Monday, July 6, 2009

Riots In China

Expect more and more of this in the coming months and years:

URUMQI, China – Chanting "Strike down the criminals," hundreds of paramilitary police with shields, rifles and clubs took control of the streets Monday in the capital of western China's Muslim region, a day after the deadliest ethnic violence in decades.

State media said at least 156 people were killed in the unrest, which did not bode well for China's efforts to mollify long-simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Uighur people and the ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang — a sprawling region three times the size of Texas that shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.

Here is a video from YouTube (warning: very graphic): This kind of thing has been going on for a quite some time, as several of the articles noted, and it goes to show just what a horrible idea it is for one nation to attempt to control territories against their will, whether it is "for their own good" or not. Don't get me wrong: I don't see a lot of reason to have that much sympathy for the Uighurs or the Tibetans, apart from the simple fact that they are human beings with intrinsic worth, and it therefore saddens me to see them exist in such a state. Though I very much dislike the idea that China is holding onto territories and nationalities against their will, I harbor no illusions that these are innocent little angels being mistreated by big, bad China. Sorry. Both of these regions are quite poor, always have been, and appear to have no desire to change. Cultures which embrace ideals that result in their own grinding impoverishment generally have ideals that are not particularly redeeming. The fact that the Uighurs are Muslim and live more or less as do other Muslim groups in the area, which is to say, extremely impoverished and backwards, should be unsurprising. If the Chinese weren't opressing them, they would no doubt be quite up to the task of opressing themselves. Funny how that works. Simply put, I don't really sympathize with anybody in this conflict. It looks to me like a clear cut case of evil vs. evil. But at the same time, I strongly think that China should grant independence to both territories. (I know, I know, I won't hold my breath.) It makes no sense to hold people against their will. None. No matter what Beijing does, the Uighurs will always be resentful. Beijing cannot possibly make the relationship work, except through brute force, which isn't really "working" by most definitions. Recalcitrant groups that want no part of anything you have to offer should be left to stew in their own juices or non-coercively evangelized, not conquered and colonized, whatever one's intentions. China only acts as a bully to keep these territories, and the fact that it still holds them only goes to show that government claims to want "ethnic harmony" are simply propaganda, and that China is far less interested in said harmony than in some other national commodity. Pride comes to mind. Or maybe oil or the like. On the same token, an unfair anti-Chinese sentiment is widespread over the entire region, including places like Indonesia and Malaysia, which stems from jealousy towards industrious Chinese immigrants who have a tendency to surpass natives in attaining material prosperity. I have little doubt that similar tensions are in play here. Jealousy that leads to violence is not an endearing quality, and there is simply no excuse for it. Sadly, that doesn't stop a significant fraction of otherwise intelligent people from trying. A Reuters article out of India provides some insight into more specific motivations:

Nearly all Uighurs traced the protests on Sunday back to their own anger over a confrontation in far southern China in late June, when Han Chinese fought Uighurs working in a factory in Shaoguan, leaving two Uighurs dead, after a false allegation that some of them had raped a Han Chinese woman.

The government said two Uighurs died in that clash. But many Uighur residents of Urumqi said they were sure that many more died at the factory, and gave vivid accounts of how 20, 50 or a 100 of the workers were killed in their sleep -- stabbed, strangled or poisoned. And some said a Uighur woman was raped.

But I would be remiss if I didn't note a not-so-peculiar connection to present economic conditions:
He [a resident of the city and witness] said the rioters appeared to be mostly Uighur men in their twenties, many of them unemployed. Riot victims recovering in a Urumqi hospital described groups of men who targeted Han Chinese and attacked them with purposeful efficiency.
(emphasis mine)
Rape, violence, and the like happen all the time, and jealousies and ethnic rivalries have been with us since time immemorial. Rarely do they leave a city in flames. There is no doubt in my mind that the economic downturn was the largest contributor to this mess, despite the relative low importance given in most accounts. Money, jobs, and resources are getting tight, and the stress is bringing out the worst in us. Expect the downturn to get worse. Expect more cities to burn.

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