Today is the anniversary of last year’s deadly July 5th riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang, where 200 people were killed and another 1,700 injured when rioters — mostly Uyghurs — took to the streets in what seems to have been a protest that got way, way, out of hand. Most of the casualties were Han Chinese, increasing ethnic tensions in an already tense region.
The government responded quickly, blaming external separatist forces for organizing the riots, and quickly shut down the internet and telephone services in Xinjiang completely. Social networking sites supposedly used in the organization of the riots, such as Facebook, were also blocked nationwide. Over the past year, the government has slowly returned internet and other telecommunication services to Xinjiang, a process that Josh Summers has chronicled on his excellent Far West China blog.
The government has also been beefing up security significantly in Urumqi, where the police for has swelled and CCTV (closed-circuit) cameras are being installed that will cover the entire city Big Brother-style.
Everyone knows anniversaries are sensitive affairs in China. So what is the Chinese media reporting on the anniversary, if anything? That, it turns out, depends very much on what you read, and in what language.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, this is all based on what was on their websites’ front pages, as of around 10AM July 5. Obviously, there may well be changes later in the day.
China’s major English papers, the China Daily and the Global Times, both have front page stories on the anniversary. The stories contain a basic overview of the riots and ensuing communications blackout juxtaposed with the stories of Han orphans whose parents were killed by Uyghur rioters. The China Daily quotes only one Uyghur source, briefly, and does not speak to the causes of the riots or the motivations of the rioters. The Global Times article
does not quote an Uyghur sources at all (Whoops! It actually does quote one Uyghur source, my apologies). Both papers also ran these stories on the front pages of their print editions.
Still, these fare much better than other domestic English news outlets. The People’s Daily does have several pieces on Xinjiang, but the one that really addresses the riots is just a copy of the China Daily’s piece. Xinhua’s English service doesn’t address the anniversary at all; today’s top stories include pieces on the summer heat, Wimbledon, and a piece on “glamorous female bodyguards worldwide.”
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong paper, is running an article today questioning some evidence against one of the alleged Urumqi rioters; however, Hong Kong papers are obviously not subject to the same scrutiny as mainland media outlets.
Xinhua’s Chinese service doesn’t seem to mention the anniversary on their front page at all. Neither do the front pages of the Southern Metropolis Daily, the Beijing Daily, or the Xinjiang Daily. The Beijing News didn’t address the story on its website or in the print edition (this is the only Chinese print edition I’ve had time to check so far this morning).
Foreign media have had difficulty reporting on the anniversaries too. Al-Jazeera corresponded Melissa Chan was using Twitter to post updates on their attempts to report in Urumqi yesterday, and wrote that in the morning alone, her team was stopped by police on seven different occasions, and that police were present for every interview they conducted. “Thinking I should get t-shirts made with my press card number and passport details for authorities’ convenience,”, she wrote around noon yesterday.
Western media reports marking the anniversary likely won’t be filed until this evening because of the time difference, but I expect a very different tone in their coverage of the anniversary. (Al Jazeera has run a story already, though).
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