In recent years, tension between the Han Chinese (ethnic majority) and several ethnic minority groups pose questions about preferential treatment for minority groups. Contrary to some international misconception that ethnic groups are exploited and mistreated, China actually gives preferential treatments to most of the 54 minority groups. For instance, minority groups are mostly exempt from the family planning policy which the Han Chinese have to abide by. Another notable privilege for minority groups is lowered standard in the extremely competitive college entrance examination. In addition, more than a dozen exclusively ethnic universities were set up to increase college opportunities for ethnic groups.
In theory, with such policies it is much easier for someone with a minority background to get into college. Ironically, however, college entrance rate for minority groups is much lower than that for the Han Chinese.
The biased treatment in college admission often irritates the Han Chinese, and it is not always welcome by the ethnic groups such treatment is supposed to benefit. Some elites in ethnic groups criticize the policies for spoiling their youths by making things easier for them.
Differentiated treatments also reinforce, often to a fault, awareness about ethnic differences when inclusion would have been a better choice. Deliberate differentiation increased division and ate into the unity between the Han and minority groups.
Elsewhere in the world, policies to reinforce racial or ethnic differentiation are being questioned. Interventions to increase ethnic awareness have played a significant role in the troubles of former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and some African countries such as Rwanda.
Education is one of the most conspicuous strongholds of such preferential treatment. This year marked the 50th anniversary of “affirmative action” which appeared as an executive order signed by President Kennedy in 1961. Affirmative action makes it easier for some historically discriminated races or groups to go to college to receive better education. Fifty years later, the presumably well-intentioned policy is giving rise to concerns of inequality and reverse discrimination against members of majority groups.
In Oklahoma, where I am living right now, there is talk about the abolishing of the “affirmative action” in the public sector. Some states, such as California, has already eliminated racial criteria in college applications. America the “melting pot” does not need racial quotas in producing top athletes, business executives, or presidential candidates for either party. Why would colleges and universities require racial or ethnic quota in their admission? I do not see how it can help any group in the long run. Philosophically there is something wrong with the underlying assumption for such policies. All things being equal, every ethnic groups should be equally capable of producing top talents without having to be given shortcuts. Unless educational resources have been significantly reduced or withdrawn for certain groups prior to college entrance, preferential treatment for any group should not be warranted.
Moreover, the policy is starting to go against the historical justification for its very existence. Instead of helping to redress historical wrongs, the policy is creating new wrongs for current and future generations. In America, lawsuits have been filed by qualified white applicants who were denied admission. For instance, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its 150-point rating system that automatically gave 20 points for any applicant from an underrepresented ethnic group. The system was judged to be unconstitutional by the US supreme court.
Affirmative action is also subject to arbitrary definitions about “minority”. The definition can be based on volume of voices instead of real demographic data. Asian students, representing 6% in the population, are held to unreasonable standards, needing scores “hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission ”( Jesse Washington, the Associated Press December 3, 2011). Many students with one parent being non-asian chooses not to check “Asian” in their admission form. How is this supposed to be fair? How can such policies help any society if two principles – meritocracy and equality – have to be sacrificed to sustain a policy which is outdated anyway?
I really hope that both countries will consider reforming policies that give any particular ethnic group an unfair advantage. Every student deserves to have an equal opportunity at higher education. To a country, true competitiveness comes when diversity works in conjunction with equality. It is time that policymakers consider an immediate overhaul of all educational policies aiming to give any special group or region special treatment.China Daily, December 10, 2011