Phone conversation with my Uyghur college classmate after the riot

Travel | by China Travel
Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Updated: April 25th, 2012 | Comments
Editor's note: The Western and Chinese media are often presenting opposing views about the recent violence in Xinjiang. These days, we've been reading a lot of China blogs to get a (hopefully) more balanced perspective. We liked Imagethief's Riots in Xinjiang the price of omission and Fool's Mountain has also be doing some excellent commentary. In addition to the below article, we also suggest you read Letter from Xinjiang: Reflections on the Xinjiang Problem. From Fool's Mountain: Note: this post is a translation of an article titled “phone conversation I had with my Uyghur college classmate after the riot“. There have been allegations in recent days that most of the deadly violences were carried out by outsiders of Urumqi (i.e., not residents of the city). This article contains some details of such allegations.This dude is a Muslim, but strongly assimilated in the Han culture. Twenty years ago, we were classmates in a university located in the central China. He was very good at soccer, which is the sport I actively participated in. I asked for playing tips from him a number of times. He didn’t have much money. I frequently invited him for (cheap) soda drinks on me, and had a fairly good relationship with him back then.... After graduation, he got a job in the Xinjiang Civil Affairs Bureau before leaving to start a business about 10 years ago. We have not had contacts for years. Because I might travel to Xinjiang for business soon, I called him to say hi and ask how things are over there. I didn’t expect the phone call to go through but it did. And a conversation that I expected to last a few minutes went for an hour.... He is still as outspoken and talkative as I remembered. As soon as the phone got connected, he began telling me all the news of other classmates: who made a fortunate lately, who got promoted, etc. He was present in Urumqi on July 5th, but has since left. What he told me about the riot on 5th didn’t differ much from things I have learned online and in the media reports. So I will stick with the “official lines” and won’t repeat his descriptions. He particularly emphasized one issue: that many Uyghurs are now very afraid and helpless. They worry about retributions from Han and even government. He kept telling me that the bloody violences had very little to do with regular Uyghurs, particularly those living in Urumqi. Those Uyghurs with families and jobs also loved and appreciated civil peace. Even among those with resentments towards Han people, fighting and in particular deadly violence were just completely unthinkable. “It was too much. Those people were animals, so brutal.” (Those were his original words, spoken with a strong hint of Hubei dialect. When he started learning Chinese, the teacher must have been someone from Hubei. He still cannot correct such tones twenty years later.) The way he put it: (he didn’t say if it was his own observation and analysis or heard from others) there were two groups of participants in the July 5th protest and riot. One consisted of Urumqi’s Uyghur students and punks hanging around on the streets, influenced by messages circulated online and through SMS. They were agitated to protest in the People’s square. These people didn’t do much. They were there make some noise and release frustration. The other group consisted a small fraction of native Urumqi hoodlums and mainly day labors from outside, particularly those from Southern Xinjiang. Those were the core elements behind the killings and destructions. They appeared to be a lot more organized than protesters in the first group. They mixed in with other protesters at first to provoke the police. When the police mobilized to control and disperse the crowd of protesters, they slipped out, leaving others there to keep the police busy. “Where did they go and to do what? What else would they do? Those animals divided into teams to root, burn and kill!!” (Those were my classmate’s own words.) He didn’t give me time to think through and went onto the next point: this riot deeply harmed both Han and Uyghur people. On the surface, the Han population suffered the most, being on the receiving end of the violence. But the Uyghurs also lost a lot, implicitly. Regular Uyghurs are now deeply afraid, especially when they are faced with looks of cold hatred from Han people on the streets and in the workplace. Uyghurs are concerned that government would come down hard on them, and are worried about potential indiscriminate revenge attacks from Han. Most regular Uyghur residents had absolutely nothing to do with the violence or even the protest. According to him, many Uyghurs received phone calls and short messages urging them to go to the protest in the streets before [July 5th], but most people ignored them. Nobody could have foreseen how awful things turned out to be. He stressed the point that the most important task now is to dig out the direct perpetrators of violence and their organizers behind the scene. It is essential to place the blame on the real culprits and separate regular Uyghur population from the suspicion. Those culprits must suffer the consequences for their actions instead of spreading dragging regular Uyghurs down with them. Whichever the race, there would be some bad apples. But most regular Uyghurs are peaceful and decent people. They also hate such evil elements.... After this riot, a small group of people brought incredible casualties to the Han people as well as harms to the Uyghurs as a whole. Continue reading: Translation: phone conversation with my Uyghur college classmate after the riot at Fool's Mountain
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