Postcards

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Xinjiang2.jpg China Post publishes an array of pre-stamped postcards in Xinjiang, including one set specifically for international mail, "Elaborate works of paintings by famous modern painters in Xinjiang." Out of the eight-piece collection, however, only one showcases the work of a Uyghur artist, Abdikerim Nasirdin (above), the rest being produced by Han painters (below). Currently priced at five kuai each, these postcards represent how the state portrays the region to the outside world: exotic women and men in vibrant costumes, with rudimentary tools and traditional instruments. The lack of self-representation by ethnic minorities in state-sponsored art, obviously remains a troubling issue in China, most recently exemplified by the song "The Party's Policies are Yakexi [Good]," performed by Uyghurs on national television last month during Spring Festival. Even back in 1987, anthropologist Dru Gladney witnessed Uyghur artists protesting in Urumqi over an exhibition at the Overseas Chinese Hotel. The gallery had displayed Han paintings of Uyghurs singing, dancing, riding donkeys, and balancing watermelons on their heads. Particularly offensive to many conservative Muslims was Ting Shaokuang's Silk Road, which depicted a woman bare-breasted with a desert caravan. As he analyzes in "Representing Nationality in China: Refiguring Majority/Minority Identities," from The Journal of Asian Studies (February 1994):
The eroticization of minorities essentializes the imagined identity of the Han and reaffirms Han feelings of superiority. Public, state-sponsored minority representation as both more sensual and more primitive than the Han supports the state's agenda. With the proper educational and economic progress they will eventually attain the modernity that the Han have attained and enter into the same civilized restrictions under the authority of the state as vanguard. (116)
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(Click to enlarge postcards.)
Erotic images, like those described by Gladney, do not appear amongst these postcards, primarily because they pass through so many hands in the public process of mail and delivery, unlike the more private space of a gallery. While the postcards continue to confirm Gladney's observations twenty years after the fact, they also point to an alignment of the arts along ethnic lines. Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang sing and dance, and thus reinforce the stereotypes to be demonstrative, loud, and sensual, whereas Han Chinese paint, and indicate supposed tendencies towards introspection and passivity. The canvas, likewise, acts as a medium between Han and audience, often obscuring the ethnic identity of the artist, in favor of the painted minority subject. For Uyghur performers, though, their bodies epitomize the art form, so state sponsorship also implies an extension of its power onto people themselves, unshielded as they are by canvas. This phenomenon, moreover, is not limited to only Xinjiang either. In Rome this past October, Xinhua reported on an exhibition of "Tibetan" art. Han artists were responsible for all but a few of the forty paintings featured on the Xinhua news site. (Although in the interest of fairness, this article profiles the sole Tibetan woman at the show.) At least half of the paintings depicted only women, including this piece below. risingsun.jpg

Removal and Renovation

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Back in June, I posted the apartment blueprints for the reconstruction of Kashgar’s Old City. Now it seems that the local government has been erecting billboards that defend the demolition, at least according to this photograph passed on to me from the Chinese internets. The sign below, titled “UNESCO commends Kashgar Old City’s reconstruction as completely respecting people’s lives,” explains that it “totally conforms to international removal and renovation principle.” Suspiciously, however, someone has pasted on the word “renovation” throughout the English translation, almost as an afterthought. KashgarPR.jpg

People's Republik Birthday Bonanza

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Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China, celebrated with much military fanfare in Beijing. A long line of parade floats, one representing each of the provinces and autonomous regions, followed the morning procession of soldiers. Xinjiang's float perfectly summarized its theme, "Blessings of the Heavenly Mountains" (天山祝福)-- those blessings being bountiful fruit, oil, and women. Basically, the bottle-green truck featured dancers and musicians in ethnic costume, as well as a model of an oil pumpjack atop an atlas silk carpet, soaring out of a rainbow. Read into the symbolism at your own peril.

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Gibberish

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The diverse number of scripts found on Xinjiang signs-- Arabic, Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian-- often present a bewildering challenge to Westerners who are used to the Latin alphabet. Here, no one writes English in public places. But Xinjiang's multilingualism can even mislead the locals. For example, this restaurant, located in downtown Urumqi, advertises "Pancakes, Hamburgers, Porridge" in Chinese characters. Unfortunately, the Uyghur "translation" written above that is: ngngoongngkngngnglng.

Unrest

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20090904_08.jpgMajor international news sources-- CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, and Reuters to name a few-- confirmed last week that violence has resurfaced in Urumqi, this time in the mysterious form of syringe attacks. According to reports, almost five hundred people have come to local hospitals claiming that they have been jabbed by needles. Subsequent protests by angry citizens called for the resignation of Wang Lequan, Chief Party Secretary of Xinjiang. As a result, Beijing sacked two subordinate bureaucrats, Urumqi Party Secretary Li Zhi and Regional Chief of Police Liu Yaohua to placate Han Chinese who say that the government has failed to protect them against Uyghurs these past two months. As of now, it remains unclear if the needle-sticks mark residual anxieties from the July riots or portend the epic violence to come.

The syringe attacks, however bizarre they may seem, have become potent rumors because they tap into very real fears about Uyghur stereotypes. My friends on the east coast often heard unfounded rumors that Uyghurs contaminate restaurant soup with AIDS-tainted blood. Certainly, a disproportionately high number of Uyghurs are infected with HIV, and the possibility that these needles might just carry the virus, or even traces of other diseases, drugs, or chemicals have transformed suspicious-looking moles and mosquito bites-- as doctors have dismissed them-- into mass hysteria (though in this desert environment I have never seen a mosquito). The scare even has manifested itself in sensationalized pictures like this one printed in the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily (via EastSouthWestNorth). If only this witchy Uyghur knew how to wear her headscarf properly!
 
These articles fail to converge on key points-- the number of syringe victims, perpetrators, protestors, casualties, and more. Basically, no one knows for sure what has happened, except that the authorities have ratcheted up security yet again. University administrations have locked down campuses, while public security bureaus have denied paperwork for some incoming foreign teachers. At the same time, however, my former colleagues and students have set up ingenious ways to circumvent the "impermeable" Internet ban to contact their friends overseas, just to talk about daily life.

In the meantime, some speculative, but interesting accounts have appeared on the Internet about the riots that the mainstream media has not covered, including:

  • The Asia Times writes that an internecine struggle between two political cliques on the national stage caused Urumqi's delay in responding to the July riots. This suggests that party officials manipulated Uyghur wrath in order to destroy their rivals' credibility and clout, as well as scores of innocent lives.
  • The Times of London believes that the regional government missed critical signs in taxi windows, which had helped publicize the initial protests among the Uyghur community. Unfortunately vague, the article does not mention what these signs spelled out, nor does it consider that most taxi drivers in Urumqi are Han.
  • The blog Siweiluozi translated an interview with Heyrat Niyaz, a Uyghur journalist, originally printed the Hong Kong newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan. Niyaz portrays the Uyghurs as people who easily have surrendered to others throughout history and who do not want independence from China.

Text on Textiles

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One weekend in Urumqi, my friends and I were walking near Xinjiang University when I spotted some felt mats hanging on an apartment clothesline. Being obsessed with Turkic textiles, I had to suppress all urge to make off with one of these handmade carpets, which-- by the way-- are heavier than they look. Shyrdaks, as they are called, feature simple arabesque motifs, sewn as appliqués onto flattened layers of felt. I always had thought that the spirals so central to steppe art came from the Islamic Middle East, slowly uncurling over time and space into its present shape. Elizabeth Wayland Barber in The Mummies of Ürümchi, however, gives a more teleological explanation to the origin of these designs:

Because of its matted structure, however, felt has a peculiar property: wherever you sew along a straight line, the felt is likely to tear, just as a paper towel tears off along the line of perforation. The solution? Sew interlocking circles and spirals. Then the lines of sewing reinforce one another. So nomad art of the steppes characteristically winds and curls even when it has been transferred to wood carving... or to appliqués on woven cloth (where the curls are unnecessary), which we saw everywhere in both Chinese and Russian Turkestan." (50)
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Last fall in Kashgar, I had poked around the local carpet shops looking for shyrdaks, but without much luck. Instead, most of these stores sold exquisitely ornate, but prohibitively expensive, silk oriental rugs--none of which had the same homespun feel of folk art. Given the inordinate production of oriental rugs, I guess tourists underappreciate shyrdaks (or perhaps locals think that we tourists do). At one point we ducked into a dusty antique shop and under the many piles of textiles, I pulled out an embroidered piece with that familiar spiral pattern. Known as suzani-- Persian for "needlework," these tapestries famously originate in Uzbekistan, but actually can come from anywhere in Central Asia, where people give them as dowry presents. Years before marriage, young women and their female relatives and friends gather to embroider sections of the cloth that one day will adorn their beds and walls. This one, however, was hand-stitched in Kazakhstan, at least according to what I think the owner said (though one can never be sure, given his broken Mandarin and lack of teeth). Much later, looking at an old postcard of Kyrgyz girls balancing their hive-like headdresses, I found similarities with my suzani-- the sunburst patterns, bold colors, and dense needlepoint, and I wonder how much regional ethnic identities are tied to the various embroideries that they produce.
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While continuing on this quest for suzani this summer, I went to Gulja, a city heavily influenced by Kazakh art. A few blocks behind the bazaar, a dirt alleyway leads to a compound of small offices, each slightly larger than a cubicle. Inside these concrete walls-- bedizened with cushion covers and dance costumes-- middle-aged Kazakh women sit and sew suzani. The seamstresses start by drawing designs onto the black cloth with whiteout pen, then follow those lines with a sewing machine in bright, often neon threads. Very few suzani these days escape the use of glitter. (In fact, I bought out all the pieces without any-- a grand total of three out of a few hundred.) Ranging from two to three meters long, these vivid suzani serve as floor cushions for long banquet tables. Most tourist bazaars in Xinjiang do not sell suzanis; besides silk carpets, they actually stock their stores with imported pashminas from Turkey. Given the scarcity of suzanis, at first I thought that these art forms were produced by and for locals. After talking to one Kazakh family in Rockriverton, however, I found out that people are buying cheaper cushions made in factories-- patchwork pieces of synthetic damask, meaning that steppe spirals may soon reach the end of their mortal coils.
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Ili at Unease

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Due to riots, I spent a restless two weeks cooped up in my apartment before heading westward to Guljа and Khorgаs in Ili. Foolishly. This became apparent further along the trip when I was briefly detained and questioned by the police at a border town near Kazakhstan, but more about that later. Usually an eight-hour bus ride from Rockriverton, the overnight drive to Guljа took double the time, at first because our engine overheated and ground to a steaming halt, then because the drivers stopped for a midnight meal of laghman. At least I could see the Milky Way from the highway. Police checkpoints set up all along the highway to Guljа, however, slowed our travels the most. After passing Lake Sayram, every city, town, tollbooth that we had passed mandated a stop. The police boarded the bus and pulled out every young Uуghur man (but no Uуghur women or Kazakh men) to record their names, cell phone numbers, permanent addresses, destinations, and reasons for travel. Finally, when I arrived in Guljа, I was dismayed to see even more checkpoints, this time at every intersection-- little red tents guarded by soldiers with semi-automatic weaponry, pitched for the express purpose of registering Uуghurs. All of the public buses approaching the historic district became subject to random police searches as well. Despite the semblance of martial law, though, the Han cops in Guljа seemed much more excited to discuss Michael Jordan with me, a native North Carolinian, than to register or arrest anyone. Meanwhile, local officials had decorated the city with red banners, stenciled with reconciliatory slogans, like the one above: "Han cannot be separated from ethnic minorities."
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First, I visited the Beytullah Mosque, located at the heart of historic Guljа. Completed in 1773, this building symbolizes efforts by the Qianlong Emperor to accommodate Islamic beliefs following the conquest of Xinjiang. As a patron, Qianlong granted a Turkic official ten thousand liang of silver for construction. Regardless of these allowances toward the local population, Beytullah's style copies the architectural tradition set by the Great Mosque in Xi'an from the eighth century; basically, it is a Chinese Buddhist temple masquerading as a mosque. Architecturally speaking, what makes Beytullah Islamic is this tiny metal crescent which crowns a square pavilion out back. More recently, however, the mosque has been expanded and rebuilt to suit more "traditional" tastes in Islamic architecture-- domes and towers, as seen on the Id Kаh Mosque in Kаshgаr. Then, I took a guided tour of Guljа's Old Town next door, an area built by entrepreneurial Russians, Kazakhs, Tatars, and Uуghurs who were keen to profit from Great Game trade and politics a hundred and fifty years ago. Currently, most of the Uуghurs in Guljа reside in these neighborhoods, whose entrance a dozen soldiers have been "protecting" post-riot in full military gear. Compared to Kаshgar's warren of mud and brick, Guljа's Old Town features plaster mansions with luxurious patterned carpets, bright blue walls, and carved wooden windows, similar to those found in Siberia. At one of the houses I visited, the owner told us that normally she would host a hundred visitors a day during the summer, but because of the riots, I was the only one. This drop in tourism seemed inconceivable at first, given everyone's cheery attitude during the day. By nightfall, however, the apprehension in Guljа became obvious: as trucks full of soldiers drove in to secure Old Town, the streets eerily emptied out. Later, my hotel announced at 2 am that the police would be conducting random ID checks throughout the night.
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The next day, I took the bus to Khorgаs, the border crossing to Kazakhstan, west of Guljа. My mission in Khorgаs was to find a pair of patchwork Tatar boots for a friend. Given the security situation, not such a smart idea. For instance, an unfortunate conversation with one burly cop who studied my passport on the highway went as follows.
PO: It says here you were born in Japan.
Me: Yes. But I'm an American. This is an American passport.
PO: Your name is Japanese.
Me: I know.
PO: So...? [Looks at my rather un-Japanese face.]
Me: ...
PO: Japanese people, they are very evil.
Me: Oh yes. I know. Japanese people are devils.
PO: Have you seen Nanjing, Nanjing?
Me: No, I haven't seen this movie yet. I'm a history major, I know what happened at Nanjing.
PO: Well, you should see this movie. The Japanese are really bad.
Me: Uh huh.
Sufficiently satisfied to hear me denounce the enemy of all Chinese enemies, the police let me continue on my way. Approaching Khorgаs, however, we were stopped again, and this time the local law enforcement decided to take me into custody. For the past week, Khorgаs Public Security Bureau was staffed entirely by Han agents. Lucky for me, though, the token Kazakh policeman-- also the deputy officer of the station and reputed top cop in Ili-- happened to return to Khorgаs that very morning, after helping conduct the riot investigation in Uruмqi. During routine questioning, all the other officers agreed that a foreign teacher buying yards of traditional embroidery, while a crazy combination, did not merit any further suspicion. The deputy definitely thought otherwise. Bent on finding incriminating photos, shady contacts, and contraband goods, this Kazakh cop searched my backpack, cell phone, and camera. He found none, since ten minutes earlier, I had deleted most of my Ili photos, while balancing myself above the station's squat toilet. Regardless, the officer still demanded that he take down a formal statement of my visit. In similar situations, my shrewder colleagues have offered bribes compensation, but this man seemed unreceptive to such venal overtures, and now I have a police record for being a tourist. At the same time, in an office down the hall, the cops had rounded up dozens of Uуghurs to take their mug shots and fingerprints, only because they were from out of town. After this three-hour ordeal, I stumbled out of the station into Khorgаs proper, an empty and flat town traversable by its own army of little, red, three-wheeled taxis. Back in 1758, Qianlong had emerged victor to a battle here against local Turkic groups; this conquest therefore has given Chinese trading companies the right to build four huge, but vacant souvenir malls... that sold no Tatar boots. That was a little disappointing. In the afternoon, eager to flee Khorgаs before the police thought of any further excuses for arrest, I hopped on a bus at Qingshuihe, transferred to a taxi at Kuуtun, and returned home by midnight.
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I must have met fifty or more police officers over the course of this trip, and besides the two exceptions above, I was surprised at how friendly, relaxed... and bored they all seemed. Nevertheless, after the riots, I could see that the authorities tried to control the cities west of Uruмqi by constant monitoring, producing a guise of safety. The implicit threat lay in the idea that the government was watching and recording everyone's movements across the region at all times. This type of surveillance had generated sheaves of charted paper and used hours of police labor; its value depended on the chance that if any further incidents should happen, it already would have all the names of suspects and witnesses in the area. As troubling was the blatant racial profiling. The authorities picked up only Uуghurs from the buses and streets, and processed them through their system, even when they had not committed any crimes. This procedure starkly contrasted against a ridiculous incident that just happened near my university in the United States: police accidentally arrested a renowned Harvard professor for breaking into his own house. This black professor decried the racist police, and President Obama invited the two to the White House for drinks. Would Hu Jintаo ever have a beer summit with any of the registered Uуghurs, famous or not? Um, no. Nor were these Uуghurs particularly upset about the process, certainly not enough to create a massive publicity stunt (and not that they could, anyway). Still, this system of monitoring, though it seemed objective, ultimately depended on the subjective. The police at the checkpoints based many of their decisions to pass or block Uуghurs on their hometowns and appearance. One such experience by a guy friend of mine, while being processed through Rockriverton, could be summed up in this final dialogue.
P1: Where are you from?
AB: Korlа.
P1: Oh, people from Korlа are pretty chill. You can go ahead.
P2: Yeah, you are way too cute to cause trouble.
AB: [to me] Ugh, I think that cop is hitting on me.
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Overheard in Xinjiang

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For the most part, internet discourse has failed to capture a frank, local perspective on the Uruмqi Riots; anonymity in online forums has allowed extreme commentary, while the public nature of TV has resulted in self-censorship among those interviewed. (I do recommend this letter from Fool's Mountain.) So, I have compiled some quotations from strangers and friends, which by no means represent a balanced account of what had happened, merely their perceptions of these events. I also have added some representative snippets from state media found on websites that were accessible in Xinjiang, but not outside of the region. I do not aim to spread rumors or foment discontent, only to record as faithfully as I can what people had said in the last three weeks.

"Did you see the news? How do you think that? It seems extremely serious... why did they so unreasonable? ... Oh, do you know why they did this? Not clearly know [about Guangdong], is it because a person almost was killed, and just happened to be a [Uуghur]? I don't know what to say..." -- Han university student in a text message, from Rockriverton, July 5

"I have a feeling something bad is going to happen...they already shut the school. I can't get out [of] my school anymore. I can hear more police cars ...This is so f*cked up." -- Uуghur university student, Uruмqi, July 5

Conversation with Han cashier in copy store at Rockriverton University, July 6
Me: Why is there no internet today?
Boy: It's like that all over Xinjiang right now.
Me: Okay... why is there no internet in Xinjiang? [writing the Chinese character for internet on the palm of my hand]
Boy: Wow, you can write Chinese characters!

"What a night! I heard of [the protest], but I thought it wouldn't happen. I hope everything will be ok. This shouldn't have happened. Do other countries have news about this? Internet is not available here right now. Last night we couldn't even use our cell phones here... I hope everything will be fine soon. No one knew it would get that bad." -- Uуghur university student in Uruмqi, July 6

"It is said Han Chinese are going to revenge Uуghurs. Most of them [the victims] were Han, so Han hate Uуghurs now, they are going to revenge in Uruмqi. Don't worry, I'm not afraid of it... The Han who lost their relatives must do something, right? Lots of innocent people dead, I'm sad." -- Uуghur university student in Uruмqi, July 6

"Seems like tonight, Han Chinese are going to 'revenge'... I hope this over soon... Oh f*ck, our [Hui Muslim] teacher told us a lot of people are coming from the train station [to our dorms] and we should have something to defend ourselves. I just got a stick." -- Uуghur university student in Uruмqi, July 7. Later, students hear an unconfirmed rumor that a mob stopped just blocks short of the school gates, beat and killed several bystanders in the neighborhood.

"民族团结高于天。" [Translation: Ethnic Unity is Top Priority, or literally, Ethnic Unity, as High as the Sky] -- Slogan on CCTV, July 7

"Last night, we beat up a couple of bad Uуghurs who came to our neighborhood. Just the bad ones. You know, there are also good Uуghurs. We protect them." -- Han taxi driver in Uruмqi, July 7, who carried a butcher knife next to his driver seat

Conversation with young Kazakh man in Rockriverton, July 7
UNU: But there are a lot of other disasters going on in the world that are much worse, like Sudan, Rwanda, Congo...
CWB: But this is YOUR home!
UNU: So?
UNU: [Later] We have this saying... 汉族喝酒办事,哈族喝酒没事,维族喝酒闹. [Translation: Han drink to do business, Kazakhs drink to pass time, Uуghurs drink to riot.]

Conversation with Han university student in Rockriverton, July 8
GYJ: I just heard that there are five explosions in town, one at the Laojie [old district], one at the town square, one at the university hospital.
Me: How do you know this?
GYJ: Students from other departments told me.
Me: "How do they know this?"
GYJ: "I don't know... buy some water and food and stay inside. Don't go out unless you are with Mr. B. Good night."
This Rockriverton incident was a complete fabrication; some fighting had broken out near Laojie, but there were no casualties.

Click to enlarge photographs.

Uruмqi Municipal Public Security Bureau Emergency Notice, July 8
"Recently, a number of lawless elements in Uruмqi-- beating, smashing, robbing, burning, killing and other serious, violent crime-- have resulted in heavy casualties and public and private property loss. To restore law and order in the community, special notices are declared as follows:

First, organizations that took part in beating, smashing, looting, burning, and killing must immediately turn themselves in. Surrendering to the authorities is meritorious, and will result in a reduction or reprieve of punishment in accordance to law. Resistance will result in punishment, also in accordance to law.

Second, it is strictly prohibited to use mobile phones and the internet to spread rumors, incite riots, and disrupt social order. If you cause harm to society, you will be punished according to law.

Third, do not shield or harbor criminals of the July 5th incident. If proven, you will be punished according to law.

Fourth, it is every citizen's obligation to maintain national unity and social stability. Report and expose violent crimes, support and cooperate with the law and the Public Security Bureau in order to protect personal safety."

Grafitti written on the above notice: FART. Agreed.

"If the Uуghurs attacked the government, you know government officials, not children or pregnant women, Han people would think that they were heroes... Every adult Chinese person knows to take the official number [the death toll] and double it. That is the true number." -- Han English teacher in Rockriverton, July 9

"The riots will not have lasting effects in Хіnjіаng." -- CCTV, July 10

Uruмqi Municipal Public Security Bureau Emergency Notice
On Resolutely Ending Unlawful Assembly, Procession, and Protest Activities, July 11

"On July 5, 2009, a number of criminals bewitched and incited by Leader Rеbiyа's foreign 'Three Evil Forces', carried out serious violent and criminal acts of assault, vandalism, theft, and arson in Uruмqi, causing heavy casualties and property loss. At present the situation basically has been brought under control, but in some places there are still pockets of unlawful assembly, procession, and protest activities. To maintain social order, and to protect the lives of citizens and the security of property, special notice as follows... [List of Prohibitions]"

"The ancient Silk Road crossing Xinjiang is the destination we are longing for. People here are warmhearted and the society is in peace. " -- Han tourist from Hunan Province in Uruмqi, quoted in Tianshannet, July 14

"Now the state's policies are better and better, and our life also becomes much better. We believe our eyes and don't believe the lies of the rioters." -- Uyghur resident in Aktao County, quoted in Tianshannet, July 16

Conversation between Han and Kazakh police officers at their station in Korgas as they searched the contents of my digital camera, July 17
Kazakh Police Officer: Delete that [riot] video.
Han Police Officer: Why? It's all over the internet. It was even on Youku [Chinese Youtube]. See, it says so on the video.
Kazakh Police Officer: DELETE THAT VIDEO.
Han Police Officer: If I delete this video, there's all this technology that they can use to recover it. Even I can recover it.
Kazakh Police Officer: [silence]

"Osama Bin Laden and Rеbiyа Kаdееr, they're in this together. You know that right?" -- Han police officer in Kuytun, July 17

"F*ck Wаng Lequаn [Party Secretary of Xinjiang]. This is his fault. I'm telling my kids to get out of Хіnjіаng. Go to the East Coast." -- Han taxi driver in Kuytun, July 17

"I think a lot of Uуghurs just want Han people to leave Хіnjіаng. But I'm not leaving."
-- Han English Professor and first generation Хіnjіаnger, Rockriverton, July 18

"The July 5 incident was a planned violent crime under direct instigation by domestic and overseas organizations of the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism... It's not about ethnic, religion nor the human rights. It's for undermining the unification of motherland and ethnic unity." -- Nur Bеkri, Uуghur Deputy Secretary of Xinjiang in Uruмqi, quoted in Tianshannet, July 20

"Now we live in the anti-quake houses, and we can see doctor easily, and my kids get free school education. We have the asphalt road in village. That gang of outlaws want to disturb such good situation, we resolutely disagree with them." -- Uуghur villager in Erpu, Hami, quoted in Tianshannet, July 20

Conversation between Han and Uуghur passengers in a long-distance taxi to Uruмqi, July 23
Uуghur Passenger: Uуghurs just need more education. There's a lot of miscommunication going on.
Han Passenger: Yeah, you are so right. That is exactly what should happen. If you think that, you must not be Muslim.
Uуghur Passenger: Actually, I am Muslim.
Han Passenger: [uncomfortable thirty minute silence]

"The people in Tіbеt get better treatment than us. They get jobs, free education on the east coast, free houses..." -- Uуghur university student in Uruмqi, July 26

Local Coverage

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To satisfy your curiosity about what Xinjiangers are reading during the Great Cyberspace Blackout of 2009, below is a July 25 screenshot of a TianshanNet Uruмqi Riot feature, which currently remains blocked outside of Xinjiang. As I had mentioned earlier, authorities have limited the news in Xinjiang to a few sources, while at the same time restricting access to them from other provinces, not to mention other countries. Although I can find some of the TianshanNet articles reprinted at other Chinese media sites, I think the idea behind the block is to establish the primacy of state-sponsored media and "official" accounts over other versions. Obviously, this prevents incredible rumors and gory pictures from subverting authority and social order among the local population. For the most part, Xinjiang's coverage does not diverge too much from Chinese news sources, except for the extra emphasis on ethnic harmony-- note the very adorable banners at the bottom: "Each Ethnicity, Each Realm Shows Love," "Witnesses: People from all Ethnic Groups Help Each Other Out," "We are together, Unified," and so on. I have translated two segments (marked in red) which confirm the agenda to reconcile Han and Uyghurs quickly, and blame the unrest on extremists abroad through character assassination solid evidence. Click on the images below to read more.

Ethnic Unity

• Everyone comes to Pasha's wedding [in Uruмqi]: Arpat's daughter Pasha Gets Married, 300 guests-- Uуghurs, Han, Hui-- send best wishes to the couple...
• Fuyun County: Ethnic Unity, from the Eyes of Star Student Nurash Dalil
• Shaya County: Muqams Pass Down and Spread Songs about the People's Duty to Ethnic Unity
• Khotan: Star Students Returning Home Say "People of all ethnic groups belong to one family."
• Hutubi County: Folk Band Plays New Song About Ethnic Unity "One Family"
• Burqin County: Steppe Aken [Kazakh Musicians] Sing about Duty to Ethnic Unity
East Turkеstаn and Rеbiуа
• Background information: Rеbiуа, the Person, the Story
• Rеbiуа, full name Rеbiуа Kаdееr, was born in 1951 in Altai City, Xinjiang, at the foot of the Altai Mountains...
Former Classmates Denounce the Kаdееrs for Blackening the Name of their Hometown
Rеbiуа Becomes a Laughing Stock Online (in English)
• News Information on "The Three Evil Forces"
• Rеbiуа: Moral Bankruptcy
• Rеbiуа: World-wrecking, Bewitching Granny -- We are all One Family







Reading the Riot Act

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I just returned from Хіnjіаng a few days ago, where the government has shut off the internet since the riots. (Naively somehow, I did not think that this would happen at all! I still have so much to learn about China.) This is the first in a series of posts written while isolated in my last weeks at Rockriverton. Some of the information echoes what the news already has reported. Still, it comes from the perspective of someone who has lived here for a bit longer than the journalists who had swooped in on Uruмqi after the riots and went on a whirlwind tour of the region. Хіnjіаng expats, in comparison, all have personal connections to locals and have seen firsthand many of the issues that have emerged as causing the riots. I guess that also makes us more biased in one way or another...

In celebration of American Independence Day, DFL and I had taken the bus to Uruмqi to meet with friends and to run errands. DFL needed to extend his visa while I wanted to buy a birthday present for my sister. On Sunday July 5, we spent the morning in the Erdaoqiao District where we stuffed our faces with delicious dumplings and rifled through brilliantly colored pashminas. It was a dry, but sweltering, hot day-- the streets were quiet save the storekeepers in the bazaar who hassled foreign tourists and blasted Uуghur reggaeton. In the afternoon, we headed towards the city's amusement park for some rides. (The view from the Ferris wheel, below, overlooks Santunbei bus station). One scene continues to haunt me from the park, only because of the tragic events which soon followed: families across ethnic and class backgrounds were lazily picnicking together among the roller coasters and golf carts, a rare sight in Uruмqi. Around dinner, I decided to return to Rockriverton by bus, as I had to do some paperwork at home. In retrospect, this negligible act saved me from danger.
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As reported in news sources around the world, during the late afternoon in the bazaar and nearby neighborhoods of Uruмqi, hundreds gathered to protest against the Shaoguan incident, in which Han factory workers incited a race riot against their Uуghur coworkers in Guangdong, leaving two dead and hundreds injured, officially. I first heard about the upheaval when a teacher friend called me from his cell phone downtown, about "explosions near Nanmen." I thought he was joking. (Our waiban did not bother to tell us about the riots until two or three days later.) Though the Shaoguan Incident was the ostensible cause, various events and policies have ratcheted up ethnic tension in Хіnjіаng for weeks, some say months, and even years. Besides the demolition of historic Kashgar, Uуghurs have pointed to (what they see as) systematic discrimination in Хіnjіаng including language policy, migrant labor, unemployment, and economic and educational disparities. This is also the year of significant anniversaries. The authorities, however, do not believe that China has profound ethnic problems, and have framed the riots (pun intended) as the work of Rеbiyа Kаdееr and separatists beyond its borders, financially backed by the likes of the United States and Pakistan.

The demonstration spiraled out of control, and more violent elements began attacking Han passers-by, overturning and burning buses and cars, and lighting apartment buildings on fire. One foreign archaeologist, who found himself stuck in a taxi amidst the mob, witnessed a group of Uуghurs pull a Han man from his bicycle and then beat him to death with sticks and a shovel. The faculty at my university claimed that gangs gouged out the eye of a former college president. Several sensational rumors have emerged about the violence; for instance, a Uуghur supposedly slit the throat of a Han elementary school student during the upheaval. An Uruмqi hospital issued sticks to its nurses, who had to beat back some interlopers, and then later treated them for those wounds they had inflicted. From the few videos released later by CCTV, Uruмqi to me looked like the street anarchy in A Clockwork Orange. The official death toll was 197 people, and over fifteen hundred injured, two-thirds of them being Han. Locals in Uruмqi, not just the overseas Uуghur community, continue to dispute this statistic; everyone I have talked to believes that it is much higher. For instance, a Han friend of mine from Kuytun, a city three and a half hours away from Uruмqi, personally knew eight victims of the riots. To her and many others, the two hundred dead, while mathematically possible, seem improbable in reality.
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DFL, who stayed on in Uruмqi, found himself caught in this deadly fracas. On July 6 and 7, he observed and photographed truckloads of soldiers being bussed into the city. Along the streets, shopkeepers closed their businesses and police set up checkpoints to inspect car trunks. He even saw a van filled with baozi and another truck with vats of soup just for the hundreds of troops in town. On July 7, he spotted roving bands of vigilantes that were prowling the streets. Armed with sticks, shovels, hatchets, and Chinese flags, these Han men attempted to mete out "justice" by attacking Uуghurs. Apparently, another protest by Uуghur women about the arrests made on July 5 also occurred on that same day, but that none of us were aware of this demonstration until after leaving Хіnjіаng and reading about it on the internet.

Meanwhile, early Monday morning at 4 am, the government shut off the internet, in efforts to squelch rumors circulating and people organizing. This happened much to the dismay of hundreds of teenage boys addicted to internet games across Хіnjіаng. Similarly, cell phone texting stopped working the following afternoon. At first, I found that only the Хіnjіаng government and bingtuan sites operated, but since then, more and more websites-- on news, tourism, healthcare, movies, have gone online. None of them, of course, allow netizens to upload videos or pictures, send messages, or post blogs. One email service was in operation after two weeks, but no new users could register accounts there. Moreover, these same websites, such as Tianshannet, remain inaccessible outside of Хіnjіаng, which means that most of the information leaving Uruмqi is through government and media channels, besides unofficial leaks of videos and snapshots. Outsiders therefore know more about what is happening in Хіnjіаng than the people actually living there.

The fact that these two realms of information are hermetically sealed off from each other is creating two alternate realities about the events in July. Likewise, CCTV and other news stations broadcasted the same bland footage of the riots, stressing heroic stories of Uуghurs or Han rescuing each other in the melee. At the time, it was the only way to restore public order. When I finally left the region a few days ago, I was shocked to see the photographs of carnage that we could not access within Хіnjіаng. American observers have compared the upheaval to the 1992 Los Angeles Race Riots, but I have noticed many other similarities to the 1923 Tokyo Korean Massacre-- namely, the inability to account for casualties, unaddressed grievances with migrant labor, and the role of rumors in the violence.