New Book Examines Minority Rights in China

Sociology Professor Lida Nedilsky's New Book

North Park professor delves into themes of religion, multiculturalism, and inequality in the world’s most populous nation

CHICAGO (JUNE 29, 2009) – Sociology professor Lida Nedilsky can’t exactly remember when her fascination with China began, but it has remained a strand of continuity in her studies and her teaching at North Park. It’s not surprising the country is now also the subject of her first book, Marginalization in China: Recasting Minority Politics, released on June 23.

In addition to co-editing the collection of writings with longtime friends S.K. Cheung and Joseph Lee, Nedilsky also contributed two chapters to the volume, which looks at various systems and categories throughout China’s history that have established inequality.

“The theme of minorities is central,” she notes, reflecting her instincts as a social scientist. “This is especially true in areas of conflict, like religion and ethnicity.”

While the book looks at issues that have produced discrimination and brought division among social and religious groups within China, it also brings to light some surprising similarities between the Eastern and Western experience. For instance, in the Daoist religion, individuals are thought to have direct access and connection to the spirits. It’s not unlike a premise that helped spark the Reformation—the Protestant advocacy of direct communication with God and denial of a need for priestly intercessors.

Nedilsky appreciated talking to members of various minority and religious groups in China and witnessing how that process added value to their experiences. “Members of religious groups are not typically interested in talking to other religious groups about how they do things,” she observes. “They may be curious in a doctrinal sense, but not in a social scientific sense.”

The text is challenging read, and Nedilsky expects one difficulty readers may face is bridging the language gap—for Chinese scholars, understanding English, and for English scholars, encountering new Chinese words, characters, and symbols, each of which capture shades of meaning. “Even in various parts of China, there are different characters used to express different things,” explains Nedilsky, who along with her fellow researchers spent a lot of time interviewing and listening to Chinese dialects.

While Nedilsky worked on the book, she used the chapters as a springboard for dialogue in her classes. Now that it’s complete, she anticipates even more fruitful conversations with her students in the future.

“A lot of Americans and North Park students are aware of inequality in our history, but not in other nations’ and other people’s history,” she says. “We need to pay attention to multiculturalism beyond the United States, because issues of minority rights are not distinct to our country, but are being studied worldwide.”