What You Need to Know About Chinese Minority Students

As international credential evaluators or international admission officers, I know you regularly work with documents submitted by Chinese students. But do you know the ethnic background of these Chinese students? Do you know that the transcript from a minority student might be different than other students even though they graduated from the same class at the same university?

China is a multi-ethnic state with 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups. Among these groups, Han Chinese is the largest, constituting about 91.5% of China’s total population.  The rest of the 55 ethnic groups are officially recognized as minority groups, including Zhuang, Hui, Manchu, Uyghur, Miao, Yi , Tujia, Tibetan, and Mongol. 

To promote educational achievements of minority groups, China’s central government has made a number of policies in favor of minority students, such as lowering the admission standards, especially at the post-secondary level. 

Higher education institutions are encouraged to make academic regulations for the benefit of minority students. Some institutions offer pre-university or preparatory classes for minority high school graduates, which is usually one year in length. Those who successfully graduate from the preparatory classes are directly admitted to undergraduate programs. Some institutions have separate classes and different academic requirements for minority undergraduate students. For example, Wuhan University allows minority students to graduate from bachelor’s programs with fewer credits than the majority Han students. Minority students at Minzu University of China can have their credits earned during the preparatory year transferred to regular undergraduate programs.  Shandong University even has a lower minimum exam passing grade for minority students. 

That being said, if you come across a Chinese undergraduate transcript with a significantly lower credit amount than you normally see from the same Chinese school, or there are some general education courses missing from the transcript, it doesn’t necessarily raise a red flag. But how can you tell if this unusual transcript is from a minority student? Here are a couple tips. 

First, you can check and see if ethnicity is indicated on the educational documents submitted. The Chinese characters for ethnicity are “民族”, so the characters followed by“民族” will be the ethnic group name. The character for the majority group of Han is “汉”; everything else will be a minority group. 

Second, you can see if the student’s name is spelled differently than what you normally see. The most common Chinese family names are Wang, Chen, Li, Zhang, Liu, Yang, Huang, Wu, and Lin. These are traditional Han Chinese family names, which are usually simple and short monosyllables. A lot of minority groups have more complex names with two or more syllables. For example, Yangchen Drolma and Alan Dawazhoima are famous singers of Tibetan ethnicity. Negmat Rahman and Dilraba Dilmurat are Chinese celebrities with Uyghur ethnic background.

It is worth mentioning that many ethnic minorities in China have changed their traditional ethnic names to Han-style names over time. Therefore, students with names like San Zhang or Si Li could also be an ethnic minority.  In that case, and if ethnicity is not indicated on the educational documents submitted, you may ask the student for an official explanation letter from the school. 

Jade Jiang Rieger has been an Evaluator at ECE since 2013. Her specialty areas include East Asia and North America. She is a native of Guangxi, China.



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