04 August 2011

On the violence in Qeshger

Tempers flared. Knife-wielding attackers lashed out at the law and anyone nearby. Hostages were taken by desperadoes. Lawmen shot first and asked questions later. The Chinese West erupted once again in violence, leaving at least 18 people dead. Ms Räbiya Qadyr of the World Uyghur Congress blames the Chinese government; the Chinese government blames the ETIM and terrorists ostensibly trained in Pakistan. I have remarked on the situation that took place two years ago. It greatly saddened me then, and it saddens me now. I have a great deal of sympathy for the situation of the Uyghurs in East Turkestan, given the prejudice, cultural and religious humiliation, poverty and poisonous inequality they must still endure.

However, I have felt – and still feel – that even though Xinjiang (as with Tibet) is and would be vastly better off under Chinese rule than as its own independent country, China must hold itself critically to the ideal of the ‘harmonious society’ it has set for itself, rather than taking it as a given that it will occur with greater attention to ‘scientific development’. Here I don’t think we can afford to ignore the possibility that we are seeing the tragic results of a developmentalist market ideology – it is almost a certainty that the wealth gap between ethnicities in Xinjiang took off in the early 1980’s in the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, and then again under Jiang Zemin – that has certainly had unequal outcomes and has very likely a consciously unequal implementation. Uyghurs are increasingly upset at the lack of economic opportunities close to home, the inaccessibility of institutions of higher learning, the Mandarin language barrier. Much of the ‘development’ carried out in Xinjiang under the Great Western Development Strategy has been extraction-based, carried out by state-owned or large commercial enterprises. It has been heavily localised in the north of the region, with nearly all of the managerial jobs going to Han Chinese and a sizeable share of the profits going back east to corporate headquarters.

Something also has to be done about regional prejudices among the population – the prevailing stereotype of Uyghurs amongst Chinese, particularly in the east, is that they are back-biting and ungrateful recipients of Han Chinese largesse, that they are intractably backward, violent and untrustworthy sneak-thieves. To be sure, the Uyghurs are not the only victims of prejudice in China – Han Chinese just as gleefully stereotype amongst themselves (indeed, much the same way as we do here); I’ve heard the same descriptors (particularly the ‘untrustworthy’ bit) applied to people from Henan – which, not coincidentally, also happens to be one of the regions with the highest poverty rates in China. However, this particular prejudice does undeniably contribute to an atmosphere in which prophesies of violence fulfil themselves.

The common retort to the people who express such concerns as I am doing now is that the speaker is a Westerner who has an interest in undermining China’s sovereignty. I do not speak here as a Westerner, but as a friend of China; and I have no wish to undermine any legitimate country’s sovereignty. Indeed, I certainly believe that China can do better. But the government, the businesses, the society all have to be willing to look honestly in the mirror – whether with regard to a tragedy of mere chance (such as the train accident two weeks ago), or with regard to a wholly human tragedy such as this one in Xinjiang. What China needs most today may just be another Lu Xun.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I don't know much about China, but I wonder if many of the worst aspects of the present regime are really anomalies. I have been reading Lin Yutang, and the Chinese culture comes across as being extremely humanistic, in the best sense of the word.

    Perhaps the Chinese government, in its zeal to catch up with the West economically, is blind to the danger of repeating the mistakes of the West?