Having no special insight into Sunday’s unrest in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, I’m as dependent on media coverage as everyone else, but I’ll try untangling the emerging information.
It appears that what started off as a lynching of two Uighurs in a Guangdong toy factory following false accusations of a gang-rape by a disgruntled worker, has erupted into full-scale riots possibly exeeding those in Tibet. YouTube clips show 3,000 angry protesters confronting an army armed with watercannon and guns. About 160 people have died, with 800 injured and 1,400 arrested.
The Uighurs say they were holding a peaceful demonstration when the army piled in, while Chinese sources say the protesters went on the rampage attacking and killing ethnic Hans.
These events lead to a range of questions: why now? Bush has courted Muslim Uighur insurgents (while locking up others in Gitmo). Is Obama doing the same? With China about to become the world’s number one superpower, is this (cold) war by another means, whereby western proxies fracture the state?
Or has this been brewing a long time? Complaints similar to those we hear from Tibet are of the indigenous Uighurs being overwhelmed and dominated by an influx of Hans who make up the majority of China’s population. Times Online says: “Uighurs feel that Han immigrants to Xinjiang are depriving them of jobs and diluting their unique culture.” They come over ‘ere …
In a debate on the Harmony Central Political Party forum, Elvira G says:
Uyghur is a Central Asian language which has nothing in common with Chinese languages. No one is prevented from speaking it socially but only Standard Mandarin is acceptable in education and business. Mandarin is the language of instruction in all schools throughout China and local languages are only taught as minor subjects.
The introduction of standardised Mandarin and the Simplified Chinese character system in 1954 enabled rapid mass literacy and easy communication throughout China. Standard Mandarin has been so successful that not only was it responsible for an increase of literacy within China of over 30% in a single generation but it has also been willingly adopted by almost all Chinese speakers outside the mainland simply because it is an excellent system.
Islam is recognised as an official religion and subsidised by the state but religious leaders are not permitted use their position to express political opinions.
Elsewhere, Blood & Treasure says that this time the Chinese are allowing the press more leeway in their coverage but the high body count indicates the army has lost it big time. Again. Also, there’s evidence emerging of anti-Han lynchings.
There’s another news round-up here.
Tania Branigan’s video and report for the Guardian say that now the Hans are tooling up in response to attacks. Great. All we need is a spiralling cycle of violence. Like the poet said, Man hands on misery to Man, it deepens like a coastal shelf. This one could run and run.
So is this another clash of civilisations with religion fuelling a Muslim versus Chinese conflict? Or is it about economic imperatives and discrimination? The Chinese government is accused of creaming off the wealth of the region. Not only that but some of these outlying areas (Gansu province) have been subjected to nuclear trials, much the same as Nevada in the US.
China used to be the world’s doormat — drained, pillaged, turned into a nation of junkies when Britain forced it to take opium. Sliced into dim sum by colonialist powers, China has done well to build up its industry and feed its people. But at what cost? I’d like to see it remain whole and invulnerable to further imperialist predations. But now the cracks are showing and the contradictions are there in radioactive neon. Capitalist economic progress comes at a price. Anyone with a basic baby knowledge of Marx knows that.
There is a chauvinist streak in Chinese society that may make it easier to dominate those perceived as inferior due to culture and race. This diminished during the brief communist period when the spirit of internationalism was drummed into everyone. It’s now resurfaced even bigger and weirder than it was before.
There was an alarming episode in BBC’s recent series, The Incredible Human Journey, which showed a Chinese scientist whose idee fixe is to persuade the world that the Chinese evolved from a completely different line of humanity [Peking Man] he claimed diverged over 100,000 years ago, from Homo Erectus, (heh, heh! He said erect …) and not Sapiens. This mad notion has taken hold to the extent that it is taught in some schools and there is even a theme park dedicated to the promotion of the theory.
Luckily, we now have genetics at our disposal. Another Chinese scientist, geneticisit Jin Li, conducted widespread tests and concluded that, no, we are all from the same Homo Sapiens strand that left Africa through the Yemen 70-80,000 years ago. And thank frakk for that. If you saw the sloping forehead and monobrow statues illustrating your supposedly illustrious ancestry, you too would be feeling mightily relieved that the Gallagher brothers are their only known descendents.