Major 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.