Violence in Xinjiang: The View from Linjiang City, Jilin / 临江市

Views of Xinjiang violence from other ethnic zones

Often lost in the shuffle of news reports about Xinjiang is inter-minority relations; that is to say, how do various other Chinese minorities, or shaoshu minzu / 少数民族 view the actions in Xinjiang?  This would seem to be a consequential question for the CCP and for foreign observers who prognosticate future fragmentation for the PRC.  After all, “a spark can start a prairie fire,” and social movements have in the past shown a strange propensity to mingle together in opposition to the party-state.

In short, I think the answer is that the Uighurs have received no moral or physical support from their fellow minority groups.  In fact, it might be said that the Uighurs are hardly seen as meritorious or justified in their actions by other minority groups.  Skepticism towards the Uighurs among, say, ethnic Koreans, may be due to Xinhua’s clever and persistent reporting which fails to give readers/viewers any idea of the genesis of the rebellion (the “spark” applied at the factory brawl in Guangzhou in June) and portrays the rioters as elements of a foreign power.  Or it may be due to a certain passivity in China’s political milieu: why does this person stand up, make a ruckus, and thereby raise the level of surveillance on me?

(The same phenomenon emerges in conversations with practicing Buddhists and Tai Qi teachers in northeast China about Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong; the very constituency which might support his right to practice his religion has fallen under suspicion due to Li’s agitations, and thus complain about him, rather than the state authorities who are presumably justified in their crackdowns. )

But what about in Tibet?  Has any serious reporting come out of Lhasa or Dharamsala in the aftermath of July 7 to suggest that the Uighurs have developed linkages with, or borrowed techniques from, Tibetan resistance to Han assimilation?  Again, I believe it is unlikely.  Particularly at a time when the Uighurs are being demonized by the CCP media, even if they harbored some kind of latent emotional support for their northwestern metaphorical brethren, the Tibetans would be irrational to express it.   And one can only imagine that the riots in Xinjiang set the police in Lhasa and Qinghai a bit on edge.  If any readers have seen reporting on this issue, please comment!

Linjiang City Hall; it lights up at night in mockery of the North Koreans across the river
Linjiang City Hall; it lights up at night in mockery of the North Koreans across the river

I was fortunate to spend an extended period in June and early July in the border regions between the PRC and the DPRK (North Korea), meaning that I was reading about and trying to process the Xinjiang violence in that extreme northeastern milieu.

Putting on my shoes at a public bath in Linjiang, Jilin province, a little city on the upper reaches of the Yalu river, I participated in the following conversation:

40-something Han guy mopping the floor [40HG]: “Hey, did you hear about the revolt in Xinjiang?”

Youngish American professor [YAP]: “No.  What happened?”

40HG: “Oh, a bunch of terrorists came in and starting killing people; it was really bad.”

YAP: “Really?”

40HG: “Yes, I saw it on television; then it was on the Global Times website too.”

Matronly Korean cashier [MKC]:  “Terrorists?  Was it the, the Dalai Lama?”

40HG: “The Dalai Lama? No he’s in Xizang [Tibet], not Xinjiang.”

MKC: “Ohhhhh, I thought it was him.  Wasn’t he the big terrorist?”

40HG: “Sure, but not with this thing.  He’s in Tibet.”

YAP: “So what’s happening now?”

40HG: [Smiling]  “Oh, the government is smashing them [真压他们]; it’s not going to last long.”

Later that night, a major rain cleared out most people from a big outdoor market.  Underneath a tent whose pockets were sagging deeply with water, I had a long conversation with a noodle-maker about international politics which touched on Xinjiang.  “This is a small thing [就是个小事],” he said dismissively of the Uighur action.  “The government will handle it and it will be over soon.”   His eyes blazed a bit, but not in support of some revolution. He then turned back to complain about policy privileges granted to Korean minorities in his small city.

Although Xinhua sought to whip up sentiment on this issue and link the Uighurs to foreign wirepullers (more on that subsequently), it appears that the violence in Xinjiang is stimulating nowhere near the passions that the Tibetan uprising did in spring of 2008.

1 Comment

  1. Xinjiang is a land of many of ethnic groups, though. I think it wouldn’t be fair to say that many Kazakh [哈萨克族], Krygz [柯尔克孜族], etc. who also live in Urumqi and Xinjiang don’t sympathize or share some of the same attitudes as the Uighurs.

    Anyways, this is just a small point to make.

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