Over the years I have found there are rising tides of nationalism and ethnic supremacy here in China. While patriotism is a good thing to have with your citizens, too much can become dangerous. China is full of ethnic minorities but the majority race, Han, accounts for well over 80% of the population. Add the two together and you get a dangerous mix of racism and nationalism fervor seldom seen in peace time. For those on the outside this will not make much sense or even register because who cares if China is experiencing racial tension or nationalism not seen since the Cultural Revolution of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Some will perceive the below as a criticism or attack, it is not an attack but it is an outside observation and part of live is owning up to your actions, the PRC has fostered a specific situation over the years whether it was by design or accident is now irrelevant, what matters is identifying the underlying issue(s), addressing them in a candid and positive manner, and as one of my favorite senior management leaders says ‘eat your own dog food’. Without an open and honest debate on the issue and issues leading up to, resulting in, and surrounding this issue there will be no real lasting resolution. This is an issue the Chinese have to fix on their own, but the lesson we all should look to as an open door into race and ethnic relations within other countries and regions.
One thing I always find curious about China is before you say a word you have to list your experiences or become immediately dismissed by the Chinese. Yes I am an American, I am the largest (smallest in population) minority as a Native American, so I can see why the Ugihurs are upset. I have lived in Shanghai, far east coast of China, for 3 years now, am married to a Cantonese wife and am close with her parents. I have traveled all over the east coast and southwest of China including Yunnan (shortly after it was re-opened to foreigners). I am not meddling or voicing anything against Chinese rule or policies but making an observation based off the experiences I have witnessed and seen with my own eyes and ears and their parallels with our own race issues in America. With that all out of the way, the situation in Urumqi was completely out of control since the beginning and fault lies with the state run media for not preventing it, and with those within the organizations who laud a ‘harmonious society’ but live another code – that of repression and suspicion of ethnic minorities.
The spark that triggered this was a supposed "rape" of an ethnic majority Han girl by ethnic minority Uighurs at a toy factory in Gongdong province last year. Some Han factory workers were worked up over the word of mouth incident that now included a brutal and vicious "rape" and took revenge by breaking into their fellow factory worker’s barracks and killing 2 young Uighur men. Word got back to Urumqi quickly by word of mouth, and just like the “rape” story it was distorted each time it was retold. Over the months since the murders the state, state run media, and officials did little to nothing to show any interest or concern for this case, meanwhile it festered and added weight to the already heavy burden of hatred toward the "invader Hans" as the locals think of them (right or wrong it is the Uihgur’s perception of them and therefore their reality) in their capital city of Grumqi. The state run media has since ‘found’ the girl in question and only after 4 days of rioting reported there was NO rape, just a frightened teenage factory worker who lost her direction and walked into the wrong barracks, screamed when she saw 2 men, and ran away. Nothing bad happened to her according to the Chinese news. The article did fail to mention what investigation took place and how many Hans were arrested, tried, or would be tried for the brutal murder of 2 people.
Now if the state run media had reported this shortly after the incident and then followed up with what the police and government were doing to find and prosecute the offenders (in China its automatic death penalty for murder unless in self defense) then they could have headed off the entire mess we have seen this month. If the state run media would have show the same respect and concern for the families of the 2 murdered Uighur boys and their families as it does to the Hans who were victims in Lhasa and Urumqi then the outcomes and unity of the nation would be stronger, instead it is only concerned with whipping up cultural revolution style fervor in the majority race, inciting a race war for no other reason then to get the citizens to do their dirty work. There is a reason the state run media is only showing smashed up Han homes, shops, and bloodied Hans along with Hans taking to the streets with weapons seeking revenge, yet failing to honestly discuss the 5 W’s form the other side to find the underlying issues so people can deal with it constructively, just like in Lhasa last year. This is to rebuild its base. From the Sichuan earthquake in May 08, the Olympics last year, the 60 year anniversary of the PRC this year, their successful spacewalk and lunar probe flight, China is closing down its openness and ramping up its nationalism is a style reminiscent to Germany and Japan in the 1930’s. The old days of the "purge" of those with free thought and opposition appear to be back. If you talk against the norm you are labeled a separatist, all contrary views are shouted down as false Western lies and manipulation, any idea that an alternative exists is automatically rejected and those daring such a path are ridiculed and ostracized.
The young Chinese, those in their late teens, early to mid twenties are all true believers of the outcomes of the Cultural Revolution, they feel they and their country are superior in all ways, though they will never admit so publically due to Chinese meekness, and any dissent has to be quashed immediately. Their actions, attitudes, and thinly veiled outward way of carrying themselves give away their internal attitudes as loud as if they screamed it from the roof tops. The riots are tragic; many people have died and will bear scars for generations to come. There are 3 stories here, the Uighurs, the Hans, and the truth, unfortunately China has not had a history of covering or recording the first or last of these, they only save the version they want and this matter will be no different. This all could have been prevented if the country was truly committed to the "harmonious society" it so proudly touts to the rest of the world. The news papers and officials continue to ramp up the rhetoric and look the other way when Hans act out, condoning a double standard which has helped propagate the whole thing in the first place. The issue is with lawlessness, not terrorists or ethnic tensions. The only position that seems to be instituted is a heavy handed one sided approach with absolutely no consideration for easing tension or entertaining those to whom they have issues with.
One mans harmony is another’s yoke of oppression, just as one mans freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. The central government has went to some lengths to give Uighurs some token things that Hans are not allowed, just like the Tibetans. These concessions include two children, ignoring the 1 child policy (that is only in place in urban areas and to families who had more then 1 sibling in the previous generation), they can carry traditional knives, they can have their own religions, to a point, and they have lax land use rights. The Uighurs have issues with economic disparity, lack of access to quality education that would place them on par with their Han counterparts in jobs, preferential treatment in government and legal issues, erasing cultural identity of language, open religion (they can keep Muslim religion as long as it is state controlled, like the Catholics in China), and practices that keep their ethnic uniqueness and ties to the region. The Hans, conversly, say the Uighurs get too much special treatment, fueling some resentment and racism. The real issue is there are multiple standards to two groups of people and no real clear line as to what and why this line exists. The government created this line and out of the false belief it can soften tensions within the multiple groups. What is the difference between this and the ethnic issues we have in America? In the United States we have the Constitution, rule of law, and open court system to air grievances. Have we had race riots, yes. But we have ways to change without massive riots resulting in major mayhem. The LA riots of the l990’s were the last major riots and they were mainly just an excuse to burn down and rob your own neighborhood. We see all as equal, of course this is challenged and proven in a court of law. While not a perfect or enlightened system it works and we have race relations in America that are less tense and caustic then in some places in China. You may see ethnic minorities in America demonstrate, but seldom riot and you will NEVER see the ethnic majority take to the street with weapons and the media call for the death of minorities by the majority or the police look the other way if whites went into a black neighborhood to ‘crack some heads’.
China needs to lessen its efforts of control and shift to efforts of guidance, if they would have tried to promote and guide harmony through treating all as equal and with mutual respect then this would not have happened. It’s a shame and an opportunity for learning the Chinese will reject and spit on as anything else that does not originate from their own borders these days. The government needs to stress cultural sensitivity, hold all sides to the same standards so everyone knows where they stand today and tomorrow. If China really wanted a harmonious society they would either have only 1 race and ethnic group or learn from and teach all the groups of the advantages, uniqueness, and strength of inclusion. Instead of making a nice sounding slogan to present to the human rights crowd they should try to implement it seriously instead of half heartedly. Instead of looking at each other as enemies the Chinese need to learn to accept that being Chinese is more then being Han and some interesting tourists group types for entertainment. Hatred breeds hatred and the harder they try to crush the opposition the harder they will push back and strive to survive for that is human nature.