Riots Expose China’s Ethnic Divisions, Uneven Growth

In the aftermath of this week’s violence in Urumqi, observers are looking at Beijing’s policies toward minorities, and the “Go West” policy which aimed to populate and develop Xinjiang and other western areas. From Bloomberg:

The clashes have pitted Uighurs, Turkic- speaking natives of Xinjiang province, against the dominant Han Chinese and ethnically similar Hui group.

China’s drive to develop Xinjiang’s resources has spurred an influx of migrants and bred resentment among Uighurs, who complain of discrimination and political and cultural repression. Han Chinese now account for half the province’s 21 million population, from 7 percent in the 1953 census.

“We never had any political rights,” said Kurban Haiyur, a Uighur exile who left the province in 2006 to study in Germany. “In my whole life, I never had the same status in society as a Han Chinese.”

See also an Al Jazeera report:

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin looks at historical reasons for the outbreak of violence by Uighurs. See also “A legacy of repression” by Isabel Hilton.

The Age has a lengthy report interviewing witnesses and participants in the violence about the mistrust and hatred on both sides:

Chen Xiang, a 20-year-old Han man who had joined in the pursuit of the two Uighur boys, explains why he was so angry. A close friend of his, surnamed Jiang, was on his way home from decorating his new house on Sunday night when Uighurs lobbed a petrol bomb onto his No. 3 bus as it reached Shanxi Lane. The bus caught fire and he jumped off.

Uighurs then beat him senseless.

[…] The Government has not said how many of the 156 officially killed were killed by rioters and how many were killed by police. The world, and Xinjiang’s Chinese and Uighur communities, can only guess.

The cooler headed Uighurs and Han Chinese shake their heads and lament how their once cosmopolitan city is now broken.

“This is terrible, awful — nobody trusts anybody any more,” says the young Uighur woman in Shanxi Lane.

The Washington Post reports on residents who are leaving Urumqi to escape the ethnic tensions:

After bloody clashes between Uighur demonstrators and government security forces began Sunday in Urumqi, capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, Ye said he did not want to risk having his family members on the streets. But around 11 p.m. Tuesday, a mob of several hundred Han Chinese carrying sticks, hammers and bricks ransacked the restaurant in front of Ye’s apartment as he and his family huddled inside, praying.

“I thought, ‘If they rush into the house, we will all die,’ ” Ye said.

Ye’s family is among the many in Urumqi that find themselves at an unexpected crossroads in the aftermath of this week’s violence, which has claimed at least 156 lives. Terrified of their Han neighbors, but accustomed to the comforts of the city they have made their home, they must weigh the benefits of staying in a place where they no longer feel welcome or returning to a countryside where their salaries will probably be reduced by half. On Wednesday, Ye and his wife, Mu Heti, made the painful decision to go back to the countryside of Ili in northern Xinjiang, joining an exodus of ethnic minorities out of Urumqi that has overwhelmed bus and train stations in recent days.

Meanwhile, as Shanghaiist reports, the Chinese government is currently on a mission to propagandize harmony between the ethnic groups in their reporting on the aftermath of the brutal violence.

Read also “Strife shows ethnic tension China hopes to ignore” from AP. See more links providing background on ethnic relations in China and the history of the Uighurs via this CDT post.

Here is Guardian’s Tania Branigan and Dan Chung report from Urumqi, where armed gangs of Chinese Han vigilantes have taken to the streets in revenge for Sunday’s uprising by ethnic Uighurs, including a video clip.


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