Note: this post is a translation of an article titled “phone conversation I had with my Uighur college classmate after the riot“. There have been allegations in recent days that most of the deadly violences were carried out by outsiders of Urumqi (i.e., not residents of the city). This article contains some details of such allegations.
This dude is a Muslim, but strongly assimilated in the Han culture. Twenty years ago, we were classmates in a university located in the central China. He was very good at soccer, which is the sport I actively participated in. I asked for playing tips from him a number of times. He didn’t have much money. I frequently invited him for (cheap) soda drinks on me, and had a fairly good relationship with him back then. … After graduation, he got a job in the Xinjiang Civil Affairs Bureau before leaving to start a business about 10 years ago.
We have not had contacts for years. Because I might travel to Xinjiang for business soon, I called him to say hi and ask how things are over there. I didn’t expect the phone call to go through but it did. And a conversation that I expected to last a few minutes went for an hour…
He is still as outspoken and talkative as I remembered. As soon as the phone got connected, he began telling me all the news of other classmates: who made a fortunate lately, who got promoted, etc.
He was present in Urumqi on July 5th, but has since left. What he told me about the riot on 5th didn’t differ much from things I have learned online and in the media reports. So I will stick with the “official lines” and won’t repeat his descriptions.
He particularly emphasized one issue: that many Uighurs are now very afraid and helpless. They worry about retributions from Han and even government. He kept telling me that the bloody violences had very little to do with regular Uighurs, particularly those living in Urumqi. Those Uighurs with families and jobs also loved and appreciated civil peace. Even among those with resentments towards Han people, fighting and in particular deadly violence were just completely unthinkable. “It was too much. Those people were animals, so brutal.” (Those were his original words, spoken with a strong hint of Hubei dialect. When he started learning Chinese, the teacher must have been someone from Hubei. He still cannot correct such tones twenty years later.)
The way he put it: (he didn’t say if it was his own observation and analysis or heard from others) there were two groups of participants in the July 5th protest and riot. One consisted of Urumqi’s Uighur students and punks hanging around on the streets, influenced by messages circulated online and through SMS. They were agitated to protest in the People’s square. These people didn’t do much. They were there make some noise and release frustrations. … The other group consisted a small fraction of native Urumqi hoodlums and mainly day labors from outside, particularly those from Southern Xinjiang. Those were the core elements behind the killings and destructions. They appeared to be a lot more organized than protesters in the first group. They mixed in with other protesters at first to provoke the police. When the police mobilized to control and disperse the crowd of protesters, they slipped out, leaving others there to keep the police busy. “Where did they go and to do what? What else would they do? Those animals divided into teams to root, burn and kill!!” (Those were my classmate’s own words.)
He didn’t give me time to think through and went onto the next point: this riot deeply harmed both Han and Uighur people. On the surface, the Han population suffered the most, being on the receiving end of the violences. But the Uighurs also lost a lot, implicitly. Regular Uighurs are now deeply afraid, especially when they are faced with looks of cold hatred from Han people on the streets and in the workplace. Uighurs are concerned that government would come down hard on them, and are worried about potential indiscriminate revenge attacks from Han. Most regular Uighur residents had absolutely nothing to do with the violence or even the protest. According to him, many Uighurs received phone calls and short messages urging them to go to the protest in the streets before [July 5th], but most people ignored them. Nobody could have foreseen how awful things turned out to be.
He stressed the point that the most important task now is to dig out the direct perpetrators of violences and their organizers behind the scene. It is essential to place the blame on the real culprits and separate regular Uighur population from the suspicion. Those culprits must suffer the consequences for their actions instead of spreading dragging regular Uighurs down with them. Whichever the race, there would be some bad apples. But most regular Uighurs are peaceful and decent people. They also hate such evil elements. … After this riot, a small group of people brought incredible casualties to the Han people as well as harms to the Uighurs as a whole. They did their evil acts and now all Uighurs are dragged into the dispute. What kind of logic is this? … He said that he never felt discomfort taking as stroll on the streets, but now all he felt was awkwardness. If not for business, he would have stayed put in the home, keeping together with his wife and kids. And things could turn to the worse from now on. When and if Han people begin to look at Uighurs with hatred, the livelihood of all Uighurs would suffer. “Han is after all the majority race in this country and dominates in technology and economy. Without working with Han people, a lot of us would have to go back farming in the country side.” … “It used to be that we would enjoy shopping and eating in the city as a family. Now we cannot. All of a sudden, there are places to be avoided and we worry being on the receiving end of troubles and humiliations. How could we not be depressed and angry?”
In the end, he emphasized again the need to find out what truly happened and who were the culprits. Then those need to be publicized so that ethnic tension would not be heated up further. It is essential to find out the truth and let everyone know so that hatred between Uighur and Han would be reduced. “Don’t expect we Uighurs wouldn’t hate those culprits.” … “They killed and looted and now we have to suffer the consequences. How could we not feel angry towards them?”
He heard that some of our classmates were faring well in the government or private enterprises. “Perhaps some of them could have channels to talk to the central government to reflect these concerns.”
Heart of The Dragoon says
If only everyone had a cool head like these 2 gentlemen and can see that an ethnic group cannot be stereotyped or categorized negatively, we will live in a much more better place.
It is a shame that lots of innocent people end up being victimized.
It would be really nice if the people of Urumqi from all ethnicities can get together on a “love parade”. And unite against violence, denouncing the perpetrators of violence. Turn this whole negative saga with a positive twist.
Thanks for this post, DJ. I think I learned more from your one phone conversation than from all the other media reports combined, both Chinese and foreign.
Great post. I wonder if there could be any creative measure to bridge the two people (Han and Uighur) in the near future. When I first arrived in the states as a grad student, most of my friends and I joined some Chistian-sponsored program (usually called “Family Friends Association”, etc.). Although I mainly went for free food and practicing English, not really interested in the religious part, I think it was very beneficial to learn about parts of American Culture. It might be even easier if the Chinese government is to take some initiative to sponsor some similar programs in Xinjian, maybe with some additional financial/social incentives.
Charles Liu says
That’s why I think Kadeer and WUC’s “Uyghur slavery in Guangdong” and “100s Uyghurs massacred in Guangdong factory” were the main cause of the riot. This is what inflammed the sentiments.
Undoubtedly, there are 2 distinctive economic segment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Most Uighurs, as I said, are peaceful and well-established enough in Urumqi to make decent living. They would have little incentive to raise this kind of ethnic tension.
Undoubtedly, there is poverty in Urumqi, among Uighurs and Hans and Huis, and discrimination.
But poverty and discrimination induced violence tend to be generally more economic. LA riot saw only 53 deaths in 6 days. Most of the violence were looting and arson and destruction of property.
Urumqi violence were, on the other hand, heavily targetted on innocent people, with advance indoctrination toward killing in specific manners.
Steve, I don’t think DJ had the telephone conversation. If he had done he wouldn’t have had to translate it, he would have just written it.
Thanks for translating it, DJ.
@ Raj: You’re absolutely correct; thanks for pointing that out. On the other hand, now I’m more skeptical as to the validity of what was written. If it’s from one of us I’m more apt to trust the information. If it’s from a purported conversation, I’d sure like to know who the person was who wrote it.
This is a piece that should be published in the mainstream media, Chinese or Western, not Rebiya Kadeer’s lies (published on WSJ).
I’d like the letter sounds very plausible. Authorities are now saying basically the same thing.
“some significant portion of rioters came from Kashgar and Hotan area in southern Xinjiang, some 1500 km away”
“On July 5th at 6:30pm local time, crowd started gathering and demonstrating in People’s Square. Half an hour later, they started ‘sounding the east but attacking the west’ (声东击西), looting/burning/attacking took place at Liberation Rd, Daba Rd, Xinhua South Rd, Outer Ring and other places.
2009年07月11日 21:04 来源：中国新闻网 【字体：↑大 ↓小】
中新社乌鲁木齐七月十一日电 (记者 汪金生孙亭文)中共乌鲁木齐市委书记栗智十一日在接受媒体采访时透露，根据目前已掌握的情况，参与乌鲁木齐“七·五”事件的犯罪分子相当一部分人来自一千五百公里以外的喀什、和田等地。这更进一步证明了乌鲁木齐“七·五”事件是有组织，有预谋的。
It’s interesting that the second group seemed made up with less educated people but more organized and planned and they carried on the killings. How many of the uneducated could access internet to receive and spread rumors.
Collective punishment only can drive people further away
I like neutrino’s idea. CCP is good with this kind of programs. There are more interaction needed between ethnic groups. People need to be taught there are much more about just dancing and singing in ethnic culture. Ethnic history, language ,culture should be taught in Han schools. Special free language programs in big cities like Beijing ,ShangHai and industry area in GuangDong can be set up to help ethnic migrant workers who have difficulties with Han language and vice versa. In Urumqi and Kashgar, Uighur language can be taught to new arrivers from in land China, etc
It is a typical accusation to blame the poor labourers.
Good point. Poor Uighurs are easy to get organized and take actions onto streets, but Uighur’s radical separatist movement is mostly driven by ambitious Uighur intellectuals.
It is high time for those educated Uighurs to reset their worldview.
I heard something similar from another Urumqi-ite: the initial demonstration was made up of university students, the violence was mainly the work of “scumbags” who had been kicked out of their towns.
While I have no doubt that CCP will carry out justice according to law, and change policies to reduce ethnic tensions, I propose a movement by ordinary Chinese people.
“Call our Xinjiang Chinese brothers”.
If any Chinese, Han, Hui, Miao, etc., know of any one in Xinjiang, of any ethnicity, call them, email them. If you lost contact with them a long time ago, track them down informally, and then contact them.
Ask them how they are doing, if they need anything. Let them know that the rest of the Chinese people are thinking of them, and feel their pain, and that they are not alone, and they don’t need to feel scared any more.
If they need something, see if you can help or find someone who can help. Mobilize your net contacts.
From the article above, we can see that people in Xinjiang need more friendly contacts at this time, more than material things. If we can reach out to them, it will help reduce the tension and the fear, and perhaps reduce the ethnic animosity in Xinjiang.
i want to thank you for your perpective on the issue.:-)
it is much nicer than the same old same old which media outlets publish as “original”.
i would like to know if you found out anything about the lynching in the factory that started the riots? has it received any attention?
(1) it was not a “lynching”. It was a brawl, with both sides using sticks and knives.
(2) 2 dead, 118 injured, 27 already discharged from hospital.
(3) 15 arrested, 3 of whom are from Xinjiang.
(4) the factory is back to full production with 18000 employees working.
i just find it interesting that when such violence happens it is labeled as instigated by outsiders or at minimum delegitamized. i don’t believe in violence. why did this “brawl” happen in a factory? usually violence happens when employees and employers are encourage not to listen to each other? why was there a split down the line (han/uighar)? is it because there is a line? i have seen it happen between taiwanese and aboriginals here in taiwan…and its because there is a line create (us and them) which fosters ignorance on both sides.
there tends to be a feeling that uighar perceptions of political/economic/social marginalization are invalid. on top of that, any violence or group protest is seen as instigated by uighars (terrorists) from outside of china, but this first started in a factory!? why in a factory? it makes me curious, when most of the violence is attribute to outside labourers/hooligans/terrorist supporters. these poor people (and they are poor. i don’t think armani suited men would do this) must come from very terrible living conditions to willingly/needing to come to a city who doesn’t provide them with a happy life.
i remember reading, i think in the nytimes, about how uighars were forced out of beijing (homes and businesses) due to growing tensions in xinjian as well as the coming of the olympics. the olympics is a whole other interesting analysis.
i am from canada of french/irish descent married to an paiwan aborignal, so i can appreciate, to a degree, the dynamics of xinjian. and i understand the term outsider when assigned particuarly since i have lived in taiwan for 9 years. for me, it is an impediment when the only voice of reason comes across as legitimate and dessenting voices lare abelled delegitimate or even threatening.
thanks again, i look forward to your response
This was so much more informative than any of the reports in the media. It was interesting to get a bit more background information on the situation, too.