China’s Fruitless Repression of the Uighurs

Posted: 2014年09月30日 in Other authors

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/29/opinion/chinas-fruitless-repression-of-the-uighurs.html?_r=0

Last week, a court in China’s far western Xinjiang region sentenced Ilham Tohti, a member of the Uighur minority, to life in prison for the crime of “inciting separatism.” The conviction of this moderate scholar elicited international condemnation; the sentence was an order of magnitude longer than those given to other Chinese dissidents. But, far from being a show of strength, the sentence is a sign of the confusion and desperation behind the government’s policies toward Uighurs.

That Mr. Tohti, an economics professor and a blogger, should become a celebrated political prisoner is a paradox, for he is in many ways a poster child for what the Communist Party hopes more Uighurs will become. Educated, and eloquent in Mandarin, he was a party member from a family closely engaged with the state (his male relatives include members of China’s military and state security organs). He is professional, entrepreneurial and middle class (his family assets amounted to around $130,000 before state confiscation). He is not outwardly religious (most Uighurs are Muslims, but vary in the degree and nature of their observance). He is distinctive mainly in his outspokenness.

Though the Chinese often think of Xinjiang as a remote frontier of deserts and mountains, populated with quaint folkloric natives, it is closely linked to the rest of China and to Central Asia by an expanding transportation infrastructure; the skyscrapers, neon glow, booming commerce and air pollution of Xinjiang’s cities resemble those elsewhere in China; and although, like rural areas throughout the country, Xinjiang’s villages remain poor, the emerging middle class in the cities is scarcely different from its counterparts in other urban centers. Rapid economic development has benefited Uighurs as well as Han Chinese (each group makes up just over 40 percent of the region’s population of 21 million).

Yet the authorities seem puzzled and frustrated that, despite these economic gains, Uighurs remain adamantly Uighur. Sporadic local disturbances are endemic throughout China, but in Xinjiang they are colored by ethno-national and religious sentiments. After a relatively quiet decade, from 1998 to 2007, stability has eroded alarmingly since 2008, with a big, bloody race riot in 2009, sporadic attacks on police stations and representatives of the state and, over the past year, violence perpetrated by Uighurs against random civilians in Urumqi, the regional capital, and in faraway Yunnan Province and Beijing. Xinjiang authorities have responded to violence with an intense crackdown, including house-to-house searches, and a campaign against traditional symbols of identity: veils, head scarves, beards, traditional hats, Ramadan fasting, prayer.

Combined with the recent razing of Uighur architecture in the ancient city of Kashgar and elimination of the Uighur-language educational track from Xinjiang’s schools and universities, these measures seem aimed at repressing Uighur culture. Moreover, the authorities have now doubled down on their post-9/11 tendency to interpret Uighur unrest through a single lens — foreign-inspired Islamic “terrorism” — even when the real causes are local and political.

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It is unclear if China’s leaders entirely believe their own propaganda — that all Uighur troubles derive from external sources and are unrelated to government policies — but local and regional authorities certainly benefit from it: Whereas common people elsewhere in China enjoy some de facto freedom to protest official and business malfeasance, Uighurs enjoy no such latitude. In the absence of a free press, Beijing has few sources of on-the-ground information in Xinjiang other than its own self-interested and self-protecting local officials, who can readily justify their mistakes and abuses in the name of fighting “separatism, extremism and terrorism.” No surprise, then, that it was the authorities in Xinjiang, not Beijing, who were most eager to prosecute Mr. Tohti, for he has been arguing that Chinese policies themselves, not simply cyber-radicalization, have been engendering Uighur resentment and violence.

Yet by condemning Mr. Tohti, Beijing has not only subjected itself yet again to international opprobrium, but has denied itself a critical Uighur viewpoint and an alternative approach to the deteriorating situation in Xinjiang. Before it was shut down, Mr. Tohti’s Uighurbiz website was a forum for Han and Uighur contributors to discuss Xinjiang issues, bridging the two communities; the need for more interethnic communication was a theme when the Communist Party issued revised Xinjiang policy guidelines last May.

Most important, Mr. Tohti pointed out that China’s own existing laws could protect minority cultures — if only they were observed. He did not call for a radical American-style democratization, but rather for the protection of indigenous institutions — support for non-Han cultural expression, job opportunities and truly “autonomous” government administration — that is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution and a 1984 law.

This system of “ethnic autonomy” was indirectly derived from the pluralist (though not democratic) ideology of the Qing empire (1644-1911), which first brought Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Taiwan under Beijing’s rule as a “great family under Heaven.” Though superficially resembling the system of national republics undergirding the Soviet Union, the system developed by the People’s Republic of China differed in substantial ways and was adapted to Chinese conditions and outlooks. It functioned successfully in the 1950s, when Xinjiang was designated the “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” and again in the early 1980s, and it remains popular with minority groups even though they have never been afforded real autonomy. Far from “inciting separatism,” Mr. Tohti was advocating a return to foundational promises dating to Mao’s era.

Management of diversity and pluralism is a pressing world issue, from Scotland to Ukraine to Ferguson, Mo. China has an opportunity to contribute its own fixes to the bugs in the nation-state model, but cannot do so by locking up its most creative and courageous thinkers.

上周,中国西部边陲新疆的一家法院,以“分裂国家”的罪名判处伊力哈木·土赫提(Ilham Tohti)无期徒刑。伊力哈木是维吾尔族人。对这位温和的学者判刑,引发了国际社会的谴责,他被判处的刑期也比其他中国异见人士长出一个数量级。然而这一判决显示的绝非力量,而是政府对维吾尔人的政策背后的混乱和慌张。

伊力哈木作为经济学教授和博客作者,成了一个广受赞许的政治犯,这本身就是一个矛盾。因为他在很多方面都十分符合共产党希望维吾尔人成为的样子。他受过教育,汉语流利,也是共产党员,与体制内人员有紧密的家庭关系(他的男性亲属中包括中国军队和国家安全机关的成员)。他有专业知识,有企业家精神,也是中产阶级(在被国家没收之前,他的家庭财产约合13万美元)。他并没有表现出多少宗教情绪(维吾尔人大多是穆斯林,但信仰的程度和性质各不相同)。他与众不同的地方在于他敢于发声。

尽管中国人通常认为新疆是一个遍布沙漠和山峦的遥远边疆,那里古朴有趣的居民能歌善舞,但是通过不断扩大的交通网络,它与中国其他地区以及中亚紧密地联系在一起;新疆城市里耸立的高楼、闪烁的霓虹、蓬勃的商业,甚至空气污染,都与其他中国城市颇为相似;尽管就像全国的农村地区一样,新疆的农村也仍然贫穷,但城市里崛起的中产阶级,与其他城市的中产阶级没有什么不同。飞速的经济发展让维吾尔族受益,也让汉族受益(在新疆的2100万人口当中,这两个族群所占的比例都是略高于40%)。

尽管经济上获益,但维吾尔人对自己身为维吾尔人的身份仍然坚定不移,这一点似乎令官方感到困惑和不满。不时出现的地方性骚乱事件在中国各地都是普遍的问题,但在新疆,这些事件却被赋予了民族和宗教情绪的色彩。在1998年至2007年经过相对平静的十年之后,自2008年以来局势的不稳定令人担忧,2009年更是发生了大规模的血腥民族骚乱,公安机关及国家权力的代表不时受到攻击。过去一年,有维吾尔人在乌鲁木齐、偏远的云南省,以及北京对平民采取了不加区分的暴力袭击。新疆官方对暴力采取的反应是加紧打压,包括挨家挨户地搜查,及采取行动限制身份认同的传统符号:蒙面服饰、头巾、胡须、传统的花帽、斋月的斋戒,以及礼拜。

再加上最近在喀什拆除维吾尔建筑、在新疆的学校和大学里取消维吾尔语授课的课程,这些举措的目的似乎是压制维吾尔文化。此外,官方还加强了9·11之后的一种倾向,以同一个视角解读维吾尔人的骚乱——外国势力煽动的伊斯兰“恐怖袭击”事件——即使真正的起因来源于当地,是政治性的。

中国官方的宣传是,所有涉及维吾尔族的麻烦,都源自外部势力,与政府的政策无关。并不清楚中国的领导人是否完全相信自己的宣传,但地方和自治区的政府肯定会从中受益:对于官员和商人的不端行为,中国其他地区的普通人实质上享有某些抗议的自由,但维吾尔人却没有这种空间。在缺乏新闻自由的情况下,北京要想得到新疆当地的信息,除了通过下面那些自利、自我保护的地方官员,极少有其他渠道。官员们以打击“分裂主义、极端主义和恐怖主义”为名,可以方便地为自己的行为辩护。所以,最迫切地想起诉伊力哈木的是新疆当局而不是北京,这并不令人惊讶。因为他一直主张,是中国的政策本身引发了维吾尔人的愤懑和暴力行为,而不仅仅是网上的激进鼓动。

然而,对伊力哈木的打压,不仅让北京再次受到了国际社会的谴责,也让自己失去了一个关键的维吾尔族视角,还失去了以另一种途径应对新疆不断恶化的局势的可能性。伊力哈木的“维吾尔在线”网站被关闭前,是一个让汉族和维吾尔族作者讨论新疆议题的论坛,为两个群体搭建了桥梁;而增进民族间的交往与交流,也是共产党今年5月调整新疆政策方针时的一个主题。

最重要的是,伊力哈木指出,中国现行的法律可以保护少数民族的文化——只要能够执行。他并没有呼吁激进的美式民主化,而是主张保护本民族的习俗:支持非汉族的文化表达、就业机遇和真正“自治”的政府,而这在中国宪法中,以及1984年的一部法律中都得到了保障。

这种“民族区域自治”的体制间接地来源于清代(1644年至1911年)多元主义(尽管并不民主)的意识形态。清代将新疆、西藏、蒙古和台湾纳入了北京“天下一家”的统治之下。尽管表面上与苏联体制之下的民族共和国很相似,但中华人民共和国制定的体制,与苏联体制有显著的差异,并且根据中国的条件和形式做了调整。在上世纪50年代,这套体制运行得很成功,那时新疆成为了“新疆维吾尔自治区”。在80年代初期,也相当成功,尽管从来没有向少数民族赋予真正的自治,但这一制度在少数民族当中仍然很受欢迎。伊力哈木远非“煽动颠覆”,他是在主张回归毛泽东时代的基本承诺。

治理多元的社会、推行多元主义是一个紧迫的全球性议题,从苏格兰、到乌克兰、再到密苏里州弗格森,都是如此。中国有机会为解决民族国家模式中的问题做出贡献,但是如果把最有创造力、最勇敢的思想者关起来,就无法做到这一点。

James A. Millward, a professor of history at Georgetown, is the author of “Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang” and “The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction.”

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