Last week the Chinese Business View reprinted an article (Chinese) from Oriental Outlook about a rush of applications from Han residents of Fengxian county in Shaanxi province to register as members of the Qiang ethnic group. Eric Mu at Danwei has translated choice excerpts:
For many people in Fengxian, this is an exciting piece of news: local Han Chinese whose families have lived in the town for three or more generations can apply to change their registered nationality to Qiang. People who can prove their Qiang heritage also qualify for the nationality change.
[…]The news that qualified people can change their nationality to Qiang was reported by local newspapers. In the articles, it was made clear that “the government will continue to carry out its preferential ethnic policy for Qiang people in education and employment.” [The “ethnic policy” here ranges from granting permission to have more than one child, to lower standards for college admission.]
For many people, the lure of such an ethnic policy is great. Some former residents of Fengxian who heard the news rushed back to deliver their applications. They are now checking their genealogy in the hopes of finding evidence that they have some Qiang heritage.
Meanwhile, rumors circulated that Fengxian was preparing to apply to become a Qiang autonomous county. [Being a minority autonomous region brings special funds from the central government, among other benefits.]
The people of Fengxian do not deny that their efforts to associate themselves with Qiang culture are primarily in the interest of developing the tourism economy. This is despite the fact that before 2008, it was hard to find an authentic Qiang person in town, much less one who could speak the language.
[…]To find more traces of Qiang culture, the Qiang studies expert Zhang Shanyuan was invited to Fengxian. After his investigation, Zhang noted: “Fengxian is indeed a ‘Qiang ethnic hometown’.”
While he was in Fengxian, Zhang read its history and talked with elderly locals, and ultimately found four pieces of evidence of Fengxian’s Qiang identity: roasted tea (罐罐茶), folk songs, vocabulary from the old Qiang dialect, and funeral customs. “The cultural identification, similarity of customs, and shared origin of these pieces of evidence prove that Fengxian has an exceptional connection to the Qiang ethnic group.” In an interview, Zhang said, “That the people of Fengxian were able to learn the Salang dance so quickly, and that they took to it so eagerly, may be a reflection of a genetic affinity.”