BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese children will study "ethnic unity" from primary school, the Education Ministry said at the end of an Olympic year marred by violent riots in Tibet and unrest in the northwestern Muslim Xinjiang region.
An outline of the new policy suggested Beijing is worried about discontent among minority groups, although its policies in regions like Tibet, which have attracted foreign criticism, are widely supported at home by a generation of vocal nationalists.
The new classes will run all the way through school, with high school students getting up to 14 hours a year to help them "recognize the superiority of our government and Communist Party's ethnic policies," and ensure they reflect them in their work.
Primary school children should learn a "basic awareness of the vital nature of 'encouraging ethnic unity, protecting national unity and opposing ethnic separatism,'" said a summary of the policy posted on the ministry website (www.moe.edu.cn).
Older children would gain a "correct understanding" of government and Party policy, while those in high school would also be expected to have a firm grasp on basic theory about "ethnic problems" and "establish a Marxist outlook on ethnicity."
China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups with the dominant Han Chinese making up over 90 percent of the population. Most minorities either have small populations or have largely been assimilated.
But there are still areas where widespread resentment among non-Han, who fear their culture, religion and language are threatened by Beijing's rule, flares up into occasional violence.
Tibet ignited into deadly riots in March, which were followed by a harsh crackdown and boosted global interest in the demands of exiles for greater autonomy or even independence.
This contributed to anti-China demonstrations along international legs of the Olympic torch route, which in turn incensed many Chinese and created a diplomatic headache for Beijing ahead of the Games.
Then, just days before the opening ceremony, a deadly attack on border police by alleged Muslim separatists shook remote Xinjiang. The government labeled militants seeking to set up an independent "East Turkestan" homeland for the Uighur ethnic group as one of the top security threats for the Games.
China's constitution guarantees religious freedom and equal treatment for all minorities, but both Tibetans and Uighurs regularly complain that their worship is restricted and they are discriminated against in everything from hotels to employment.
Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie