Media abroad: China

China has no ethnic diversity problem and that’s official. Well it may sound like simple propaganda, but it is not completely way off the mark. Given that stance, China has no visible affirmative action or positive discrimination policies for the media.

Country boasts a population that is 90% to 95% Han Chinese, depending on your source. That leaves no more than at best a tenth of the population who aren’t part of the racial mainstream and belong to one of the other 55 officially-recognized ethnic groups. Most live in very rural and far-flung areas.

This being China, and the numbers so large, picture is bound to be more nuanced than the party line. First that means a minority of some 50 million people. Second, government policy is to celebrate ethnic diversity while simultaneously pursuing assimilation.

Official news agency Xinhua recently announced that Mandarin Chinese has united the country and is now spoken by all the national groups.

“Mandarin has become the de facto lingua franco for all Chinese regardless of their ethnic origins,” said Wu Sashimi, deputy director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission. That comes after 50 years of central government measures to promote Beijing-dominated Putonghua (“common language”) as Mandarin is called locally.

At the same time Education Ministry says that 53 ethnic languages still exist, 28 have written forms and that 60 million people use languages other than Putonghua among themselves. Often, ethnic affiliation and need for particular paperwork has been used to discourage internal urban migration.

Given the half century drive to unify and modernize China through a single language, recognition of local diversity tends to take a paternalistic or colonial approach. Nationwide TV, as broadcast by the CCTV state monopoly, carries untold celebratory docu strands looking at handicrafts, costumes and foods of the different groups.

That celebratory approach is a long way from hiring a Mongolian to read the CCTV news or the development of game-shows deliberately accentuating racial differences.

Programming becomes more specialized and more ethnically sensitive in the regional broadcast markets. Country boasts 9,000 TV channels in the public and private sectors and growing injection of commercial concerns means that many are having to seek auds and ratings in ways recognizable elsewhere around the world.

The centralized “aren’t they quaint” approach, however, need not be synonymous with content boredom. Biggest show of the year is often the dancing, skits and musical interludes that make up the five-hour “Spring Festival Show” on CCTV at Chinese New Year. Some 600 million people regularly tune in.

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