 58(3), 317-337.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., & Li, X. L. (2012). Education change and development in nomadic communities of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). International Journal of Chinese Education, 1(1), 89-105.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., & Li, X. L. (2014). Popularizing basic education in Tibet’s nomadic regions. In Y. B. Chen & J. Liebold (Eds.), Minority education in China: Balancing unity and diversity in an era of critical pluralism, (pp. 107-130). Hong Kong University Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., & Tsering, N. (2009). Tibetan student perspectives on Neidi schools. In M. Zhou & A. Hill (Eds.), Affirmative action in China and the US: A dialogue on inequality and minority education (pp. 127-142). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Jiao, B., Goldstein, M., & Ryan, J. (2011). Education in the Tibetan Autonomous Region: Policies and practices in rural and nomadic communities. Education reform in China: Changing concepts, contexts and practices. London: Routledge. [pp. 92-110]
  • Postiglione, G. A., Zhang, L. F., & Jiao, B. (2012). Comparing Tibetan and non-Tibetan students on intellectual styles. In N. Phuntsog (Ed.), Schooling and Tibetan culture in transnational context: Advances in education in diverse communities. Emerald Press.
  • Postiglione, G. A., Zhiyong, Z., & Jiao, B. (2004). From ethnic segregation to impact integration: State schooling and identity construction for rural Tibetans. Asian Ethnicity, 5(2), 195-217.
  • Wang, J., & Postiglione, G. A. (2008). China’s minorities without written scripts: The case of education access among the Dongxiang. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 18(2), 166-189.
  • Zhao, Z., & Postiglione, G. A. (2005). Ethnic identity at university: Mongolian students in Beijing. Chinese Cross Currents, 2(3), 64-75.
  • Zhao, Z., & Postiglione, G. A. (2010). Representations of ethnic minorities in China’s university media. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31(3), 319-334.

Other supplementary reading related to course topic

  • Bass, C. (1998). Education in Tibet. London: Zed Press.
  • Chen, Y. B. (2008). Muslim Uyghur students in a Chinese boarding school: Social recapitalization as a response to ethnic integration. New York: Lexington Press.
  • Clothey, R. (2005). China’s policies for minority nationalities in higher education: Negotiating national values and ethnic identities. Comparative education review, 49(3).
  • Cornell, S., & Hartman, D. (1998). Ethnicity and race: Making identities in a changing world. California: Pine Forge Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Dikotter, F. (1992). The discourse on race in modern China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. [Selected chapters]
  • Dikotter, F. (1997). The construction of racial and ethnic identities in China and Japan. Hong Kong University Press.
  • Du, S. S. (2002). Chopsticks only work in Paris: Gender equity and gender equality among the Lahu of Southeast China. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Gao, F. (2008). What it means to be a “model minority”: Voices of ethnic Koreans in northeast China. Asian Ethnicity, 9, 55–67.
  • Gladney, D. C. (1991). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic nationalism in the People’s Republic. Cambridge, MA: Council of East Asian Studies and Fellows of Harvard University.
  • Goldstein, M. (1989/2007). A History of Modern Tibet (Vols. 1 & 2). Los Angelas: University of California Press.
  • Hannum, E. (2002). Educational stratification by ethnicity in China: Enrollment and attainment in the early reform years. Demography, 39(1), 95-117.
  • Hansen, M. H. (1999). Lessons in being Chinese: Minority education and ethnic identity in southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Harrell, S. (2001). Ways of being ethnic in southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Harrell, S., & Erzi, M. (1999). Folk theories of success: Where Han aren’t always the best. In G. Postiglione (Ed.), China’s national minority education: Culture, schooling, and development (pp. 213–242). New York: Falmer Press.
  • Heberer, T. (1989). China and its national minorities: Autonomy or assimilation. New York: M. E. Sharpe.
  • Iredale, R., Bilik, N., Su, W., Guo, F., & Hoy, C. (Eds.). (2001). Contemporary minority migration, education and ethnicity. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
  • Irendale, R., Bilik, N., Guo, F. (2003). China’s minorities on the move. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Lee, C. J. (1986). China’s Korean minority: The politics of ethnic education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Lee, M. J. B. (2001). Ethnicity, education and empowerment: How minority students in southwest China construct identities. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Press.
  • Ma, R. (2007, November 2). A new perspective in guiding ethnic relations in the 21st century: “De-politicization”of ethnicity. Paper read at the Beijing Forum, Beijing, China.
  • Mackerras, C. (1994). China’s minorities: Integration and modernisation in the 21st century. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
  • Mackerras, C. (1995). China’s minority cultures: Identities and integration since 1912. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Mackerras, C. (1999). Religion and the education of China’s minorities. In G. Postiglione (Ed.), China’s national minority education: Culture, schooling, and development (pp. 23–54). New York: Falmer Press.
  • Mackerras, C. (2003). Ethnicity in Asia. London: RoutledgCurzon.
  • Nyima, P. (1997). The way out for Tibetan education. Chinese Education and Society, 30(4), 7–20.
  • Rex, J. (1986). Theories of race and ethnic relations. Cambridge University Press.
  • Rossabi, M. (Ed). (2004). Governing China’s multiethnic frontiers. Seatle: University of Washington Press.
  • Sautman, B. (1999). Expanding access to higher education for China’s national minorities: Policies of preferential admissions. In G. Postiglione (Ed.), China’s national minority education: Culture, schooling, and development (pp. 173–211). New York: Falmer Press.
  • Sautman, B., & Dryer, J. T. (Eds.) (2006). Contemporary Tibet: Politics, development and society in a disputed region. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Smith, A. D. (1981). The ethnic revival in the modern world. Cambridge University Press.
  • Smith, A. D. (1986). The ethnic origins of nations. London Blackwell.
  • Thapa, C. B. (2017). Understanding secondary school Nepali students’ identities and investment in learning English and Chinese (Cantonese) in Hong Kong (unpublished thesis). Hong Kong: The University of Hong Kong.
  • Trueba, H., & Zou, Y. (1994). Power in education: The case of Miao university students and its significance for American culture. Washington, DC: Falmer Press.
  • Wang, G. W. (1991). The Chineseness of China. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
  • Wang, S. Y. (2007). The failure of education in preparing Tibetans for market participation. Asian Ethnicity, 8(2), 131–148.
  • Yi, L. (2005). Choosing between ethnic and Chinese citizenship. In V. L. Fong & R. Murphy (Eds.), Chinese citizenship: Views from the margins (pp.41-67). London & New York: Routledge.
  • Yi, L. (2005). Muslim narratives of schooling, social mobility and cultural difference: A case study in multi-ethnic northwest China. Japanese Journal of Political Science, 6(1), 1–28.
  • Yi, L. (2008). Cultural exclusion in China. New York: Routledge Press.
  • Yu, H. B. (2008). Schooling and identity among the Naxi. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
  • Zhao, Z. Z. (2017). Am I privileged? Minority Mongol students and cultural recognition in Chinese universities. New York: Lexington Press.
  • Zhou, M. L., & Sun, H. K. (Eds.). (2004). Language policy in the People’s Republic of China: Theory and practice since 1949. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Press.

Data sources

  • Guo, R., Bulag, U. E., Crang, M. A., Heberer, T., Hwang, E. G., Millward, J. A., Postiglione, G. A., Rossabi, M., Shih, C. Y., & Tapp, N. (Eds.) (2014). Multicultural China. Dordrecht: Springer.

Recommended Websites / Viewing


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor G.A. Postiglione
Division of Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education, Faculty of Education
Tel: 2859 2526
Email: gerry@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor G.A. Postiglione
Division of Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education, Faculty of Education
Tel: 2859 2526
Email: gerry@hku.hk