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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Reaping what you sow

July 22, 2009

Jonathan Manthorpe
The Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There was undoubtedly an ethnic and religious component to the seething
fury that sent mobs of Turkic Uighurs hunting down Han Chinese in
China's far northwestern Xinjiang province on July 5.

Since China occupied and began exerting stern colonial rule over this
gateway to Central Asia after the Communists came to power in Beijing in
1949, the Uighurs have experienced ever-increasing repression and

Their Muslim religious observances are strictly circumscribed. They
don't get the good jobs, or often any work at all.

With increasing passion, Beijing is promoting -- as it does in its other
main colonial outpost, Tibet -- the immigration of Han Chinese settlers.
The 10 million Uighurs are now a minority in their own homeland.

But to label, as Beijing has done, the violence that killed at least 184
people, 137 of them Han Chinese slaughtered by Uighur mobs, a separatist
uprising inspired and managed by exiles of the World Uighur Congress is
to obscure the broader causes of the riots.

To a substantial degree, this outbreak of violence is a response to the
frustrations of life in modern China that are common to the vast
majority of the country's 1.3 billion people.

The particular inequities felt by the Uighurs and the long-simmering
ethnic tensions with the Han settlers may give a particular edge to what
happened in Xinjiang, just as it did to similar anti-Han riots in Tibet
in March last year.

But at the root, the riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi are part of
the pattern of the hundreds of violent outbursts of unrest that happen
in China every day.

Until 2006, the Chinese authorities used to publish each year an account
of these "mass incidents" -- that is, violent riots involving more than
1,000 people.

In 2005, there were 87,000, that is, 234 a day on average. The lack of
new annual reports suggests this number continues to climb because one
could expect Beijing to boast about it if the number were declining.

The causes are all very similar. They stem from pandemic corruption in
the Communist party and among local government officials whose
predations on ordinary people are clearly visible in the explosive
disparity between the well-connected rich and the mass of struggling poor.

Beijing is well aware of the dangers this inequality poses to social and
political stability. But the party is psychologically incapable of
pursuing the political and legal reforms that could stop the pressure
cooker continuing to boil.

Despite the increasing clamour, even from within the Communist party,
for change, the leaders continue to believe that as long as the Chinese
economy grows by least eight per cent a year, they can stay in control.

When it is Uighur or Tibetan frustration that boils over, it is easy for
Beijing to blame foreign-based separatists or otherwise appeal to Han

And Han Chinese are inclined to see the country's ethnic minorities as
privileged groups. They are not required to conform to the hated
one-child policy and there are affirmative-action policies that give
minorities easier access to universities and government jobs.

But most ethnic minorities see these policies as an illusion that do not
change the reality that they get a worse education and less access to
good jobs than Han Chinese. Any expression of their culture beyond
singing and dancing in ethnic theme parks is actively discouraged. They
are poorer than Han Chinese and discriminated against at every turn.

The Urumqi riots started when some students gathered in the centre of
the city to protest the June 25 death of two Uighur workers at the Xuri
Toy Factory in Shaoguan, far away in China's southern Guangdong province.

The two men died in a brawl between Uighur and Han workers, though many
Uighurs believe the death toll was much higher, about 50.

In Urumqi on July 5, text messaging and cellphones meant the gathering
of a few hundred students quickly swelled into a mob of many thousands
that went on a rampage of destruction against Han Chinese, their homes
and businesses.

Two days later Han mobs retaliated, also wielding what may be the single
greatest threat to Communist party security in power: the cellphone.

Jonathan Manthorpe writes for the Vancouver Sun.

? The Windsor Star 2009
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