New Textbook Reveals Xi Jinping’s Doctrine of Han-centric Nation-Building

Publication: China Brief Volume: 24 Issue: 11

Front cover of the new textbook An Introduction to the Community of the Zhonghua Race. (Source: Xinhua)

Executive Summary:

  • Another cultural revolution is in full swing in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is not the purported class revolution Mao advocated in the past, but rather a wave of Han cultural and racial nationalism.
  • Xi’s new approach to ethnic minority policy repudiates the Party’s past promise to allow minority nationalities to exercise political and cultural autonomy, becoming “masters of their own house.”
  • Following more than ten years of incremental change, a new textbook from scholar-officials articulates the discourse, ideology, and policies associated with a new Han-centric narrative of China’s past and future.
  • In this conception, the sovereignties and homelands of the Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongol, and other indigenous minorities are erased and replaced with a seamless teleology of the Han colonial and racial becoming.


An Introduction to the Community of the Zhonghua Race (中华民族共同体概论), [1] a new compulsory textbook for university students across the People’s Republic of China (PRC), was published in February (SCMP, March 18). It offers the clearest and most complete articulation of President Xi Jinping’s new orthodoxy for governing the PRC’s “unified multiethnic state.” The ideas presented in the textbook represent a fundamental retreat from a previous approach to ethnic governance, from a paradigm of “Communist multiculturalism” toward Han-centric cultural and racial nationalism. [2]

The PRC Constitution, revised in 2018 under Xi’s direction, continues to promise the PRC’s 125 million officially recognized “minority nationalities (少数民族)” equality with the country’s Han majority, which numbers more than one billion individuals. In the former’s respective homelands, the Constitution promises “regional autonomy” so these minorities can “exercise the power of self-governing” (Xinhua, March 22, 2018). This includes the right to “use and develop” their own language and culture. Xi’s new doctrine, in contrast, demands their subservience to Han norms, and the slow erasure of their languages, cultures, and identities—making the PRC’s minorities, in a sense, colonial subjects of a new Han empire.

Xi’s ‘New Era’ of Minzu Policies

It has taken more than a decade for Xi Jinping to re-orient the PRC’s minzu policies. [3] In 2014, he gave a long and fiery internal speech in Beijing. Top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials in charge of “nation-building work (民族工作)” listened intently as Xi outlined his vision for the Party’s governance and control over its vast borderlands. Xi demanded an end to the vitriolic bickering over the future direction of policy, which included proposals for everything from an American-style melting pot to a federation of democratic communities (East-West Center, 2013). The Party, he insisted, must “unflinchingly walk the correct road of China’s unique solution to the national question,” while also “pioneering new thinking” (China Brief, November 7, 2014). The acrimonious, and unusually public, debate over the Party’s minzu policies did not end with Xi’s undisclosed speech.

A new orthodoxy—what is now called “Xi Jinping’s important thoughts on strengthening and improving nation-building work”—emerged only slowly in the face of stern opposition from minority and Han officials alike. It required the restructuring of the Party-state bureaucracy, a violent crackdown in Xinjiang and other frontier regions, and the purging of minority officials in charge of “ethnic affairs” (Journal of Contemporary China, October 13, 2019; The Diplomat, May 1, 2021; China Brief, June 20, 2016). These changes gradually narrowed the scope for variation in policy implementation. The bricolage of Party-speak, with its oblique aphorisms like the “two connections (两个结合)” and the “twelve musts (十二个必须),” once left room for a range of interpretations. This permitted some minority officials to try and safeguard aspects of their legal autonomy, but also allowed other officials to craft a new Han-centric truth. Such a plurality of opinions no longer exists in the public sphere. Xi’s self-declared “new era” has arrived, and the Party’s latest textbook preaches its dogma.

The textbook was edited under the direction of the 64-year-old Han official Pan Yue (潘岳), the colorful Deputy Head of the United Front Work Department in charge of minzu work. Pan is also the Director of the National Ethnic Affairs Commission (国家民族委员会), the state organ traditionally led by a minority cadre and responsible for safeguarding the legal rights of the PRC’s minority communities. Pan, in contrast, has long sought to steer the country in a different direction.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he portended the dangers of ethnic separatism and the urgent need to revive traditional Zhonghua culture (中华文化) (China File, February 24, 2023). He later joined other scholar-officials like Ma Rong (马戎), Zhu Weiqun (朱维群), and Hu Angang (胡鞍钢) in advocating a “second generation of minzu policies” before Xi Jinping took power (China Brief, July 6, 2012). The textbook provides official imprimatur for the once-contrarian views of Pan Yue and other minzu policy reformers, which critics once called “both naïve and dangerous from a political perspective” (CUAES, February 23, 2012).

Criticizing Past Policies

An Introduction to the Community of the Zhonghua Race is remarkably frank about the need for a course correction. Departing from the Party’s call for “positive energy” (China Media Project, April 16. 2021), it speaks of “deep-rooted problems” that “pose a serious challenge” to regime security. This includes not only the “three evil forces” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism, which are stoked from abroad, but also “ideological misunderstandings” and “erroneous views” inside the country. “Some regions,” we are told, are hyping the peculiarities of minority cultures to promote “backward and strange customs and habits” while “some people” are “deliberately accentuating the identity of ethnic minorities, diluting the identity of the Zhonghua race, and consciously or unconsciously ignoring the commonality of the Zhonghua race” (p. 336).

In particular, the textbook is critical of past preferential policies for minorities. It argues they “deviated from their original intention” and “solidified ethnic differences and fostered a narrow ethnic consciousness that gave rise to the false thesis of ‘ethnic minority exceptionalism’” (p. 340). This has caused “some minorities”—again left unnamed, but the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Mongols are the obvious referent—to distort their histories and “use the protection of cultural diversity to cling to backward ways of life and stereotypes.”

In the past, the Party spent too much time “managing the stomach (管肚子),” naïvely believing economic development would solve all its problems, and not enough time “managing the brain (管脑子).” This second phrase is code for more “thought reform (洗脑),” or what the Party euphemistically called “transformation through education (教育转化)” during the mass internment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang’s re-education camps (China Brief, May 15, 2018). “Thought reform” also implies the doubling-down on patriotic subjects in education for all students, from preschool to university (China Brief, December 10, 2019).

The Teleology of National Becoming

At its core, the 377-page textbook contains 13 “lectures” on Chinese history. It also contains several introductory and summary chapters outlining the meaning, significance, and implications of the new guiding policy formulation for nation-building work under Xi Jinping, which is called “forging of the communal consciousness of the Zhonghua race (铸牢中华民族共同体意识).”

The historical imaginary behind this molding process is deeply influenced by the late sociologist Fei Xiaotong (费孝通), and his dialectic reading of the “multiple origins, single body (多元一体)” structure of Chinese racial evolution (Aisixiang, August 22, 2010). The ambiguity and double-speak of Fei’s idiom permits different interpretations. Prior to the Xi era, the concept was often translated into English as “unity in diversity” or “diversity in unity” to highlight the rich heterogeneity of the PRC’s fifty-six “nationalities” and their distinct languages, cultures, and religious practices. Today, the “unity” side of Fei’s dyad is paramount, as is a distinct teleology underpinning the Party’s reading of history—namely, from multiple origins toward a single Han-centric geo-body.

The Zhonghua race, according to this theory, emerged some two million years ago with a distinctly Chinese group of hominids. It then organically grew by drawing in and absorbing surrounding peoples into its superior Huaxia-cum-Han core, expanding in size and geographic distribution without either interruption or division. Like a giant “snowball (雪球)” in Fei Xiaotong’s words. In this story of national becoming, Tibetan, Mongol, Uyghur, and other indigenous peoples exist only in their genetic service to an eternally evolving, Han-centric “mega-community (超大规模共同体).”

The textbook offers veiled criticism of Western sinologists, the so-called “new Qing historians” who include Mark Elliott and James Millward. These historians highlight the ruptures, division, and diversity in China’s past. To the textbook’s authors, however, this is an incorrect, “de-sinicized (去中国化)” view of history. Unlike the West, it is claimed, China never engaged in colonial expansion or cultural hegemony. Rather, the tolerance, peace, and openness of Zhonghua civilization led to its natural growth. It therefore surpasses the clash of civilizations, colonialism and plundering, and law of the jungle. China, the textbook argues, pioneered a “new pattern of human civilization,” one that transcends both the superstructure of the empire and nation-state (p. 355).

The Han Coagulate Core

There are hidden contradictions lurking behind the conception of history in Pan Yue’s textbook. On the one hand, there is a desire to see unity as organic, even primordial—rooted in the very blood and soil of China’s past. On the other hand is the insistence on the Party’s urgent need to actively “forge” this collective consciousness. All Party members, we are told, must play an active role in “guiding” PRC citizens to hold the “correct” view of the past, its inalienability, and the necessity for all ethnic groups to “identify with and be loyal to” the Zhonghua race and its nation-state. “The Zhonghua race is absolutely not an ‘imagined community,’” the authors write, “but rather a mega-national community imbued with the traditions of more than 5000 years of Chinese civilization” (p. 4).

The book criticizes the racism of Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Party during the Republican era, yet deploys a remarkably similar argument to the one present in Chiang’s 1943 book China’s Destiny. [4] The Zhonghua race might not share a single progenitor, but its fused cultures, geographies, and most importantly, bloodlines allegedly render individual origins and homelands irrelevant. A shared consanguinity is the core of the Zhonghua race and the nation. Chinese civilization, the textbook argues, is built on a “foundation of blood ties” that gave rise to a shared political community around 5000 years ago. The term “blood (血)” is used 65 times, with frequent reference to inter-minzu marriages, cultural fusion, inter-regional migration, and “intertwined bloodlines (血脉相连)” across Chinese history.

Like other modern Chinese leaders, Xi Jinping frequently evokes the “large family (大家庭)” metaphor in explaining the relationship between the Han and minority nationalities (Xinhua, September 27, 2019). When Mao Zedong employed the same metaphor at the founding of the PRC, we are told, he was seeking to “reveal the blood relationship of the Zhonghua national family, in which you are in me, and I am in you, and no one can be separated from the other” (p. 323).

Families are often hierarchical and power lies in the patriarch. Although it goes unmentioned, the Huaxia-cum-Han people of the Central Plains are the obvious head of the Zhonghua family. Their large sedentary population, mature written language, and sophisticated political system are not only the core of Chinese civilization but also its racial “coagulate (凝聚),” drawing in, and literally “absorbing (吸收)” surrounding peoples to create today’s organic whole (pp. 103-4).

The Four Relationships: Subordinating Minorities

Han interests are synonymous with those of the nation and the race in Xi’s China. Several years ago, Party officials coined a new term, “the four relationships (四个关系),” [5] to ensure minority communities “correctly grasp” this new reality and their subordinate position within the Han-centric social order (Qiushi, August 30, 2021). These relationships were briefly mentioned in the readout of a 2021 speech by Xi Jinping (Xinhua, August 28, 2021), and are now foregrounded in the introduction to Pan Yue’s textbook.

First, there is the relationship between commonality and difference, where “commonality is dominant, and difference cannot weaken or jeopardize commonality.” Commonality, the textbook declares, “is supreme, the direction, the prerequisite, and fundamental, while respect for and protection of difference is needed, but not to solidify and strengthen ethnic differences, let alone allow difference to impede national integration” (p. 9).

Second, there is the relationship between the consciousness of each ethnic group and the shared consciousness of the Zhonghua race. While the two go “hand in hand,” they are not equal. Rather, the overall interest of the Zhonghua race must come first, and the consciousness of each ethnic group “should be subordinate to and serve the consciousness of the Zhonghua race’s community” (Ibid.).

Third, there is the relationship between Zhonghua culture and the cultures of various ethnic groups. “Zhonghua culture is the backbone, and the cultures of all ethnic groups are the branches and leaves. Only when the roots are deep and the trunk is strong can the branches and leaves flourish” (Ibid.). When the textbook talks about the “protection and inheritance” of minority cultures, it mentions food, clothing, song, and dance—the sort of performative “ethnic color” that lacks authenticity and agency—while more meaningful minority languages and religious practices must be sinicized.

Finally, there is the relationship between the material and the spiritual. “Economic and social development does not naturally bring about national unity,” the textbook states. Instead, Party leaders (and teachers in particular) must be “engineers of the soul (人类灵魂的工程师)” (Xinhua, September 10, 2018). They must actively mold the thought, argot, behavior, and bodies of all PRC citizens, with minority nationalities requiring special attention due to their perceived backwardness.

Autonomy Cancelled and Homelands Erased

The Party has retained the concept and system of “regional ethnic autonomy (民族区域自治).” In his 2014 speech, Xi called it the “fountainhead (源头)” of the Party’s nation-building work despite repeated calls for its revision or abandonment by Chinese scholars like Ma Rong (NEAC, November 15, 2014; Beida, October 7, 2019). [6] With legal protection for minority languages and cultures now falling into desuetude, the textbook claims regional autonomy is actually about “safeguarding unity and solidary” through a series of regional support programs (p. 6). These colonial-style projects, known as “Aid Xinjiang (援疆)” and “Aid Tibet (援藏),” have scaled up dramatically over the last decade (Nanfang Magazine, April 2, 2022). They bring more Han money, talent, and culture into the frontier while breaking down the barriers to what the textbook calls “an interdependent economic organism” (p. 40).

Autonomous regions no longer belong to a single nationality, but rather are “places shared by people of all ethnic groups throughout the country” (p. 322). By insisting on the term Xizang (西藏) in place of Tibet, and promoting regional identities like “Xinjianger (新疆人),” the Party is erasing Tibetan and Uyghur sovereignties, and reneging on its previous promise to treat these places as autonomous homelands.

While core concepts like autonomy are being reinterpreted, others are being adjusted to alter their meaning. In the past, the system of regional autonomy was said to “fully guarantee” that minority nationalities were “masters of their own house (当家作主)” while “safeguarding their legal rights and interests (保障少数民族合法权益)” (People’s Daily, August 7, 2007). Now, the textbook informs its readers, autonomy is about “ensuring all ethnic groups can be joint masters of their house (各民族共同当家作主)” (p. 17) in order to “better safeguard the legal rights and interests of the masses of all ethnic groups” (p. 9). This rhetorical sleight of hand violates the spirit and letter of the 2001 Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, rendering it null and void (AsianLII, accessed May 17).


Another cultural revolution is in full swing in the PRC. This is not the purported class revolution Mao advocated in the past, but rather a wave of Han cultural and racial nationalism. By distorting past promises, policies, and histories, Pan Yue’s textbook seeks to reconstruct a myth of Han-centrism, one that renders the now-hollow guarantee of minority rights in the PRC Constitution and Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy a mere ornamental fig leaf for Han settler colonialism and indigenous dispossession in once sovereign homelands. Today, there is only one master in the house—Xi Jinping, the chairman of a new Han empire.


[1] Book’s Writing Team (本书编写组), An Introduction to the Community of the Zhonghua Race (中华民族共同体概论). Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe, 2024.

[2] The term “Communist multiculturalism” was coined by Susan McCarthy in her 2009 book Communist Multiculturalism: Ethnic Revival in Southwest China (Seattle: University of Washington Press). In a recent essay for CSIS exploring ideological shifts under Xi Jinping, Wang Jisi (王缉思) notes Xi’s promotion of Chinese civilization and history, and argues it seeks “to mobilize Chinese nationalism (essentially Han nationalism) as a powerful resource in the service of the CPC’s campaign of ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” See Wang Jisi, “The Reshaping of China’s Ideology and its Implications for International Studies,” in US-China Scholarly Recoupling, ed. Scott Kennedy (Washington DC: CSIS, 2023).

[3] The Chinese term minzu (民族) is notoriously difficult to parse and deeply polysemic across the course of its 100+ years as a part of Chinese discourse. During the early years of the PRC, it was commonly rendered as “nationality,” in keeping with the emphasis on multi-ethnic identification and representation as a part of the Marxist-Bolshevik discourse on the “national question” (民族问题). In more recent years, these groups have been re-labeled “ethnicities” as the Party sought to distinguish between officially recognized “ethnic minorities” (少数民族) and the collective “Chinese nation/race” (中华民族). The textbook offers its own overloaded definition of minzu, stating this “Han term (汉语)” mixes three Western connotations: first, race (种族), which only looks at physical factors such as skin color and blood; second, ethnic group (族群), which emphasizes common factors such as history, religion, language, and subjective identity; and third, nation (民族), which corresponds to the state, and emphasizes political commonalities such as “sovereignty, territory, and population” (p. 32). In short, depending on the context, the term can be used to index a range of different English concepts, and to accurately convey those meanings across CCP discourse, I have used a range of English glosses and sometimes leave it untranslated in my text.

[4] Chiang Kai-shek, China’s Destiny and Chinese Economic Theory. Brill, 2013.

[5] The textbook uses a slightly different formulation: “four pairs of relationships” (四对关系).

[6] In a recent essay, retired Beijing professor Guan Fengxiang speculates Pan Yue is pushing for a new law that would abolish the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, citing a “tidal wave” of unnamed social media comments. See Guan Fengxiang (关风祥), “The Time-Space Misalignment in Pan Yue’s Theory of National Fusion” (潘岳“民族融合论”的时空错乱), China in Perspective, 25 July 2022.