And Finally

Marriage guidance

Xinjiang offers cash to inter-ethnic couples

Youssef, an Uighur woman, holds a dish of Xinjiang noodles as she poses for a photograph at her home in Shanghai

A Uighur woman

Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic Braveheart has been back in the headlines recently thanks to Scotland’s referendum on independence. The BBC says it could come down to “Braveheart or iPads” given 65% of Scots told one poll they’d vote for independence if it made them £500 better off, i.e. the price of an iPad.

And a nationalistic or “Braveheart tendency” is also swinging the vote, the Independent newspaper suggests, as opinion polls show a greater portion of Scottish men support breaking away from the UK.

One quote in Braveheart from Longshanks (Edward I) that relates to the struggle with the Scots was, “If we can’t get them out, we’ll breed them out.” Whether he ever actually imposed prima nocte is a subject historians debate. But in the movie English lords did claim the right to sleep with new Scottish brides on their wedding nights.

The Chinese government has also been focused on population strategy in its restive region of Xinjiang. Back in the 1950s it peopled the region with 100,000 demobilised Han Chinese soldiers and 40,000 women of the same ethnicity (see WiC192). The hope was to gain greater control over a territory historically dominated by the Uighur ethnic group (in the 1940s some parts of Xinjiang broke away from Chinese control, declaring an independent republic).

In 1949 the Han Chinese only made up 6% of Xinjiang’s population. Now they make up nearly half. But some officials want a new betrothal programme to further assimilate the culturally distinct Uighurs into the Chinese nation. Last month, the local government of Qiemo county announced a “big celebratory gift package” to encourage marriage between people of different ethnicity.

Annual payments of Rmb10,000 ($1,628) will be given to couples in which one is a member of an ethnic group and the other a Han Chinese. The bonus is 1.4 times that of per capita incomes in Xinjiang’s rural areas, the Beijing Times reports, and will be available for up to five consecutive years. Additional benefits also accrue with each child reared. Other carrots include housing, healthcare and education subsidies.

“We have different languages and different customs, but we have the same blue sky above our heads,” Qiemo’s deputy Party secretary told Xinhua when he was asked about the new policy.

While ethnic intermarriage is fairly common in other parts of China, it is rare between Uighurs and Han Chinese (about 0.62% of Uighur marriages are with Han). The Hong Kong Economic Times notes there are only 57 mixed-race couples in Qiemo, a county with about 70,000 residents of whom 78% are Uighurs. The policy is experimental, Xinhua suggests. There was no mention of other Xinjiang prefectures following suit.

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