“No one relates to the victims of the Kunming terrorist attack better than the people of Xinjing,” commented one Xinjiang native who has experienced first-hand the 2009 rampage in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in which nearly 200 people, most of them Han, were killed by Uighur mobs.
To say that the word “Uighurs” provoke the similar kind of distrust in China as the word “Muslims” does in post 9/11 US is probably no exaggeration. Tension has always been high between this minority group that lives in China’s far west and the country’s majority Han people, whose first reaction after hearing the word “Uighurs” would be “thieves,” “unappreciative separatists” and “knife-wielding terrorists.”
After the Kunming Railway Station attack last Saturday where at least 29 people were killed and 143 injured by unformed knife-wielding assailants, the tension is bound to escalate. But thanks to China’s social media, ordinary Uighur people, who themselves are victims of violent ethnic unrests, are poised to make their voices heard, and they find an audience online.
#I’m from Xinjiang#, online activism pushed by savvy Uighurs to fight stereotypes of Xinjiang people, has been making waves on Weibo, China’s leading social media, in the past 2 days.
By expressing love of their hometown, these Xinjiang native Uighurs are making an effort to prevent possible large-scale racial profiling following the Kunming attack. “They are proud to be Uighurs.” And more importantly, “Not all Uighurs are terrorists.”
One thing that they pointed out but is often overlooked by media is that an average Xinjiang person hates terrorists just as much as Han people, if not more. They live in Xinjiang, and thus have higher probability to be exposed to more severe violence. And worst of all, they cannot openly discuss it due to their ethnicity.
According to the accounts of one Xinjiang native, he and his family, though Uighurs themselves, had lived under constant fear of death for a very long period of time after the 7.5 Urumqi Riots in 2009 that claimed nearly 200 lives. But instead of receiving condolence from across China, like the case of Kunming, the entire region was disconnected from both the Internet and wireless networks. “It felt like we were completely cut off from the world…The people of Xinjiang weathered through that horrific year and endured those nightmare memories all by ourselves. We Xinjiang people hate these terrorists more than anyone!” He commented.
Favored policies in child birth, education, healthcare, etc., the exact reason why many Han people see Uighurs as unappreciative, aren’t doing the minorities any good either. The policy of “less arrest or death penalty and more leniency,” which aims at showing judicial tolerance of minorities, is the target of much criticism from both sides.
One Uighur college student who graduated from a top university in China but failed to land a job due to his ethnicity bitterly commented: “It’s an absurd policy, benefiting only the criminals in minorities. If you are a law-abiding minority, the policy won’t do you any good.” He went on to point out that the policy may be the root of all ethnic problems in China: “It encourages law violation among minorities. Why? Because they won’t be severely punished after committing a crime. And what becomes of an ethnic group with very high crime rates? It’s falling.”
According to a detailed report on the lives of homeless Uighur kids outside Xinjiang, as much as of 90% of these kids were abducted and forced into thieves. Why are Uighur kids from poorer areas of Xinjiang popular targets of abduction? Because when they steal, they are much less likely to be investigated extensively due to both of their ethnicity and their language barrier.
Dong Zi, a Uighur who has been running a little grilling lamb kebab shop in the city of Dali, Yunnan province, for the past 8 years, was asked to leave town in 10 days by local authorities after the tragic event in Kunming. Thanks to overwhelming support from both his local friends and netizens online, he was allowed to stay, and local police also apologized for their “stupid” order.
“He is my friend. He is an ordinary man living in his own country.” One of the supporting signs thus reads.