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.
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.