Ethnic Rioting in Xinjiang Gets Worse

For those who aren’t already aware, the unrest in Xinjiang continues as Han mobs have been reported attempting to reach Uighur enclaves in Urumqi and elsewhere. Lifted straight from the New York Times:

Paramilitary forces fired tear gas Tuesday at Han Chinese protesters armed with clubs, lead pipes, shovels and meat cleavers. The mob was trying to reach this city’s Uighur enclave in the afternoon to exact revenge for Han civilians killed in the rioting on Sunday, when the Uighurs had rampaged through parts of the city.

In an attempt to contain China’s worst ethnic violence in decades, the authorities had imposed curfews, cut off cellphone and Internet services and sent armed police officers into neighborhoods after the first riot, but protesters massed across the city as rumors spread of fresh violence being committed by both sides.

In the morning, hundreds of Uighur protesters crashed a state-run tour of the riot scene that had been arranged by the authorities for foreign and Chinese journalists.
A wailing crowd of women, joined later by scores of Uighur men, marched down a wide avenue Tuesday with raised fists, tearfully demanding the release of Uighur men who they said had been seized from their homes after the violence Sunday. Some women waved the identification cards of men who had been detained.

As journalists watched, the demonstrators smashed the windshield of a police car, and several police officers drew their pistols before the entire crowd was encircled by officers and paramilitary troops in riot gear.

Here’s hoping that this situation is resolved soon and everyone in the region is safe.

Of course, not everyone cares about that sort of wishy-washy stuff. Glenn Greenwald over at (h/t ESWN) has written a piece called “What if the Uighurs were Christian” where he laments:

Just imagine if the Uighurs were a Christian — rather than Muslim — minority, battling against the tyrannical Communist regime in Beijing, resisting various types of persecution, and demanding religious freedom.


But the Uighurs are Muslim, not Christian, and hostility towards them thus easily outweighs the opportunity they present to undermine the Chinese Government.

Yes, truly these riots are a tragedy because they have failed to provide the US with an effective method of undermining the Chinese government. What, what?

Greenwald actually has a fairly solid premise — Islam is the new Communism, as far as American perceptions are concerned — but the rest of the article is pretty baffling. For one, it’s unclear exactly what “hostility towards [Uighurs]” exists in the US. We certainly haven’t seen much in the wake of this incident, especially not those of us who are watching CNN. Still, his assumption that everyone (or at least Americans) should be interested in undermining the Chinese government through these sorts of means is a little horrifying. It would probably help undermine the government if there were to be more riots and more innocent deaths, but is that really something a conscionable human being can support?

I think the heart of Greenwald’s point is the message that America should stop hating Muslims on principle, and that’s an admirable message. However, he’s pretty much advocating hating China on principle in the process, and his apparent comfort with the mass loss of innocent life in the pursuit of anti-China goals is somewhat disturbing.

Greenwald has committed what i consider the most common and most dastardly sin in discussing China: forgetting all about the actual people who live there. Yes, we shouldn’t assume bad things about Uighurs because they’re Muslim. Yes, the Chinese government has oppressed them and they have some legitimate grievances. Does that excuse violent rioting and the murder of innocents?

Regardless of one’s political stance, the only moral answer to that question is no.

[Ed note: Please forgive whatever holes there might be in this piece as I’ve had only 15 minutes to pull the whole thing together in the middle of yet another 15 hour workday. Woohoo!]

0 thoughts on “Ethnic Rioting in Xinjiang Gets Worse”

  1. @ Custer,

    The question of political violence isn’t that simple. What I’ve said before holds in terms of still not knowing all the information. And my heart goes out to the victims, Han, Uighur and Hui alike. And Greenwald–who I admire a lot in other contexts, such as skewering American hypocrisy on Israel or torture—seems to have waded into a new issue beyond his expertise (like you say, not so strange when journalists and bloggers touch China). But… demanding that Uighurs play nice and practice nonviolent resistance is a big statement and shouldn’t be THE obvious and THE “moral” response to the situation.

    What will deliver Uighurs the best deal? That should be at least one of the main questions. Maybe, when the dust settles, violence will bring concessions that a peaceful march, easily suppressed and wiped from memory, will not. Maybe, nothing else will make its way onto Chinese television screens, unsettling notions of gentle, paternalistic development. In the short term, the riots will certainly mean a severe crackdown, but who knows about the long-term.

    I’m already starting to regret this comment… perhaps violence is never excusable and will only burn any chances at ethnic dialogue. But I just don’t think that the first response to violence should be to condemn rioters.


  2. I’m going to tread very softly with this comment because I certainly am not the kind to say that the ends justify the means. But, OTR, I think we can take a lesson from the Iranian riots and take into consideration what a journalist at Ha’aretz had to say when he said that green flags, green faces, and twitter messages will not bring down the regime, just as much as yelling Allahu Akbar from rooftops won’t stop soldiers with truncheons. He makes a good point after all, when he says that it’s ridiculous for people to say that “a bloody crackdown will weaken the supreme leader’s legitimacy” considering that any regime whose legitimacy needs to be reviewed probably doesn’t actually care.

    Now, this is not to say that the CCP is a direct parallel of the Iranian theocracy, but, the CCP has shown several times in the past that it will do what it has to in order to maintain its grip on power.

    Of course I don’t know what specific abuses the Uighurs have undergone, but let’s say for the purposes of this example that I am the Uighur population and the CCP is the schoolyard bully (and am therefore implying that there is some sort of legitimate grievance the Uighur population has against the CCP). Am I just going to say, “Come on, man, stop, please…?” when he comes to beat me up or am I going to try to fight back, even if I lose? The important thing to keep in mind for would-be rioters, however, is the targets being focused upon considering that the murder of innocent Hans and Huis is not exactly conducive to gaining domestic or international support.


  3. I’ll move my update here:

    I can’t say my friend’s place, but it’s a famous one but with Han and Hui as majority and he had been frequently invited to Uyghur homes so the ethnic tensions were not great there. No ostensible security presence in his place yet, but to his dismay, the local authorities and his office back in Beijing so far haven’t done anything to assuage the palpable fears on the streets. He made calls everyday and the reply was always “It’s fine. Stay here/be there. The situation is under control.”


  4. Josh –

    Will of Imagethief fame said it best:

    “The Chinese narrative is hobbled by a national myth-making apparatus that allows no room whatsoever for the acnowledgment of Uighur grievances.”

    I should point out that he also takes the ‘western’ narrative to task in an excellent post on the Xinjiang riots. Well worth reading.


  5. Josh,

    Let us put the human right issue aside for a while.

    You are a jew, tell us why Iseral has to control Gaza strip ?

    Well, People in Xinjiang area attacked han chinese since thousand years ago.

    Tibet is the water resource for China. If India or West control Tibet, the whole inland China would be attacking range.

    Now back to human right issue : West politicians and media make Tibet and Xinjiang an issue not for human right ( though there is human right issue in that area.), read Sun Tzu’s book then you know what they are doing; otherwise they shouldve bashed Iseral for attacking Gaza strip too.


  6. Speaking of Israel, I’ve been wondering how conservative Israeli media has been reporting this… I’ve got hardline Jewish relatives.


  7. Wahaha,

    I’ll tentatively respond to your post while keeping in mind that Custer has warned commenters many times before to stay on topic.

    For one, you seem to be trying to draw a comparison between the Uighurs in Xinjiang and Hamas. There is some relation between the two in that the Uighurs have also been attacking civilians, however, it’s important to remember that part of the reason there have been so many civilian deaths in Gaza is simply because Hamas hides among the civilian population (there are also instances of soldiers simply being terrible human beings, as well as just accidents). There are pictures of Hamas militants with AK-47s firing from behind groups of children.

    Also, the question of “why have so many Palestinians died compared to so few Israelis?” has been raised on a frequent basis. The thing about this question is that it misses an important facet of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because Hamas militants are in fact military combatants, and this question seems to overlook that. Let us suppose for a moment that there are no civilians in Gaza. As Alan Dershowitz pointed out during Cast Lead, the Geneva Convention places the lives of civilians higher than those of combatants and so a military has a responsibility to protect them. If that means killing 1, 10, 100, or 1000 militants in order to save 1 civilian, it is justifiable under the Geneva Convention.

    As for your actual question to why Israel has to control Gaza, the simple answer is that they don’t. Israel did a complete military withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Israel is still imposing sanctions on aid of various types, however, part of the reason for that is that between 2005 and today, Hamas has launched tens of thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets.

    You also seem to be trying to draw a comparison between the reason for Uighur attacks on the Han and the reasons for Hamas’s attacks on Israelis. I believe the reasons for these two groups are starkly different. It says in Hamas’s charter that their mission is to wipe Israel off the map, leaving no Jew left alive. While I’m sure the Uighurs (in this riot, anyway) have no love for the Han, I don’t think their reasons for attacking are religiously motivated. Rather, I think they see it as retaliatory.

    As far as the west and their lack of criticism of Israel, I think this is a changing dynamic of the American congress. It’s true that many US congressmen are reticent to criticize Israel considering the campaign contributions they receive from prominent Jews, but there is also a growing number of those who are willing to criticize Israel (including Obama and Rahm Emanuel, who is Jewish) because they recognize that Israel is never going to achieve peace by continuing to build settlements, and because they believe knee-jerk support of Israel is wrong. But, that’s just America. Therefore, I’m actually a bit puzzled when you say that western politicians and media refuse to criticize Israel considering that throughout Cast Lead, the BBC was doing just that on a daily basis. I don’t speak French, but I imagine if I could and I probably would’ve expected them to change the name of at least one of their stations to the “Death to Israel Network.” Cast Lead also saw a surge in anti-semitism across the west, notably in America, England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Venezuela that honestly had me considering making aliyah and moving to Israel. Venezuela even went so far as to withdraw formal relations.

    I’m sorry if this went off topic or if it was too much information for the question being asked, but I believe it’s better to provide a plethora of details rather than leaving you to continue to wonder. Also, I’ve read the Art of War. It was a long time ago, though.

    My main sources for news on Israel are Ha’aretz and Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog. The former is considered to be (at least by the latter) a left wing take on Israeli politics. I would say that Goldberg is a bit more centrist. As of now, Goldberg has not written anything about the riots in Xinjiang, and I don’t see anything on the websites for either Ha’aretz or the Jerusalem Post. As far as Avigdor Lieberman style hard line coverage, I’m not sure what media outlet you could find that in, but seems pretty right wing on the rare occasions that I read it.


  8. @ Josh and Wahaha,

    I agree that the “West” as a whole is much less forgiving of the Israeli occupation than the United States. It is also true that the U.S. Congress seems to be slowly shifting on this. And, of course, there’s a variety of opinion within Israel itself on settlements, etc.

    Many parts of Josh’s summary are basically fair—but he goes a little too far in justifying Israel’s brutality in Gaza. The simple reason that more Palestinians are dead than Israelis is that Israel has more advanced weapons. A crude Hamas rocket often fails to hit any target whatsoever. Israeli aircraft and tanks and soldiers, guided by the sacred task of ensuring the electoral victories of Israeli politicians, are deadly accurate in leveling schools, hospitals and homes.

    The bottom line is that Israel—whether Likud, Labor or Kadima—insists on ruling another people (or at least ending its ruling on its own, leisurely schedule), settling in that people’s land in violation of the Geneva conventions, expanding those settlements, leveling homes, building Israeli-only roads that criss-cross the occupied people’s land and are protected by soldiers, assassinating any of the occupied people’s leaders that threaten it, and regularly exacting collective punishment of the most brutal variety—white phosphorous, etc. Under these conditions, a violent response may not be the best response, but it can hardly be said to be unreasonable.

    I’m afraid I’ve left the topic of this conversation far behind. But my main point is for Wahaha: a comparison of Xinjiang and Tibet to Palestine doesn’t help your argument, unless you firmly believe that because the world allows the sort of unfairness that exists in Palestine to continue, it should cheer on anyone else who is cruel to anyone else.


  9. OTR,

    I’m glad that you feel my summary is essentially fair, but I’d be lying if I said that yours was anything but.


  10. Josh,

    I just tell you that the reason why China cant handle Tibet and Xinjiang like she handled hongkong 12 years ago. I am not here to judge if Iseral did wrong or not.

    Put aside the issue of seperatism, the human right issue in Tibet and Xinjiang is no different from the human right issue in inland China.


  11. @ Wahaha,

    You’re right, I think, about China’s geo-strategic motivations, but those things aren’t static. Different relations with neighbors (especially India and Russia) could change everything, for better or worse . Perhaps, a more humble policy in Xinjiang and Tibet could yield results that would similarly alter the whole framework.

    I don’t believe human rights issues are the same in Tibet, Xinjiang and “inland China.” The first two are treated much more harshly. If I am in Beijing I can say pretty much what I want, at least in person—up to a point. That point is reached much sooner in Lhasa or Urumqi, with constant “patriotic” education campaigns, rifling through people’s homes for illicit photographs, blocking of calls, more ease arresting and torturing people, more PAP and PLA stationed everywhere….

    You might respond that these differences all come down to “separatism.” I’d say it’s a chicken and egg question.

    @ Josh,

    I’ve never seen much difference between Israel’s rule over Palestine and French rule over Algeria or British rule over Kenya or Belgian rule over the Congo—or any other colonial analogy you can think of. Occupations generate hatred and violence. It’s true in Iraq now. It’s always been true.

    Do Xinjiang and Tibet fit this mold? It seems like China’s goal, at the least, should be to avoid fitting.


  12. OTR,

    The basis of your comparison is predicated upon the belief that the Jews have no right to be in their ancestral homeland, which I find a bit offensive.


  13. @ Wahaha,
    Yes, that’s another good comparison. Both bad situations.

    @ Josh,
    No, it predicated on the idea that an Israel within its 1967 borders is represents the rebuilding of an ancestral homeland in large part through the expulsion of others but is now a fact and cannot be undone without an unacceptable amount of suffering; an Israel on anything more than it’s 1967 territories, however, is a purely colonial outrage and can still be prevented.


  14. Wahaha’s Israel analogy reminds me of something: One thing I’m seeing is that these riots have created a whole new generation in China who begin to see things the Israeli way. Next time Gaza happens or if Israel does attack Iran (with Biden’s recent endorsement), I’m afraid much fewer people here will be sympathetic with the Muslims. It’s sad but it’s what I have felt reading online forums.


  15. One more thing to add to my comment above: When Israel raided Gaza, the Internet opinion here was also two extremes, with most of the fenqings (except those who hated Muslims already) supporting the Palestinians and most of the jingying (you know this online meme, right? those who’re pro-western) backing Israel and by extension the US’s war on terror. And what I’m seeing is that among the fenqings who once supported Gaza and the Muslim world, many of whom blamed the US and the West for 911, the tide is reversing with many saying they now understand the necessity of war on terror and how the Israelis must have felt all these years suffering with the intifadas, rockets and whatnot.

    These riots, apart from their profound impact domestically, will to some extent shape the young generation’s view on the Middle East, and even though the Chinese government will perhaps not change its traditional pro-Muslim stance, it will somehow (butterfly effect? who knows?) affect world peace in large given China’s rising power in world affairs and her domestic progress (slow, I know) of democratic values.


  16. “Put aside the issue of seperatism, the human right issue in Tibet and Xinjiang is no different from the human right issue in inland China.”

    The clearest possible indication yet that you have limited knowledge of what life is like for the indigenous peoples of those areas. You’ve been ingesting a little too much Peoples Daily with your morning coffee, I suspect.


  17. @ Woodoo,

    That’s depressing. I’d always hoped that the better parts of China’s old, Mao-era internationalism could serve some positive purpose in today’s world. If what China learns from its internal strife is that there is no higher morality than stability, then I’m afraid they won’t add much to efforts aimed at resolving the conflicts in the Middle East or elsewhere where they could be a fresh voice.


  18. “These riots, apart from their profound impact domestically, will to some extent shape the young generation’s view on the Middle East…”

    Slight correction: it will be the Chinese government’s propagandising of these riots that shapes the young generation’s view of the Islamic world.


  19. “… then I’m afraid they won’t add much to efforts aimed at resolving the conflicts in the Middle East or elsewhere where they could be a fresh voice.”

    Seriously, OTR, what were the odds the Chinese (under the present regime) were ever going to take a moral position on foreign affairs unless it happened to coincide with national self-interest?

    Take a closer look at Africa, where a growing undercurrent of resentment regards China as neo-colonists, which ties in neatly with the colonial attitude that Beijing has toward the indigenous peoples of its western provinces.


  20. OTR,
    While I strongly disagree with your simplification of matters calling it a colonial outrage, and would urge you to think of the situation from the standpoint of Israeli citizens who, like wooddoo has said, have continually suffered rocket attacks, suicide bombings, and the intifadas, this discussion isn’t about Israel and I don’t want to make it that way.

    I would add, though, that while only the most conservative of Jews argue in favor of the illegal settlements, legitimization of Hamas as freedom fighters ala Jimmy Carter and arguing that there is an all-powerful, Illuminati-esque, secret society which includes a mighty lobby in Washington translates to most people from where I stand as unbridled anti-semitism. I’ve found in studying middle eastern politics, that the right and left are both wrong, and that the only way to go and feel good about yourself, is the middle, which is also usually wrong.


  21. Stuart,

    I went to Tibet 20 years ago, OK ? and I couldnt find a grocery store to buy tissue, and I had to use my dairy paper. Get a picture ?

    Didnt it bother you that 90% of Tibet protestors are monks who lost their power and influence under CCP and Who have benefited least from economic development ? coincidence ?

    Didnt it bother you that group which you believe represents Tibet people repress Western Shudgen Society ?

    Imagine a picture : those monks control Tibet, will any pro-china voice be allowed ? will you complain ? will any west media complain ?

    Tell us what make you believe those monks more than what Chinese have said ? What have those monks done for Tibetan people besides protesting for independence ? how would Tibetan people live like under the control of those monks ?

    Please dont wave the human right bat at Chinese, you have no idea what you are talking about.


  22. BTW, Stuart,

    Did you watch “Lakshmi and me” ? how about telling us what you felt about Lakshmi ? How did you feel when Lakshmi’s sister said ” I am tired of this human existence” ? Huh ?

    Lakshmi made $120 a month, that is $1,440 a year. Get a picture of real lives for BILLIONS of people in China and Inida ?

    Please stop picking out several individual incidents to prove you being on morally high ground. Only those who are ignorant or who try to stir the pot will keep bringing it up like 1.3 billion chinese are idiots who need HRW to tell them the problems in China.


  23. @ Josh,

    I never said anything about the Israel lobby. And I agree that some of the conspiracy stuff that you hear in some quarters smacks of anti-Semitism.

    In fact, there is genuine popular support for Israel in America. There was a good piece in Foreign Affairs a while back that described a long line of U.S. leaders and opinion makers who have projected their sense of America—as a land of pioneers, of a country with an almost religious destiny—onto Israel. This resonates with a lot of people in the States from a variety of backgrounds.

    As to attacks on Israel… like I said, these may be self-defeating. But I don’t think, as acts of defense against an occupier, that they deserve the same level of concern as attacks by Israel on the people it occupies. It’s inaccurate and immoral to imagine a equality between aggressor and victim. If the Palestinians stopped their violence today, they would still be occupied by Israel, Israelis would have a great weight off their shoulders (no more rocket attacks and bus bombs to worry about). .. and there is little indication that Netanyahu would use the calm to slacken his grip.

    There are no easy solutions. Truly, there is a tremendous amount of suffering that will come with any path that is taken from this point. My personal hope is that Netanyahu’s coalition crumbles, Labor takes over (though much more likely Kadima), Abbas and the Gazans cobble together some sort of coalition, negotiations begin (with Hamas basically giving their assent, while explaining it to their constituents however they like), Barghouti is freed and forces some honesty on the Palestinian politicians… and we arrive at a two-state solution a la all those UN resolutions dating back to 1948. But that may be a pipe dream…

    Like you said, we’re leaving the main topic of this thread far behind!

    To put things back in the Xinjiang context, I’d say that, like the Palestinians, Uighurs must be given an incentive to work with the Chinese state. If there are only punishments , while peace brings greater encroachments by Beijing, then there is no reason for those who are angry to cool down


  24. Dear C Custer:
    This is from a resident from Urumqi who also just came back from Australia.
    Months ago I happened to notice an argument on “Racism in China” between you and Hecaitou, which was modified to “racial insensitiveness” by you later. I soonly made my point in my blog:, suggesting a same side with you about this issue in China. Unexpectedly, a racial riot did really happened sooner after, which again indicated an dramatic causal link between insensitiveness and social unrest in multicultural context. I hope an rational voice could be spread through people like you to worldwide and broad class of Chinese who may frequently visit your website. Welcome any further discuss on this as well as any email correspondence.


  25. “The clearest possible indication yet that you have limited knowledge of what life is like for the indigenous peoples of those areas. You’ve been ingesting a little too much Peoples Daily with your morning coffee, I suspect.”

    1. The Uighurs ARE NOT INDIGENOUS to Xinjiang.
    2. I do love it when a [person] who has never been on the receiving end of racially motivated physical violence presumes to lecture others on what life it like for minorities. Have you ever been beaten by British police officers? My dad has. No fancy inquiries in those days. No self respecting journos would give a shit. Just some Chinks being taught our places, innit?

    [none of that. consider this a warning -ed.]


  26. @ Wahahahahahaha

    “I went to Tibet 20 years ago, OK ? and I couldnt find a grocery store to buy tissue, and I had to use my dairy paper.”

    1989 right? Then you should have some idea of how Hu Jintao dealt with the locals. This, of course, presupposes that you could glean any information from Tibetan people. There’s a reason why they’re not forthcoming with Chinese. Get the picture?

    “…90% of Tibet protestors are monks who lost their power and influence under CCP…”

    And your source for that statistic? Exactly.

    “Didnt it bother you that group which you believe represents Tibet…”

    I’ve never indicated any related ‘belief’. Choose your tantrums more carefully.

    “Imagine a picture…”

    No. What IS is far more important.

    “Please dont wave the human right bat at Chinese…”

    Then who will? The Chinese themselves? Where do you get the idea that there are no human rights issues to answer in the western provinces? Moral checks and balances from within are the preserve of civilised societies with a rule of law. You’re not there yet.


  27. @ mtm
    “I do love it when a [person] who has never been on the receiving end of racially motivated physical violence presumes to lecture others on what life it like for minorities.”

    First of all, your comment (by Custer’s own rules) should have been consigned to the trash heap. That said, racist jibes always say more about their source than their target.

    Second, I don’t lecture; that’s just a misperception on your part, which is born of a carefully nurtured chip on your shoulder that induces a reflex every time a non-Chinese brings a non-CCP narrative to the table. You know I’m right.

    Never been on the receiving end of racially motivated physical violence, you say? You’d be wrong about that. Very wrong.


  28. Sorry, my full-time staff of comment moderators is on vacation, and I have a job IRL so it takes me a while to get to these sometimes. Don’t worry about reporting it to me or anything though, it’s better just to whine about it than to help out.


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