Reflection on violence in Xinjiang: the July 5th Event Remembered

Posted: 2011年07月5日 in Original Thoughts

It has been two years since the occurrence of violence in Xinjiang’s capital city, Urumuqi. The victims include, but not limited to, the Uyghurs. Some Han, Hui, and other ethnic members are also suffered from this tragic event.

The most involved and affected groups are the majority populations in Xinjiang, namely, the Uyghurs and the Han. It is understandable that there are basically two narratives about the violence in Xinjiang. The first and dominant narrative comes from the Han, as narrated by the Chinese state, attributes the violence to the Uyghurs, specifically to what the Chinese state (Han) calls the three evil forces (terrorism, extremism, and separatism).

According to Chinese state sources suddenly released after the occurrence of the September 11th event in the U.S. in 2001, the ambiguous “Dong-tu” or “East Turkistan”(s) forces have committed a serious of terrorist acts including bus bombings in Beijing and Urumuqi. However, to the U.S., the Uyghur forces that are believed to have engaged in terrorism are exclusively pointed to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement or its various derivations (ETIM).

Interestingly enough, after the July 5th event, the Chinese government, although continuously accuses “Tu-Dong” (ETIM?) forces, specifies another group as the major actors in this violence. The new force or actor after the July 5th event, identified by China’s official media and academia is Yi-zha-bu-te (伊扎布特), or (Hizb) Tahrir, which can be directly translated as Islamic Liberation Party. The identification of Uyghur participants in the July 5th event with this group seems to be reported by a Uyghur reporter, Harat (海莱特)who himself was later on arrested and jailed in China. According to his assessment, there were several hundred Hizb Tahrir members in early 1990s in Xinjiang and this number reaches to more than 20, 000 today(

It is probably according to this and other beliefs and assessment, China’s major scholars on Xinjiang tend to concentrate on Yi-zha-tu-te organization. University professors in Beijing, Nanjing, Lanzhou, and, of course, Urumuqi, began to deploy the new terminology to develop China’s own theory of anti-terrorism. According to some researchers, each Yi-zha-bu-te member suddenly received ¥ 3000 to 5000 in their bank account before the July 5th as the paycheck for their participation in the July 5th event.

In addition to these two forces, religious extremism and terrorism (ETIM or Hizb Tahrir), the Chinese government also accuses overseas Uyghurs, especially Ms. Rabir Kadeer, of igniting the violence. The major evidence of alleged Ms. Kadeer’s participation in the July 5th event is her phone call to his relatives before the July 5th that, according to Chinese media, she informed her relatives that something would happen soon. This “evidence” was supposedly reinforced by the later confessions of her Xinjiang relatives.

The so-called three forces from Chinese perspective thus find ETIM, Yi-zha-bu-te, and Ms. Kadeer as the major anchors. These accusations begin to associate the current “three evil forces” to modern Xinjiang history, from the Yabub Khanate of the late 19th century to East Turkistan Republics (ETRs) in 1930s and 1940s. Thus, a coherent ideology and chronology of separatism, extremism, and terrorism is presented by Han scholars.

Likewise, the Uyghur have accused and condemned Chinese evil forces that are believed to contribute to the current situation of Xinjiang. These evil forces can be roughly summarized as:
Han immigration: Although the history of Han immigration to Xinjiang can be traced as early as the Han dynasty according to the Chinese side, the Uyghurs accusation of the Han immigration often concentrates on the modern period when the Communist regime has systematically changed Xinjiang population structure by implementing immigration policies and institutions such as the establishment of the Xinjiang Construction and Development Corps.

These newcomers have quickly occupied Xinjiang resources due to their various affiliations with the state apparatus and nepotism (as represented by Wang Lequan’s nepotism and his wife’s enterprise in Xinjiang). As complementary part of the Han immigration into Xinjiang, the Uyghurs have also been systematically emigrated from Xinjiang. This population change strategy finally causes the Shaoguan incident in 2009, which in turn ignites the 7/5 event at home of Urumuqi. All sectors of the Uyghur societies have consistently and repeatedly criticized this population change strategy (the best analogy to this population politics in Xinjiang is the Israeli settlement in occupied territories of Palestine), as seen in the latest Jihadist video

The second evil force from the Chinese side, as condemned by the Uyghurs and the international community, is the Chinese social and cultural assimilation of the Uyghurs. Again, this is two-folded policy: on the one hand, the Han culture and language education has been vigorously and forcefully implemented in various regions of Xinjiang. On the other hand, the Uyghur culture and tradition including Mashrap have been brutally suppressed in the name of maintaining security and stability in Xinjiang. This cultural assimilation attempt is most criticized by Uyghur intellectuals and Muslim groups.

The ultimate goal of these population, economic, cultural politics is to totally assimilate the Uyghurs into Han majoratian society. However, the Xinjiang issue involves more than Han and the Uyghurs. Many other peoples residing in and out Xinjiang have also been affected. Therefore, it is necessary to think about the Xinjiang issue from a third perspective, which should take consideration of several general factors that can be applied to all China’s citizens:

The first question is: is China a Han nation or multi-ethnic country? Although the Chinese states since the 1912 have rhetorically claimed that China is a country of 5 peoples and of 56 ethnicities, respectively in the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, some Han ethnic centralism and chauvinism have been clear in major social, political, and ethnicity theories. As modern China’s sociologist and anthropologist, Fei Xiaotong, famously theorizes and equates China with Chinese/Han Nation (中华民族) and argues that other peoples (should) have affiliated (and assimilate) to the major body of the Han (汉族为主体的多元一体). This assimilationist theory of and approach to ethnic issues in contemporary China is to encourage the Han and Han culture as the state (such as the cult of Confucius and worship of ancestor of the Han such as 黄帝) while to marginalize and even illegalize minority cultural and historical practices such as Uyghur Mashrap as alien and even evil.

The cultural approach to China’s nation building neglects keys issues facing all minority populations in China: who are China’s citizen and who constitutes the Chinese state. It is widely known that ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hui, and others have difficulty, if not access to, in applying for a passport at local region. Local public security office and religious and ethnic bureaus have relentlessly exploited the local minorities by receiving bribes and “deposits” when they apply for passport and other governmental documents. The existence of ultra militia in Xinjiang such as the Construction and Development Corps is regarded as normal and rewarded for their alleged contribution to local stability, without seeing the real nature of monopolizing local resources and justifying that monopoly in the name of maintaining security and stability. Even at the local level of law enforcement, the policemen openly favor and side with the Han to attack and arrest the Uyghurs after the July 5th event, as seen in the recent video.

These issues, beyond ideological accusations, debates, and speculation, impose real challenges to the stability and harmony of Xinjiang. To achieve the prosperity and stability in Xinjiang, one has to start by asking: is China Han’s China? Are the Uyghur and other non-Han minority peoples second-class citizens of this country?

  1. […] Islamicization that is taking place in broader Central Asia and consequently in China too. More conservative estimatessay there are some 20,000 HuT members in […]

  2. “One high estimate that was given me was of some 50,000 HuT members in China spread out from Xinjiang all the way down to Sichuan province with people seeing the group as part of a dangerous Islamicization that is taking place in broader Central Asia and consequently in China too.

    “More conservative estimatessay there are some 20,000 HuT members in China.”

    Here are several points that need serious consideration:

    1. From Xinjiang to Sichuan…does it mean that the Uyghur diasporas in Sichuan belong to this group? Islamicization in Sichuan? how? given the fact that Sichun is totally dominated by Han..

    2. the estimated numbers of the Hu T are so different, from 50,000 to 20, 000??

    3. Why does Harat provide the exact number to the Chinese goverment before the occurrence of the July 5th event? did he read some articles/books in which the number of 20,000 is presented??

    4. what does “Jihadist” flags and slogans mean? almost everywhere Muslims call “the God is great” when demonstrate on the street? why these expressions become “Jihadist” in the Xinjiang context??

  3. […] Islamicization that is taking place in broader Central Asia and consequently in China too. More conservative estimates say there are some 20,000 HuT members in […]

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