Washington Post Goes Old-School Crazy

It’s been a while since we skewered some piece of terrible China writing on this blog. I was starting to think maybe the crazy train had finally reached the station, and everyone from the mainstream Western media had disembarked. Thank god, then, for the Washington Post.

Yesterday, they ran a piece about the anniversary of the July 5th riots that shook Xinjiang last year. You may recall that last year a Uyghur protest, apparently made up mostly of people from outside of Urumqi, went bad, and deadly ethnic rioting ensued. Horror stories of Han babies being beaten to death and Han people being burned alive spread, and when the dust settled, hundreds were dead and nearly two thousand injured. Vengeful Han mobs set out several days later, but were less deadly as the city had already been virtually shut down by police and soldiers.

How does Carl Gershman, the author of the Post op-ed, sum up the events of last July? Differently:

A year ago today, when Chinese police violently suppressed a peaceful protest by the Uighur minority in Urumqi, the capital of the western region of Xinjiang, the world essentially looked the other way.

I’m not sure how Gershman understands the word “peaceful” (or, for that matter, the word “protest”), but this is a blatantly false statement. Yes, it appears the riots did begin with a peaceful protest. And while not everyone agrees that the police did much of anything to suppress it, let alone use violence, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt there for argument’s sake. But how does he dare ignore the part where those “peaceful protesters” went on to murder large numbers of innocent people? I’m not denying the Uyghurs have legitimate grievances, but that does not excuse the use of violence, especially against civilians. The Post should be ashamed to print this kind of misleading tripe.

Gershman: do you really want to know why “the world essentially looked the other way”? It was because even for people who hate China, it was pretty hard to take the side of the murderous rioters. Uyghurs, yes, plenty of people are willing to support that cause. But if you start murdering children, a lot of people are going to start “looking the other way”.

Of course, Gershman is pulling from a World Uyghur Human Rights Project (WUHRP) report on the unrest that is, at best, hilariously obvious in what it leaves vague to keep from harming its own cause:

“On July 5, 2009, in the city of Urumchi, Uyghur men, women and children peacefully assembled in People’s Square to protest government inaction over a deadly attack on Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. The details of what happened that day, and over the following months, have been unclear. What is known is that the city erupted into unprecedented unrest that resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of people.

Ah yes. What happened on 7/5 was “unclear”. That’s one way to put it. The Guardian chose a different phrasing: “Predominantly Uyghur assaults on Han”. “Street clashes between Uighurs and Han […] resulted in 197 deaths, mostly Han” said USA Today. CNN says there were “violent street riots that mainly targeted Han Chinese.” “Groups of Uighurs […] attacked hundreds of Han Chinese” says Reuters Wire Service. But yeah, “unclear” is good too…

Anyway, Gershman continues:

Beijing has blamed “overseas hostile forces” for the violence, especially Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who was exiled to the United States from a Chinese prison in 2005. But the source of the unrest is entirely internal, the immediate cause being an attack on Uighur workers at a Guangdong toy factory 10 days before the Urumqi protests.

The presence of Uighur workers 3,000 miles east of Urumqi illustrates China’s anti-Uighur policy, which encourages Han Chinese settlement and employment in the western Xinjiang region while jobless Uighurs, especially young women, are recruited to work in factories in eastern China. The focus on women is not accidental, Kadeer explained at the Washington conference: “We believe that it is part of the authorities’ efforts to threaten our continuity as a people because they are taking these women out of their communities at the time they would be getting married and starting families.”

Again, I have no interest in denying that government policies have not effectively served Uyghur interests, but how does “the presents of Uihgur workers” outside of Xinjiang “illustrate China’s anti-Uighur policy”? Is Gershman suggesting that Uyghurs should only live in Xinjiang? I agree they shouldn’t be forced to move, but he provides no evidence that they were. Han are indeed encouraged to settle in Xinjiang, but that does not by default force Uyghur women to move to eastern China. Are they being “recruited” or are they being “taken”? The whole thing is really quite vague.

More Gershman:

The report released last week contains recommendations to the Chinese government and the international community. What is noteworthy about the recommendations to Beijing — for media freedom and the rule of law, as well as for acknowledgement of the underlying causes of the Urumqi protests — is that they are consistent with the principles and goals in the Charter 08 declaration signed by more than 8,000 Chinese citizens, including the call for a federated republic “within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish.”

Ah, well played, sir! Maybe you can somehow hitch this wagon to something people can get behind, like Charter 08. And if you mention the “8,000 Chinese citizens” who signed it, it makes it sound like those people support WUHRP report too! They don’t, of course; there’s no real connection between the two documents other than their general agreement on some overarching concerns with the Chinese government, but don’t let that stop you!

The real charm, though — and the reason I’m condemning the Post here and not just Gershman — is that they’ve left out a slightly relevant detail about Gershman’s professional life. “The writer is president of the National Endowment for Democracy,” the article says, but what it doesn’t go on to mention is that the National Endowment for Democracy funds the World Uyghur Congress and helped fund the World Uyghur Human Rights Report. Isn’t this the sort of detail that at least ought to be included in the article? One would think.

Perhaps I’m being slightly unfair. Certainly, there might be real evidence that Chinese policies are forcing some Uyghurs out of Xinjiang, even if Gershman didn’t cite any of it. And I think there’s a law on the books somewhere in the US that requires journalists to mention Charter 08 any time any Chinese dissident is mentioned. But the point here is that Gershman’s willful blindness to the horrific violence perpetrated by the very protesters he calls “peaceful” is unconscionable. They were peaceful, at first, yes. But then they undeniably became violent, and perpetrated heinous crimes of racial hatred on innocent Han citizens.

Does that mean their grievances with the Chinese government are illegitimate? No.

Does that mean we should condemn all Uyghurs as violent? No.

Does it mean we shouldn’t pay careful attention to the situation in Xinjiang and do what we can to ensure equality and fairness? No.

But if Gershman and the World Uyghur Conference want to be any better than the Chinese government, they’ll have to start by being honest and owning up to the fact that however it started, and whatever happened afterward, Uyghur protesters (and yes, some Han citizens, too) did things that are unforgivable, in any country, under any law and any religion.

Anything less than the truth is disrespectful to the people of both ethnicities that were killed, and that’s just as true for WUC spokesmen as it is for CCP propagandists.

0 thoughts on “Washington Post Goes Old-School Crazy”

  1. What happened last year was a tragedy – for Han and Uighur communities both. Even so, ask yourself whether you’d prefer now to be a member of the Han or Uighur community living in Xinjiang. However misguided the author of this essay in WaPo may have been, there’s no denying the fact that what took place in Xinjiang last year was a perfect example of blowback. Years of discriminatory policies are now bearing ugly fruit. The violence that took place last year must be seen in context. Over the years, Han Chinese have been the purveyors of violence far more often than its victims. The same is true, of course, in Tibet.

    In addition, the essay in WaPo is just one of thousands that has been written in the U.S. during the last year on the subject of the riots. The authors of these essays have written in a multitude of voices, some more intelligent and well-informed than others. Can the same be said of China’s media? Of course not. Like many other sensitive issues, there is just one sanctioned way of understanding what took place in Xinjiang in 2009. Can you imagine a Chinese journalist at Beijing Youth Daily expressing sympathy for the Uighurs or acknowledging that Han chauvanism is perhaps partly to blame? No way. In the U.S., if you disagree with this author’s understanding of the riots, you’re free to read the opinions of others. Does one enjoy the same freedom in China? Hardly.

    Finally, someone upthread mentioned that this blog now has a large following. Not so. As blog followings go, this one is very modest.


  2. Mr. Custer, you’ve failed to link the original article and I’ve had to dig it out through Google.

    So, Mr. Turton, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are now justified in terrorist attacks on American soil following the US invasion and installation of puppet or pro-American governments (pick your term)?

    Please, sir, be reasonable. You can decry CPC policies and presence in Tibet/Xizang and East Turkestan/Xinjiang as much as you want, but justifying medium-scale murder is another matter altogether.


  3. “there’s no denying the fact that what took place in Xinjiang last year was a perfect example of blowback. Years of discriminatory policies are now bearing ugly fruit. The violence that took place last year must be seen in context. Over the years, Han Chinese have been the purveyors of violence far more often than its victims. The same is true, of course, in Tibet.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. Blowback would be Han Chinese killing 10 million Uighur as revenge for the Dungan Revolt, which is the real cause of the huge “Uighur” population in Xinjiang. Uighur are not native to Xinjiang- understand this.

    And no, “Han Chinese” are not the purveyors of violence- at most Communists were, often Uighur and Tibetans themselves. In fact the Tibetan Red Guards were among the most enthusiastic of them all.

    As for discriminatory policies against the Uighur, there are only discriminatory in that they are greatly favored over Han. So I suppose even more Han blowback is called for? After killing 10 million of them as blowback for the Dungan Revolts, I suppose digging them all up and killing them 40 more times each would suffice for the one child policy.


  4. “The authors of these essays have written in a multitude of voices, some more intelligent and well-informed than others. Can the same be said of China’s media?”

    This is where any Westerner would scream “TU QUOQUE” if you dared use such an argument to defend China, even if you are defending her from ridiculous and outlandish propaganda.


  5. “Uighur are not native to Xinjiang- understand this.”

    Unlike the Han, the original Uighurs were native to Central Asia. Prior to the Qing expansion, the Han presence in the Tarim Basin was minimal – in any case, the pre-Qing Han presence was largely military (to the extent that agriculture took place, it was done by soldiers who were simply growing their own food). Most of the territory we now refer to as Xinjiang was, like much of Central Asia, the province of nomadic tribes – e.g., the Mongols and Xiongnu. The smallish and relatively sedentary Uighur tribe was “harmonized” during the early Tang period (~ 7th C.) by its more aggressive, nomadic non-Han neighbors. The truth is, neither the Han nor the Uighurs can claim an eternal presence in Xinjiang. What’s happened in Xinjiang over the last several hundred years has been power politics at its most brutal – with the Han now enjoying a near monopoly on all power.

    The Dungan Revolt, during which Muslims were all but wiped out (i.e., casualties in excess of 90 percent), must be seen within the context of the great Qing expansion. Take a look at a historical map of the Ming (or even the Song, Tang, or Han) and you’ll see what I mean. Essentially, the Chinese now lay claim to the Qing territory at its most expansive. When the Chinese speak of foreign imperialism, they do so without the slightest hint of irony. One even imagines that there may be an unspoken law in the People’s Republic against using the phrases “Chinese imperialism” or “Chinese colonialism.” (“What!? Who us? Never!”)

    “As for discriminatory policies against the Uighur, there are only discriminatory in that they are greatly favored over Han.”

    Right. The poor, beleaguered Han majority. Just look at all the Uighur members of the politbureau. Come to think of it, just look at the trainloads of Uighurs and Tibetans arriving in Beijing and Shanghai to undermine native Han culture. The idea that Uighurs and Tibetans are living the fat life at the expense of the Han is an absurdity of unprecedented proportions. It is a fiction that the Han enjoy telling themselves so that they can feel better about killing and marginalizing non-Han. It’s the worst kind of lie. Slow violence.

    “This is where any Westerner would scream ‘TU QUOQUE’ if you dared use such an argument to defend China.”

    Too clever by half, you. There is no logical fallacy in my earlier post. You have conveniently (and completely) missed my point. And by the way, “tu quoque” is exactly the kind of nonsense defense of Chinese policies in Tibet and Xinjiang that one is likely to hear from Chinese hoopleheads eager to shoutdown Western criticism. (e.g., “You say you don’t like our policies in Tibet? Well, what about the native Americans, huh?”)

    I’ll say it again. What happened last year was awful but predictable. Indeed, given half a chance, it will happen again. In the end, I suspect, it’s the Uighurs, not the Han, who are really suffering in Xinjiang. In between the great riots that we read about in horror, it’s the Uighurs who die anonymously by ones and twos over the days weeks, months, and years.


  6. Charles, was the pic showed a male or a female ? and what exactly happened to the feet ?

    ‘gan lu’ , the Turks from n Tang era were non Moslem. Thus. they chose to be assimilated to Han culture. They’re different from the so-called ‘Uygurs’, who appear much later on, after being conquered by Moslems and Islamisized.


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