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Reducing Ethnic Minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet to Folklore

Xinjiang, China and Tibet

by Emmanuel Serna

Published December 2023

China, in the name of national unity and modernization, has reduced its ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet solely to their folklore to display them to tourists in search of exoticism.

China is comprised of 56 nationalities including the Han, the majority ethnic group (90% of the population), which dominates the others. The remaining 55 are considered national minorities because they speak a non-Chinese language, (8.4% of the population).

Despite their low demographic weight, minorities have major geopolitical importance, because they occupy more than 60% of the territory. Tibet and Xinjiang are particularly sensitive areas because of their borders and their important natural resources. Hence both the economic and strategic challenges for the central government to control them.

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China radically changed its approach to minority management: abandoning autonomy in favor of assimilation by imposing the lifestyle of the Han majority and communist ideology in order to integrate them into the Chinese nation.

The result is depoliticization, erasure of religion, cultural and linguistic assimilation and reduction of local cultures to simple folklore now considered a national asset, capable of attracting tourists and income.

Emmanuel Serna

Emmanuel Serna is a French photographer born in 1973, based in Hong Kong. After graduating from a photography school in Paris (CE3P), he devoted himself to photography in the Balkans: Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia, documenting the after-effects of civil wars on civilian populations. He also worked in Eastern Europe: Romania and Turkey where he was interested in minorities and daily life.

Since 2010, he has lived and worked in Hong Kong where he concentrates his work as well as in mainland China.

In his personal work, he is interested in themes of daily life, leisure, tourism and social or ethnic minorities. He likes to photograph individuals, their relationships with each other and with their environment as well as the traces they leave on it.

His photos have been exhibited in individual and group exhibitions in France, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In addition to his personal work, he fulfills orders for editorial and commercial clients and follows news from Hong Kong. Some of his reports have been published in magazines, newspapers, and online media.

In 2016 he was one of six finalists for the WYNG Masters Award Identity and in 2017 he was nominated for the Magnum Foundation Fund.

He is a member of the Divergence Images association of photographers and a collaborator of the Sopa Images photo agency.

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