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July 07, 2009


Fellow Traveller

The Chinese state obviously senses an opportunity here to gain favour with the West by pointing out that it too has an unruly Muslim minority violently and senselessly attacking the dominant ethnic group. It would seem that the Western media has gone along with this presentation without asking any questions, just as it did over the last 8 years with its own governments.


I think you're wrong on this one, Jamie. I'm getting first-hand accounts of massive anti-Han violence from people I trust, who spoke to witnesses directly in turn. I'll put some of up tomorrow, after I see what I can run in the newspaper (working for the English edition of Global Times now).


Thanks James: send us a link when you're done. Also, I'll put up anything here that they won't take over there.


I'm getting first-hand accounts of massive anti-Han violence from people I trust, who spoke to witnesses directly in turn.

So, second-hand accounts, then?


Well I was drawing on accounts written by journalists, filtered by editors and drawing on Chinese and Ughur sources themselves relying on what they had been told and, quite possibly involving translators, fixers, handlers and gofers with whatever agendas of their own. "Second hand" is a decided improvement on that.


I find China Daily's take on it a little unpersuasive:
Uygur victims of south China toy factory brawl condemn Xinjiang riot
"I believe the government will handle the brawl appropriately," Turdi said. "Why did the rioters destroy our beautiful and peaceful Xinjiang region in such cruel manners?"



First-hand in the sense of 'they recorded the interviewees and then passed them on to me.' Including, interestingly, a Mongolian attacked in the riots, who must count as one of the few ethnically unbiased folk in the region.


China needs a Putin who can speak the language seperatists and terrorists understant.


Yeah, they've been too soft on these disloyal subjects. Thanks for that, Colonel Blimp.


Bunch of stuff blocked today as a result - Twitter, Facebook, etc. (Which is why I'm on Freegate right now ...)


When the BBC show pictures of a Uighur man being chased by a mob in Guangdong, Quentin Somerville finishes by saying "We can't show you what happens next"; but they could at least report it.

Madam Miaow

Oh, yes, Blinded1. What China really needs is its own Chechnya ...


Given the police and PLA's tendency to treat Xinjiang as a free-fire zone, that's not so far away. As in Tibet, there don't seem to be too many restraints on the use of deadly force.

Question - has anyone seen any account of the role of mosques or the Moslem clergy in these events? The only report I've seen spoke of protesters meeting outside the main mosque in Kashgar, but that implied it was for its geographical location rather than anything else.


If anyone's in the market for some really down-and-dirty Kissingerian realism, I'd tentatively advance that what we're seeing here is a classic "anti-ethnic-Chinese riot", well known from the development stories across SouthEast Asia. Going by mainstream news reports, it seems like the Han in Xinjiang have established themselves as a wealthy, prominently economically successful ethnic group in an area undergoing rapid but unbalanced development. This is always a dangerous group to be a member of (I seem to remember reading a really good article by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism about analogies between the SE Asian ethnic Chinese and European Jews), and the traditional coping strategies of the ethnic Chinese (keep your head down, never appear in the newspapers, stay out of politics other than a limited representation in local pro-business parties) aren't really open to the Chinese in China.

But since the development model for places like Xinjiang was more or less explicitly based on the overseas-Chinese success story and assuming that in Stafford Beer's phrase "the purpose of a system is what it does", rather than what people connected to it like to say it's meant to do, it strikes me that these sorts of riots are basically part of the plan. Occasional massacres of ethnic Chinese were more or less intentionally used as a political safety valve by generations of despotic rulers across SE Asia and I'd be tempted to argue that they're going to be used to perform the same function in China itself.


I'm becoming inclined to agree with the first part of this (see also Amy Chua's World on Fire)with the added complication of the Bingtuan - the huge military/economic development corporation which basically runs the place and exists outside the normal reporting structure of the Party state (Xinjiang is actually "autonomous" in the sense that India under the East India Company was).

"Occasional massacres of ethnic Chinese were more or less intentionally used as a political safety valve by generations of despotic rulers across SE Asia "

But never by actual Chinese governments. I think the Shougang riots in Guangdong are the catalyst for this and I wonder what Rebiya Kadeer's people were saying about that incident. I've not been able to check this in detail but I think the Party apparat in Xinjiang cleave to Hu's own CYL faction in the Party, which may be why he's in such a hurry to get back. That's te second time his proteges have screwed up in a major way after Tibet last year.

"...has anyone seen any account of the role of mosques or the Moslem clergy in these events? "

Given the way the mosques are controlled in China, I'd imagine very little. Hui Muslims were also attacked by the Uighurs, as they were by Tibetans last year. In both places they have the reputation of being ultra-loyalist to China. Religion here is a subset of ethnic identity.


dsquared - there's a slight difference in that your classic Asian anti-Chinese riot (as in Indonesia) has something of the pogrom about it - by which I mean tacit support or non-interference by security forces - and that certainly hasn't been the case here.

In fact, I'd argue the other way: the safety valve in this case is the Han violence against the Uighurs. The whole thing is supposed to have been kicked off by an anti-Uighur riot in Guangdong, and there seems to be a slight difference in the treatment of the Han, who are freely parading in hundreds with spears and clubs, and the Uighurs, who are being flattened by the PSP and the PLA. Better the Han beat up Uighurs when they feel hard done by than local Party officials.

Remember that the Han are, from the Uighur point of view at least, not the sort of "clever-with-money clannish minority" - the "Jews of Asia", they've been called - that they're seen as in other Asian countries. They're the incomers - they're a majority in Xinjiang IIRC - brought in explicitly as an instrument of social dominance and control into a recently acquired and fractious province.


Better the Han beat up Uighurs when they feel hard done by than local Party officials.

So, essentially classic fascism then? Just take your alienated rage and beat up themmuns over there...

Richard J

I wouldn't call it fascism - more time honoured techniques of riot control on the cheap. What fascism uniquely brought to the mix was the idea that you could start and stop the third force mob on command.


They're the incomers - they're a majority in Xinjiang IIRC - brought in explicitly as an instrument of social dominance and control into a recently acquired and fractious province.

Oh great, Ulstermen.

Richard J

Does that mean we're due the Apprentice Boys of Xinjiang any time soon then?

(BTW, what exactly does MGI stand for...?)


"Mass Group Incident", which is the Chinese term for any large unauthorised gathering. The MGI watch stuff here goes back to 2005. I really shoukd put them in categories sometime.


I wonder what effect the killings are going to have on Han settlement? A lot of the Han population in Urumqi are very recent settlers; for the most part it's not a really long-term, pied noir-esque population. Their links to the region are often relatively shallow, and the extent of the violence - especially if it continues on a smaller backstreet-murder type scale - is going to act as a pretty big deterrent to staying long-term (or coming in the first place.)

I'm waiting on various editorial/authorial shenanigans before we can publish the piece I got from a Xinjiangnese Han writer yesterday (American-educated, liberal, young. From the witnesses she cites and elsewhere, it looks like

a) the rioters were young ('voices cracking as they screamed')
b) the vast majority of the 156 victims were Han
c) the scale and nature of the violence - hands chopped off, beatings of eighty-year old women, teenage girls having their faces slashed, at least one case of a child being killed - is reminiscent of anti-colonial mass violence - 1857 in India, or, perhaps most pertinently, Algeria.
d) there were gang-rapes, which the authorities are avoiding highlighting for obvious reasons (oil on flames)

There's a lot of allegations flying around of the involvement of Muslim fundamentalist groups in inciting the riots, some of which seem at least semi-plausible.

From conversations with Chinese, a lot of anger about the Uighur ('ungrateful for everything we've done'/'get special favours from the authorities'/'dirty thieves') The second part, of course, is true - there are reserved places and other affirmative action type policies, you can have more kids, etc - and the Chinese are largely oblivious to the softer types of ethnic discrimination, and totally oblivious to the idea that Uighur nationalism might have any legitimacy.


Re: dirty thieves - the typical Uighur, from an outside-of-Xinjiang POV, is basically a street-corner spiv. There's no - at least, I can't think of any - prominent Uighur entertainers, businessmen etc that the average Han knows. (The only one there was, of course, got arrested and exiled.)


@JamesP - The only Uyghur figure I can think of that a large number of Han might be familiar with would be the Afunti, who's really based on Nasreddin.

Other than that, I agree with pretty much everything you've said. Han genuinely seem, by and large, not to have any notion that the "spoiled, ungrateful" Uyghurs might have any legitimate grievance -- though this is true of Han attitudes to pretty much any ethnic minority.
Hadn't heard the reports of gang-rapes. Really, really hope those don't get out: I'm still hoping to visit Xinjiang later in the month, and 看热闹 aside it'd be nice if the ugly race riots had ended by then. Especially since I'm going to be stuck speaking Chinese the whole while.


I may be about to inadvertently ruin your holiday, Brendon - we're fact-checking the story now. I doubt very much that the references to the gang-rapes will survive editing and/or censorship though.


Yes, the reports of ad hoc groups of Han attacking Uighur targets are very Battle of Algiers-ish.
I am surprised by those casualty figures from what was basically a Uighur demonstration turning into a riot, with attacks on police and Han civilians - I'd have thought that there would be a lot of Uighur rioters showing up having been injured by the police. Maybe they've been taken elsewhere.


Here's the piece -



Thanks, James. So it's all the fault of those nasty foreign agitators then? The Chinese government is really our ally in the global struggle against Islamic terrorism? Nice to know.

Richard J

I think it's possible to strip out the interpretative framework in that letter and still get something of an idea of what's going on...


Possible, but highly risky. I wouldn't recommend it.


Well, there *are* genuine Islamic fundamentalist organizations operating in Xinjiang. Whether they actually had anything to do with the riots is another question.

Point remains, though, that what actually happened - not just from the account of the witnesses in the story (whom we called two of to verify) does seem to have been a mass attack by Uighur on Han, not a general clash between the two or a police massacre. This is being supported by every witness account I've seen actually coming out of Xinjiang. I think we're imposing our own preconceptions about what a 'China riot' story.

What it comes down to, in the end, is that this kind of long-built-up anti-colonial violence is *really fucking ugly*, and there's something uncomfortable in the way that a lot of Western media has been easily brushing over the Han victims. I'm sympathetic with people here who feel pissed off over it, even though you then get the swing to the other side, whereby any attempt to analyze *why* young Uighur men might have gone on a killing rampage is seen as excusing it.

Much of the Global Times coverage is a weird exercise in disparate styles, by the way; they imported a lot of the staff over from China Daily or Xinhua, and it shows in places.

(Nothing has quite topped this Xinhua line though -

"Oops! Not again!" was almost the universal response when news of the unrest came Sunday night, when blood tainted Urumqi, with at least 140 lives lost and more than 800 others injured')




There have been reports all over the place of the police firing into Uighur crowds. There's no independent confirmation that the majority of the dead were Han, and there are a lot of missing Uighur men - heaven knows what's happened to them. Note, too, that it's the Uighurs - not the Han - who are fleeing Urumqi.

Look at the null hypothesis. If this was, as jamie suggests, predominantly a case of a police massacre of Uighurs - what exactly would you expect China Daily and other government-owned and -censored titles to publish? "Chinese Police Massacre Innocent Demonstrators"? Yeah, right.


The Uighurs are fleeing Urumqi because the Han formed into mobs the day after the initial violence for *revenge* attacks, and there's still sporadic attacks going on.

If there was a police massacre, then why a) were foreign journalists given far more access than, say, at the Tibetan protests last year, b) are the witnesses reporting attacks by masses of young Uighur men? c) are the bodies in the morgues by all reports mostly/predominantly Han?

I'm sure there are Uighur dead, because violence isn't discriminatory and no doubt the police, when they got their act together, responded in force. Plus there are a huge amount of Uighurs in custody, which is what you'd expect as part of a crackdown after a massive spasm of violence. Now, it's still possible - indeed, given past records, likely - that that was triggered by police brutality towards a protest but all indications are that the vast part of the killings that night was Uighur mobs attacking Han civilians, and that the authorities lost control of the centre of the city entirely for a couple of hours. There's plenty of *real* brutality and excesses by the authorities in China, and there's going to be plenty more to follow in Xinjiang; I don't think there's any need to start inventing imaginary ones.

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