It’s been an uneasy week for China’s far-western Xinjiang autonomous region when two violent unrests happened in a row last week. On Wednesday, what China’s state media called a group of “extreme religious terrorists” attacked a local police station and government office in Lukqun township, leaving 35 people dead, 11 of which were rioters shot dead by police. Two days later, another group of armed people gathered and caused another unrest in Hotan county.
This is not the first violent clash in the region between Uyghurs and local authorities or the Han people, which are the country’s largest ethnic group. Many of the most recent cases left multiple deaths.
While the focus of Chinese officials and state media are on how to tighten anti-terror efforts in the region, online, a plea from a Xinjiang native stirred up discussions of how to make peace with people from different ethnic backgrounds on Weibo, China’s most dynamic microblog service.
“We’re from Xinjiang. We’re Uyghurs. We’re not terrorists. There are good people and bad people in every region among every ethnic group. Please do not equal ‘Xinjiang people’ with violence.”
Thus went a Weibo post by netizen Uyghur_维吾尔, who graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music and is a Xinjiang native. In his Weibo profile, he said: “Uyghur means ‘united’.” His post has since been shared over 10k times and by numerous online media accounts on Weibo.
In the comment section, many netizens agreed that those “terrorists” who brought violence and unrest to the “beautiful Xinjiang” are only a very small fraction of the Uyghur ethnic group. Like netizen 歪批客Peter commented: “Laobaixing (ordinary people) are always kind. Those terrorists under the disguise of religion are the ones who should be condemned.” Another netizen 中欧的伟哥 called for a stop of racial discrimination: “I believe the majority of the Uyghur ethnic group are friendly and kind, probably kinder than most Han people. A few bad guys cannot represent the entire ethic group. Long live ethnic harmony!”
Many netizens shared their thoughts on what may have gone wrong in the region. And not surprisingly, some had their eyes on the country’s controversial ethnic policies. Netizen 古城孤魂 commented: “To foster cultural identity and a fair system is far more effective then sending troops to ‘maintain stability.’ Our ethnic polices are the root of all problems. [We need to] give [Uyghur] young people the hope to prosper in the future and make them feel like a member of this country. Playing tough has no use.”
Another netizen Parwaz天翔教育 also thought that the problem was with Chinese government’s ethnic policy: “In Xinjiang, non-action from the government is a serious problem. No one bothers to take care of anything when issues first arise. The government cares to take action only until conflicts escalate or something bad happens. All ethnic groups living in Xinjiang want peace and a stable social environment, but a few of those in power and the terrorists want things to turn big. Only when terrible things happen can officials be promoted and the twisted minds of the terrorists be satisfied.”
Some netizens even identified with the Uyghur ethnic group as being similarly powerless in front of a powerful government. Like netizen 洪启 commented: “I don’t pity the Uyghurs. I pity myself, because like most Uyghurs, I’m also one of the unprivileged in this society, with no background or special resources. The Uyghurs need no sympathy because they have a rich culture to nourish their hearts. The only thing that I cannot tolerate is the prejudice between the Uyghur and the Han.”
And that prejudice isn’t easy to erase, at least among many urban Han people. At the end of last year, a fight between a group of Uyghur street vendors and a Han villager over an unreasonably expensive piece of Xinjiang nut cake in the city of Yueyang, Hunan province, caught national attention. At the time, netizens flocked to share their experiences of being tricked by dishonest Uyghur nut cake sellers. Both fear and contempt can be sensed from netizens’ comments.
Clashes between Uyghurs and the Han people in and outside of Xinjiang all tell one fact, that is, China still has a long to go to realize true ethnic harmony. Everybody, not only the government, needs to make an effort. Like netizen 绿纬 pointed out: “In the face of a crisis, every ethnic group needs to show their sincerity.”