It is often the case that once tragedy strikes, it becomes too late for us to brush up (or learn for the first time) background to help us understand events in areas outside our general knowledge, because writing becomes too heated, biased, and agenda laden.
These Ürümqi riots that broke out on 5 July 2009 have a great many important implications including historically, religiously, and world-power-relations-wise.
I have assembled one or two articles with good balance and sound information, to help Leaves readers think well in the midst of the flurry of articles that will properly dominate the news in coming days or perhaps longer.
Here is the first, post-raw-breaking-news article that now reports on stage two, the call for an investigation.
Where is this?
Next I would like to draw your attention to two articles that are quiet in tone, and very helpful to provide background and context to help understand the recent history pertinent to the outbreak of the riots that drew such intense government fire.
The first is from Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post Foreign Service
URUMQI, China -- When the local government began recruiting young Muslim Uighurs in this far western region for jobs at the Xuri Toy Factory in the country's booming coastal region, the response was mixed.
But others, like Safyden's 21-year-old sister, were wary. She was uneasy, relatives said, about being so far from her family and living in a Han Chinese-dominated environment so culturally, religiously and physically different from what she was accustomed to. It wasn't until a local official threatened to fine her family 2,000 yuan, or about $300, if she didn't go that she reluctantly packed her bags this spring for a job at the factory in Shaoguan, 2,000 miles away in the heart of China's southern manufacturing belt.
The origins of last week's ethnically charged riots in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region, can be traced to a labor export program that led to the sudden integration of the Xuri Toy Factory and other companies in cities throughout China.
Uighur protesters who marched into Urumqi's main bazaar on July 5 were demanding a full investigation into a brawl at the toy factory between Han and Uighur workers that left two Uighurs dead. The protest, for reasons that still aren't clear, spun out of control. Through the night, Uighur demonstrators clashed with police and Han Chinese bystanders, leaving 184 people dead and more than 1,680 injured in one of the bloodiest clashes in the country's modern history. Two Uighurs were shot dead by police Monday, and tensions remain palpable.
Both Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of the country's population and dominate China's politics and economy, and Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority living primarily in China's far west, say anger has been simmering for decades.
By moving Uighur workers to factories outside Xinjiang and placing Han-run factories in Xinjiang, Chinese officials say, authorities are trying to elevate the economic status of Uighurs, whose wages have lagged behind the national average. But some Han Chinese have come to resent these policies, which they call favoritism, and some Uighurs complain that the assimilation efforts go too far. Uighurs say that their language is being phased out of schools, that in some circumstances they cannot sport beards, wear head scarves or fast as dictated by Islamic tradition, and that they are discriminated against for private and government jobs.
The second is from The New Atlanticist Policy and Analysis Blog,by Griffin Huschke:
With recent violence in China’s western province of Xinjiang, Washington is increasingly ensnared in events dealing with the Uyghur community in China. However, many questions remain about the true goals of this Turkic ethnic group: are they terrorists bent on overturning law and order, or freedom fighters trying to throw off the yoke of a repressive government?
The quick answer is “neither.” Making any generalizations about a population is, of course, difficult: Uyghurs are geographically and culturally diverse. In order to understand the conflict that recently flared in Xinjiang, it is important to note not all Uyghurs see themselves as such. Data gathered by Professor Justin Rudelson show that many Turkmen identify with labels that correspond to their home town or religion as opposed to ‘Uighur.’ Rudelson showed that the concept of a Uyghur ethnicity is often a fuzzy, particularly in the lower and middle classes.
This lack of a Uyghur identity is due to hundreds of years of separation resulting from formidable natural barriers. While those of the same ethnicity had settled around the region, the vast desert and rugged mountains sometimes made travel outside Xinjiang more feasible than travel within the province. Thus, those in the oasis town of Ili have a much stronger historical and cultural connection with the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan than with their ethnic cousins in Kashgar, China.
How does this help us understand the recent strife in Xinjiang’s capital city of Urumqi? The localized identity, which has existed for thousands of years, may be beginning to shift. While it is too early to begin to discuss a true “pan-Uyghur” identity (as promoted by the World Uyghur Congress, for instance), ethnic Turkic peoples in the region are beginning to feel more isolated from their Han countrymen. In addition to Urumqi, ethnic strife in Shaoguan and other areas of China are making Uyghurs feel more vulnerable and cognizant of their “otherness.” Indeed, violence is becoming increasingly common place. Charles Hutzler in the AP:
Tens of thousands of what the government calls "sudden mass incidents" rock China every year, presumably soaring in number since Beijing stopped releasing the statistic publicly in 2005, when there were 87,000 of them. While loss of life is rarely on the scale of the Xinjiang riot, protesters often vent their rage on public property, burning government offices and cars.
This does not necessarily mean Uyhurs are feeling closer to other Uyghurs—large rifts still exist between Uyghurs. However, these riots indicate that the vast majority of peaceful Uyghurs are likely increasingly uneasy about coexistence with greater China.
At present, only localized and fragmented sentiments of “Uygur-ness” persist, and China still has an opportunity to integrate the Uyghurs into the wider economy and society. However, if Uyghur grievances in Urumqi and elsewhere are not taken seriously, the further growth of “us/them” sentiments may cause more violence in the near future.
I hope these maps and two articles give the kind of background that will allow Leaves readers to recognize the subtlety and complexity of the issues, and not fall prey to easy labels and superficial analyses