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Sept. 23, 2020, 10:38 p.m. EDT

China uproots ethnic-minority villages, calling it part of a drive to eradicate extreme poverty

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By Associated Press

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Craftspeople sell silver jewelry, painted cow skulls and traditional clothing that are popular with Han tourists. Yi women can study to become nannies, a profession in demand in urban China, in classes taught with pink plastic dolls.

Roadside signs call on people to speak the official language: “Mandarin, please, after you enter kindergarten.” “Speak Mandarin well, it’s convenient for everyone.” “Everyone speaks Mandarin, flower of civilization blooms everywhere.”

Murals on buildings depict the Yi with members of the Han majority in amicable scenes. One shows a baby holding a heart emblazoned with the ruling party’s hammer-and-sickle symbol.

In one village, Xujiashan, annual household income has risen from 1,750 yuan ($260) in 2014 to 11,000 yuan ($1,600), according to its deputy secretary, Zhang Lixin.

Development initiatives can lead to political tension because many have strategic goals such as strengthening control over minority areas by encouraging nomads to settle or diluting the local populace with outsiders.

In Inner Mongolia, students boycotted classes this month over plans to replace Mongolian-language textbooks with Chinese ones.

The party faces similar complaints that it is suppressing local languages in Tibet and the Muslim region of Xinjiang in the northwest. Xinjiang’s Han party secretary said in 2002 the language of the Uighurs, its most populous ethnic group, was “out of step with the 21st century” and should be abandoned in favor of Mandarin.

The party boss for Liangshan Prefecture acknowledged its initiative isn’t purely economic.

Authorities want to eliminate “outdated habits,” said the official, Lin Shucheng. He listed complaints about extravagant dowries, too many animals butchered for funerals and poor hygiene.

“We are fighting against traditional forces of habit,” he said.

At the same time, ruling party officials say they are preserving Nuosu, a Yi language, through bilingual education in schools and government support for a Nuosu newspaper and TV show.

“We protect and promote the learning, use and development of the Yi language,” the provincial party secretary, Peng, told reporters.

The party might be willing to promote Nuosu because, unlike in Tibet or Xinjiang, the Yi demand no political change, said Stevan Harrell, a University of Washington anthropologist who has spent more than three decades visiting and studying the region.

“There is no ‘splittism’ in Liangshan,” Harrell said, using the party’s term for activists who want more autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang.

“So it is kind of safe to have the Yi language as a medium of education,” said Harrell. “And it scores points for the government against those people who rightly point out that Uighur and Tibetan languages are being severely suppressed.”

The region, like the rest of China, reeled from the coronavirus outbreak, said Lin, the Liangshan party boss. But he said anti-poverty work was back on track and authorities were confident they could meet official deadlines.

Older villagers welcome the jump in living standards.

“You can eat whatever you like now,” said Wang Deying, an 83-year-old grandmother of five. “Now even the pigs eat rice.”

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