Xinjiang protests continue

Here is the BBC on the protests … there is some decent video here showing a large group of Han thugs headed to the Uigher part of town for revenge and also a crowd of Uigher women demanding to know where their men were taken.

The NYT has a repeat of yesterday’s story with a little more from today added in … not much different than the BBC version, but check out the slideshow, there is a great pic of the Han thugs as they march. You can see that for many of these guys, this is a show, some fun, something to take the monotony out of the day. Sure, they might hate Uighers because they’re Uighers, but this whole gang thing is just a bit o the old ultra violence for them.

Whereas for the Uigher this is life and death. What does it take to take to the streets as a protester in a country where such acts result in life in jail, death and a heavier hand on all those left behind? How do you escape the futility that fills you up?

In this article in the Asia Times
, Dr. Jian Junbo gives a sober rundown of the situation and blames the unrest on a variety of factors that are basically breaking down the Marxist-era policy of making all ethnic groups within China “members of one great Chinese family” of laborers, with Capitalists and landowners as the common enemy.

He goes into Han grievances, which seem to revolve around the one-child policy and affirmative action in the universities and in some economic sectors. I find these arguments laughably weak.

First off, the Han are the overwhelming majority in China and the one-child policy is a function of over-population, not ethnic preference. Second, the minorities tend to live in rural, poor and/or remote areas like: the Himalayas, around the Taklamaklan and Gobi deserts, in the mountains of Guizhou, southern Sichuan and Yunnan. These are “underpopulated areas” (relatively speaking, this is China after all). Han far outnumber all the minorities put together, 1.3 billion to 123 million.

And affirmative action is also a very weak premise for Han anger, because the very very small number of minorities who benefit from affirmative action is absolutely insignificant compared to the advantages shared by all those who call themselves Han in China.

The real reason for bringing up these arguments is simple tactics. Did Rebiya Kadeer cause these riots? Or were they cause by one man posting rumors? or were they caused by simmering ethnic hatred? or were they caused by a failing Marxist system, as Dr. Jian proposes? For the majority of Han and the current Chinese leadership, the simpler the answer, the better. China wants their people to remain sheep — money spending sheep — but still sheep.

The most important thing to understand about this is that Uighers are actually X and Han are actually Y and these variables and the relationship between them can be superimposed upon any values (i.e. ethnic groups) across the globe.

If seen in this light, then we find a common mistake: one value is “heavier” than the other, resulting in imbalance and dis-harmony and then, eventually, violence. So far, across the globe, the common solution has been to increase the weight of the heavy value and hope that through an even larger imbalance, the problem will solve itself, perhaps with the elimination of the lighter value. All we have seen this approach produce is prolonged violence and suffering.

The real solution is to find a balanced, sustainable relationship. This invariably requires the heavy value (Han, Whites, Israelis,) to step back and allow the lighter value (Tibetans, Uighers, Blacks, Hispanics, Palestinians) to gain weight. “Gaining weight” can mean: gaining control of their religion, gaining control of their economic future, gaining control of their political future. These things will immediately remove the need for violence. People with jobs, a place to worship freely and a choice in who their leaders are will be content.

The rub is, of course, that the heavier values FEAR this above all things. Because this is an existential thing. To dominate and crush the weaker value ensures not only survival but sustained survival for whomever is doing the crushing. To step back and allow your “rival” for resources to grow sounds like suicide.


Sometimes, i feel i talk myself into circles and in the end all of this is quite meaningless. What i really believe? In this new world there is no place for Uighers or Tibetans or Native Americans or even Palestinians as they were. There is only one type of person who can and will make it and that is the person who believes wholeheartedly that the way we are moving is the one and only true faith. Progress, Modernity, Capitalism. All other faiths WILL die. The rest of us who don’t believe better pretend or find a place to hide or be converted.

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Sascha Matuszak
Sascha Matuszak

12 thoughts on “Xinjiang protests continue

  1. Nice thoughts, but I suspect that you give the Uighurs too much credit. Like most conflicts of this world, I suspect this is one of evil vs. evil.

    Cultures with redeeming values that uphold basic right and wrong and respect the rule of law have a strong tendency to flourish and become powerful. (Well, at least until they become ruthless and corrupt and collapse under the weight of their own vanity and evil. But that's another story…)

    I suspect that if Uighur culture were as upright as you suggest, they would have nothing to fear of the Han Chinese as they would be far more advanced and could easily defend themselves.

    Not to defend the actions of the other side by any means. I think both Tibet and "Uighurstan" should be independent, too. I don't think it's a good idea for one nation to conquer and colonize another under pretty much any circumstances. Usually turns out badly for all involved.

    But I have a hard time sympathizing politically with any group that has proven to be perpetually backwards throughout history, as this is usually a sign of an internally oppressive culture.

    You say that you have been to Xinjiang. Care to comment in this regard?

  2. yes i would have to disagree with you wholeheartedly. Upright values and respect for the law have little or no bearing on power. There are many many examples of duplicitous cultures with NO respect for the law who have become very powerful. eg the US, with their "fair" treatment of the natives, the blacks and the filipinos and the latinos and anyone else that has stood in the way. or the British, French and Spanish with their very "lawful" treatment of the Africans, Indians, Incans. Aztecs etc.

    In fact, it seems that throughout history those that have flaunted the law and twisted it to their advantage have flourished the most.

    As for Xinjiang and the Uighers, they have been at the crossroads of various Empires throughout history:

    The Greeks, who made it to Bactria and have their art and cultural influence as far as Dunhuang (!) in northern Gansu Province. The Indians who brought Buddhism through the Silk Route into China. The Mongols who used the route on their road to Baghdad. The Muslims who brought Islam to "Uigherstan" via Pakistan. And the Tang, Ming and Qing Dynasties during their expansions westward to the mountains.

    East Turkestna/Uigherstan/Xinjiang is also the birthplace of the Turkish culture, the same horse riders that moved west through Iran and Iraq to present day Turkey, founding the Ottoman Empire along the way.

    Xinjiang is indeed "backward" economically. As is Tibet. These are both pastoral and or agricultural societies that relied on their religion for the the laws and customs that bound their society together. Truly spiritual or religious societies are crushed in the modern "real world" by the forces of Progress: capitalism and industrialism.

    In the very end of my post, I acknowledge that nostalgic love of these societies is doomed to end in sadness. Our modern society demands consumers and industrial output to meet that consumption. Pastoral/agricultural societies that rely on religion as their source of law will either reform, as the US and most of Europe has, or die, as Tibet and Xinjiang are.

    There are notable examples of societies that are able to fuse the two, and that is what people like the Dalai Lama and even Ms. Kadeer are hoping for. Thailand, for example, is a very religious country but also (in Bangkok) very modern.

    Poverty and weakness are not indicators of a societies inability to function per se, just indicators of their inability to adapt to "the real world" as we have it now.

  3. basically, it is access to resources and adaptability that make societies flourish, not rule of law and values.

    so the Uighers, surrounded on all sides by desert and mtns, are guilty of being unable to adapt to Han rule and the Chinese economic miracle the Han bring with them.

  4. Thanks for everybody's thoughts. Nice to hear from people, even where we disagree.

    Thought I'd respond:

    "Dang, scott.

    That "redeeming values" thing hurts."

    Yeah, I struggled for words on that. That didn't really capture what I meant, but I wasn't quite sure what to replace it with. Maybe I should have just said rule of law, etc. again. I see blogging as public practice at writing. I screw up a lot. Sometimes I deserve to get yelled at. Comes with the turf, I suppose.

    "BTW, had some good interviews on this topic yesterday. You should check it out."

    I checked out several different columns (not at that particular site), but didn't really find the info to be very, well, informative. Most of my info is coming from my wife, who is Chinese and can read Chinese websites and tell me what they say. (Incidentally, she pretty much agrees with me: "Uighuristan" should be independent. That is a fairly rare opinion concerning any "Chinese" territory among Chinese, I've found.)

    We've actually discussed this issue before, though she just called them Muslims from western China. I didn't know their actual name. I was asked if I was from this province once when I was visiting a landmark in China near her hometown. Apparently, they were afraid I would blow the place up (and that was several years ago!) But since I wasn't, they let me go.

    "There are many many examples of duplicitous cultures with NO respect for the law who have become very powerful. eg the US, with their "fair" treatment of the natives, the blacks and the filipinos and the latinos and anyone else that has stood in the way. or the British, French and Spanish with their very "lawful" treatment of the Africans, Indians, Incans. Aztecs etc."

    I will not defend the various and sundry ways that the groups mentioned have managed to make jerks of themselves throughout history. We all have our failings, and when pressed we should admit them.

    However, you should recognize that, for example, the Aztecs had their own empire, conquered others quite violently, and practiced human sacrifice. I do not think they constitute a model civilization. "Africans" is a big group to lump into one category, but if you want to speak this broadly, read much and you will find that the "Dark Continent" has tended to be a fairly violent place throughout human history, hence the nickname. It still is. Indians (the Asian variety) practiced widow burning and a degree of class discrimination that simply boggles the mind throughout most of their history. American "Indians" are another big lot, but I'm sure if you look at their history, you'd find some pretty dark practices as well.

    Basically what I'm saying is that the myth of the Rousseauian "noble savage" is really just a myth. I would say you could chalk up most civilizations, primitive or otherwise, into the "evil" category, if you want to think of good and evil that way. Which is one of the main reasons I think that wars and conflict are generally evil vs. evil, pretty much all the time.


  5. On the other hand, you could think of it this way: the good-evil axis is EXTREMELY long, considering all the factors that go into making such an assessment, and especially when you are trying to keep the angels and the demons at the far ends of the axis in full view all the time. Viewed this broadly, pretty much all civilizations are going to fall in a cluster closer to the evil end. But if you "zoom in", you'll mostly find that those that fall closer to the "good" end, i.e. more respectful of rights and the rule of law, have tended to prosper, and those at the "not so good" end have not.

    Put another way: if I stood Joe Schmoe up in a line with Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Jonas Salk, and evaluated how he "measured up," I would get a very different result than if I lined him up with, say, his high-school class.

    Which is the fairer assessment? (Both are fair, actually, right?! It depends on the question one is asking…)

    So, in the following line-up, who comes out looking the best? USA, North Korea, modern China, the USSR, the Aztec empire. Hands down, it is the US. That doesn't mean the US even remotely measures up to "perfect angelic nation that all should adore." It also does not mean that it is necessarily on a good trajectory right now or in the past. It just means that, on the whole, it beats out the others.

    "In fact, it seems that throughout history those that have flaunted the law and twisted it to their advantage have flourished the most."

    Disagree. To the degree that a society disregards basic ethical behavior and respect for rule of law it will find itself impoverished. Wealth is generated through the accumulation of capital. Capital is not accumulated nearly as readily by people in fear of their lives and property. A cursory review of history would show this to be the case, with few exceptions. You can also see a little study at my site:

    Further review (which I haven't yet posted) has shown that the two best predictors of wealth among the factors measured were corruption and property rights, in that order. Basically, ethical behavior and rule of law. They beat out the other determinants by a mile.

    You might say that a guy like Adolf Hitler was pretty powerful, but Mr. Hitler didn't last long. Neither did his empire. Most don't. But societies which adhere more to the rule of law have a tendency to flourish. They also have a tendency to collapse when they decide to stop, as the British have and the US will shortly.

    As for the brief history you gave, I was more interested in whether or not you'd actually met Uighurs and had any relationships with them or not. History, especially the very general stuff you find in these type summaries, doesn't always tell you much about people's attitudes and values. I think I've learned more about China by being married to my wife than I could by reading a book. At least about the stuff I'm interested in.


  6. "Our modern society demands consumers and industrial output to meet that consumption. "

    "basically, it is access to resources and adaptability that make societies flourish, not rule of law and values.

    so the Uighers, surrounded on all sides by desert and mtns, are guilty of being unable to adapt to Han rule and the Chinese economic miracle the Han bring with them."

    "Poverty and weakness are not indicators of a societies inability to function per se, just indicators of their inability to adapt to "the real world" as we have it now."

    I don't really know what to say to this, except that I do not think that it is right. It would take a book to address everything.

    Wealth is generated through higher productivity, which is achieved through capital accumulation. Rule of law fosters this process, violence and destruction do not. The Spanish came to the new world and found lots of gold, which they took home with them, but they didn't find lasting wealth. More gold in their hands just caused inflation. It takes more than money and resources to achieve wealth.

    It would be difficult to account for the wealth of places like Japan and S. Korea on the basis of resources. Both these places have scarce resources, yet became wealthy only when they gave up repressive social structures and adopted liberal Western models. "Resources" were similar before and after. Resources of the US were also similar before and after colonization by Europeans. Also note the differential fates of British and Spanish empires in the New World and their very different legal attitudes.

    I understand frustration with "the way things are," but I don't think you should chalk them up to capitalism, free markets and the like. It would take a long time to explain, but suffice it to say that I do not think we are presently seeing anything remotely like what a free society would actually produce, because we don't really have any. There are things to be angry about out there, but misdiagnosing problems when we propose solutions will tend to make things worse, not better. In my opinion.

    I think that is enough commenting for me! I've spent entirely too much time on this. But it has been fun.

    Thanks again to Sascha and Nicole for sharing their thoughts!

  7. Hey Scott, i was thinking about this today and i figured i'd wait till i got your response before going back into it, because it might just take a book.

    Like Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs and Steel which i really admire and is the basis for the "resources" theory.

    Lets take a look at what I saw in Xinjiang with the people and see what we can figure out:

    In the north, especially in Urumqi, I saw a very cosmopolitan city (Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Altays, Russians, Uighers, Pakistanis) all ruled by the majority Han, socially, economically and politically. It seemed like a wild west town with bargains going down in the back alleys.

    I went to a local Uigher restaurant for the "high class" and saw many Uigher families, men in suits, elegant women and groups of happy friends.

    I went to many local spots (like you'll find in China) that were filled with the poor man you find (anywhere in China). It was kinda strange to see people who looked like me (i am half Turkish) looking, eating and behaving (also toward me) the same as a Chinese peasant from the sticks of Sichuan would.

    I saw listless angry young men in some places and i saw hard working families and i saw very modest huddles of women shopping and i saw elegant single women strutting. it seemed like a pretty normal city in China — with the majority of the ubiquitous poor of China made up of Uigher, but no more or less well off than any other town.

    I noticed that traditional Uigher people were giving way to modern Uigher people.

    In the south, the heart of "Uigherstan" I saw a much different picture.

    In Kashgar I saw a society locked firmly in the 18th or maybe 19th century. With early 20th century tools and a smattering of 21st century stuff. In Hotan, they played Cultural Revolution-era songs for children while cops gathered around them in a plaza that shows Mao standing next to a very tiny Uigher figure, with his arm over the tiny figure's shoulder.

    In the Kashgar market, it looked a lot like any country market in China, but with bearded men and green eyed women. Cops were evident, but they seemed to be wandering about like they might have a few hundred years ago in Britain, deep in the community but with an eye for a bribe.

    Mosques everywhere — and the real deal, not the ostentatious newly built one up north in Erdaqiao in Urumqi. Old mosques, with serious Imams and a group of pious men at the front gate.

  8. It reminded me of the dichotomy evident all over China as modernity brushes aside and or transforms vast tracts of the country. For good and for ill.

    So before this gets a lil long winded, it seemed like Urumqi, where Uighers are one of a whole host of peoples struggling to make it in a region BEING INTRODUCED to the 21st century, is the future of Xinjiang as the Chinese would like to see it.

    Outside of Hotan and in the Kashgar market, lived the Uighers as they have been living for centuries, peacefully, with their faith. I saw no crime, no brawls, no drinking, no issues at all socially in the south, except for the cops and the people. But i did see "backward poverty." And this is actually the crux of the battle and the reason for all of the misunderstandings:

    The Han cannot fathom why people like Tibetans and Uighers would reject Urumqi or Lhasa for Hotan or Dege (old town in Kham Tibetan area). Any who would are "reactionaries" who want to maintain a feudal lifestyle and therefore MUST BE CONVERTED the way everyone was converted back in the day in China: hard core propaganda and violence. Like errant children.

    So there are two comments that kinda fit into this view of things:

    one from a Han Chinese in Urumqi who said: (from NYT article)"these people have simple minds … the government needs to come down hard on them … scare one and you scare em all."

    and the comment you posted on your blog from kadeer, in which she laments her peoples' identity crisis.

    We agree on a lot. I think access to resources and adaptability might be functions of a society with values and a respect for the rule of law. As in, a society with no corruption and protection of private property will be cohesive enough AND HAVE THE DESIRE to accumulate capital and wealth.

    I guess where i disagree is that I saw a very cohesive society in southern Xinjiang with deep respect for community rights and a rule of law that might not be liberal western, but it kept the murders down REAL low. Same in Tibet. These are working societies that are nevertheless very poor. Why is that?

    I think a harder question and a more salient one is, Is it possible to accumulate wealth and remain a Tibetan Buddhist or a Uigher Muslim? So far, the answer seems to be no. And the identity crisis we see can and often does end in bloodshed.

    let's keep it up in the future with other stuff.

  9. this is a tragic protest that will accomplish nothing. the only action the central authority has taken is to protect the protesters from being slaughtered by civilian Han armed with kitchen knives. Uighers are outnumbered and politically outgunned a million to one.

  10. Your experience sounds very different from what I would have expected and from my experience in China, but I was in a very different place. Closer to rural Sichuan.

    Unfortunately, I have very little time to comment, though I am sure I will return to the topic. Either you are far quicker at pounding out posts or have far more time to do it. I have done my best for the evening here:

    Perhaps I'll have more time over the weekend to return to the Xinjiang topic…

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