When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Uyghurs at a market
Uyghurs at a market
Brendan O’Reilly

Tensions between China’s majority Han population and various ethnic minorities tend to simmer just below the surface. But the issue is now stirring open debate following this month’s coordinated knife attack on a train station in the southern city of Kunming that killed 29. The attack has been blamed on separatist extremists of the Uyghur people, whom Beijing had also held responsible for the 2009 Ürümqi Riots in northwest China.

From Beijing’s view, the aftermath of the March 1 killings fits into the broader social issue of ethnic minority policies. A look at popular and official state media coverage over the past two weeks shows one overriding goal for the government: to tamp the flames of inter-ethnic resentment and maintain social and political stability.

[rebelmouse-image 27087875 alt="""" original_size="672x447" expand=1]

The Kunming station where the attack took place (40fifw0)

Chinese media does acknowledge the existence of inter-communal troubles, while simultaneously blaming such troubles on religious fundamentalism and foreign interference. Xinjiang, home to millions of Muslim Uyghurs, and Tibet, are the two most restive areas.

Phoenix Television — a Hong Kong-based channel that is one of the few private broadcasters allowed into the mainland Chinese market — recently aired a press conference by Padma Cholong, head of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s People’s Congress. Cholong discussed the differences between ethnic problems in Xinjiang and in Tibet, and made a point of condemning U.S. President Barack Obama for meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The Second Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress (the most important political meeting in China this year) recently wrapped up in Beijing. Coverage of minority issues addressed by the Congress was predictably optimistic. The constant themes being stressed are progress, prosperity, and unity.

A piece from Sohu News entitled "Delegate: Promote Minority’s Distinctive Culture, Strengthen the ‘Silk Road’ Cultural Exchange" was also characteristically upbeat. It focused on the vice-chairman of the Chinese Dancer’s association Dilinaer Abdullah — a Uyghur delegate to the National People’s Congress. Instead of addressing inter-ethnic strife, the article looked at efforts to preserve Uyghur folk dancing.

This emphasis on dance is interesting. Western media coverage of China often condemns the Chinese government for appropriating ethnic minority culture for its own political purposes. In the "Latitude" blog of the New York Times, Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote: “Chinese officials like to paint a picture of China as one big happy multicultural family. To that end, the state pushes the stereotype that ethnic minorities are little more than entertainers who sing and dance in bright costumes.”

Which brings us to coverage from Dongbei Wang regarding ethnic minority affairs in the National People’s Congress: “Minority Delegates’ Special Hats”. This photo compilation shows the distinctive and seemingly impractical hats worn by ethnic minority delegates to China’s most important political meeting of the year.

Festive hats and dancing can only go so far to promote inter-ethnic harmony in China. However, it is possible that some more sophisticated efforts may be at play. In the wake of the Kunming attacks, Chinese television began to prominently feature Shila Amzah, a female contestant in China’s hugely popular I Am a Singer television competition, who was wearing a traditional Islamic veil.

Millions of passengers waiting in Chinese train stations were shown Amzah’s spirited performance over and over again. Although some Chinese Internet users pointed out Amzah’s supposed resemblance to Xinjiang’s Uyghurs, she is actually from Malaysia. Nevertheless, the fact that a religious Muslim wearing a traditional headscarf was prominently featured on Chinese TV in the days following the worst Islamist terror attack on China in modern history may say much more than any declaration from party headquarters.

*Brendan O’Reilly is a writer and educator based in Mainland China, specialized in China foreign policy. He is the author of 50 Things You Didn’t Know About China (Alchemy Books, upcoming). He blogs at chineserelations.net.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ