Disney, disaster – and what would Nasreddin ependi say?

After the bloody incident near Turpan a few days ago things have escalated. The death toll has risen, and other violence has been reported from Hotan (和田). The response from the authorities have been to show strength, most obviously by arranging ”pledge meetings to fight terrorism and keep stability” (反恐维稳誓师大会) of the People’s Armed Police force (人民武装警察部队) in Urumqi, Kashgar, Ghulja (固勒扎, also known as Ili 伊犁 or Yining 伊宁), Hotan and Aksu (video here). These forces now also patrol Urumqi and other cities. Some reports also tell of disturbances in Internet traffic.

"Pledge meeting" in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?
”Pledge meeting” in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?

Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声) came to Urumqi 29 June to hold a ”meeting for party and state cadres” of the whole region (全区党政干部大会), transmitting directives from Xi Jinping and the special meeting held by the politbureau standing committee in Beijing the day before. Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱), secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission (中央政法委员会) arrived in Urumqi to speak at the ”pledge meeting”, and the MInister of Public Security, Guo Shengkun (郭声琨) also took part.

Besides this not so subtle show of force and determination, other simultaneous events provide unintentional (?) irony to the whole situation. On 29 June Urumqi was also the place for the 10th International Symposium on Disaster History (第十届中国灾害史国际学术会议), with the theme ”Disaster and Frontier Society” (灾害与边疆社会). The symposium apparently mostly dealt with natural disasters as floods, earthquakes and draughts, but it is impossible not to think of political and social disasters, killings and ”the 5 July incident” (七五事件) 2009.

To further add to the confusion a top news item on the Kashgar Prefecture government website these days is the upcoming completion at the end of 2013 of the ”Disney of Xinjiang” (新疆迪斯尼) in Shufu county (疏附县 Kona Sheher, meaning ”old city”), Kashgar, namely the Ependi Amusement Park (阿凡提乐园). With a total investment of 200 million yuan (c. 25 million Euro) this theme park will hold an ”Ependi grand bazaar” (阿凡提大巴扎), a culture square (文化广场), ”Ependi ethnic village” (阿凡提民俗村), a great Ependi sculpture (阿凡提大型雕塑), reliefs (浮雕), a culture wall (文化墙) and ”Adil dawaz performance centre” (阿迪力达瓦孜演艺中心). Adil Hoshur (阿迪力·吾休尔, b. 1971) is a world renowned tightrope walker. Basically more ”singing and dancing”

Image of Ependi from the 1980 film
Image of Ependi from the 1980 film

But who was Nasreddin ependi? He might have been a Seljuq sufi from Konya in present-day Turkey, living in the 13th century. He might also just be made up. There are thousands of stories about him, sometimes with him as a witty or wise man, sometimes as a fool. Nasreddin is claimed by many Turkic peoples, and among Uyghurs he is known mostly by his courtesy title, Ependi (阿凡提). In the 1980s an very popular animated film was made in China, titled ”The Story of Ependi” (阿凡提的故事). Despite being appropriated and modulated into an ethnic sterotype, and despite calls to make him a ”image ambassador” (形象大使) for Xinjiang, Ependi’s wit is of the kind that could function as a safety valve and also bring hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

More dancing and singing = no trouble?

Yesterday morning (26 June) another tragic and violent incident happened in Xinjiang, this time in Lukqun township, Pichan (Shanshan) county, close to Turpan (新疆吐鲁番鄯善县鲁克沁镇). 27 people died, according to official sources 17 people (including nine policmen) killed by local ”knife-wielding mobs” (all Uyghur), and then the police shot and killed ten people from these mobs. The PRC state news agency Xinhua only published this news in a brief English statement. Nothing in any Chinese language media inside the PRC. Interestingly the People’s Daily affiliate Global Times later came with a longer piece, quoting reporting by the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao (大公報)! Usually only Xinhua reporting is allowed, most likely meaning that Ta Kung Pao, a ”Beijing-friendly” newspaper (claimed to be party funded), was used to show the exception to the rule.

It is notable that the word terrorism was not used in the first official reports. Global Times, however, added this, and this has been the theme in most similar incidents. In late April this year there was another clash in Maralbexi (Bachu 巴楚) outside Kashgar (喀什噶尔 or 喀什) where 21 were killed, 15 of them policemen. This was claimed by authorities as ”planning for terrorist attacks”. Notably, in all recent incidents of this kind the perpetrators have been using large knives, not explosives or guns. The authorities never seem to consider it to be ”merely” criminal groups, without any political or terrorist goals. The incident yesterday might actually be related to an incident in a neighbouring village 9 April, where a young Uyghur boy was brutally killed by a Han Chinese man. Revenge by devastated relatives, spurred on by longtime frustration and inability to control and change one’s own situation?

Vice governor of Xinjiang, Shi Dagang 新疆自治区副主席史大刚

One should perhaps not speculate, but certainly one must condemn such acts of violence. With the propaganda situation in China facts are always distorted, sometimes to the degree that one doesn’t know what to say or think. A friend made me aware of a Reuters report saying ”Xinjiang minorities too busy dancing to make trouble”, apparently a comment made by Xinjiang vice governor Shi Dagang (史大刚) 28 May. The original Chinese reporting reveals even more of his peculiar comments. Shi Dagang also claimed that ”there is always a mutual respect between our Han cadres and locals of all nationalities, and they are all good friends” (我们的汉族干部和当地的各民族之间相互非常尊重、相互都是好朋友). I still remember clearly my first visit to Xinjiang in 1998 where one of my hosts, a local Uyghur government cadre, had a Han driver and several Han subordinates. They were all courteous towards him during work time, but apparently they had never met after work hours, and they lived in separate compounds far away from each other.

Governor Shi also claims that ”every time we are guests in ethnic minority homes, we are treated with good meat and wine, they sing and dance; ethnic minorities are very simple and kind in such matters, generous and passionately hospitable” (我们到少数民族家里作客,好肉好酒的招待,跳着舞唱着歌,少数民族这种情感非常淳朴、非常善良、非常热情、非常大方,真的是热情好客). Who would not do his best to entertain a visiting governor?

Stereotypes about dancing, singing, friendliness and hospitality are merely one of many ways of controlling non-majority culture in the PRC. It is not enough to cause violent clashes, but is one of the factors underlying the ever growing tensions. Next week is the 4th anniversary of the ”5 July incident” 2009, where almost 200 people were killed in Urumqi (乌鲁木齐). This year it happens to come just before Ramadan (斋月), which starts 9 July.

What happens in Xinjiang? Or, China is not only Beijing and the CPC congress

These days of 18th CPC congress (十八大) frenzy, it can be interesting to note that many other things happen around China. A few weeks ago news emerged about an attack on a border post in Kargilik county (叶城县), south of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The attack occurred on Chinese national day 1 October. A young man rode his electric bike (电单车) into a border post, and around 20 people were killed or injured in an explosion. The border post was in Kokkowruk village (阔可寇热克村) in Chasamechit township (恰萨美其特乡).

Not long before the attack, but well ahead of the party congress, state news agency Xinhua (新华社) started a dedicated Uyghur news page. It almost immediately came under fire from Uyghur exiles for ”brainwashing” Uyghurs. But how many people trust official Chinese media without reflection, even in Xinjiang? Maybe no-one cares, but maybe it also fits very well with CPC media strategy and with giving an image of multiculturalism.

The media focus on the CPC congress is understandable, but one may also learn much about what happens in China through watching other areas, following trends and events outside Beijing. It is highly unlikely that anything unexpected would happen at the CPC congress, and that Xi Jinping and other leaders-elect would make drastic changes day one of their term of office. Therefore it is more interesting to look into the play on the sides, the protests in the countryside – and the games around leaders even further on in time. It seems that even Xinjiang may play a part in the game.

”Iron fist against terror” – Nur Bekri

In 2009 the Chinese journal Huanqiu renwu 环球人物 (Global People, a subsidiary of People’s Daily) published an interesting article on the questions of youth and “the 6th generation” leaders. Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri (Nu’er Baikeli 努尔·白克力) was ranked among the top five of ”the post-60” (60后) CPC leaders, the generation born after 1960. He is portrayed as a ”scholar ruling the region” (文人治区) and an ”iron fist against terror” (铁腕反恐). What do we make of this? Nur Bekri and the four others (Zhou Qiang 周强, Sun Zhengcai 孙政才, Hu Chunhua 胡春华 and Lu Hao 陆昊) were predicted to become top party leaders in 2022, at the 20th CPC congress. The idea that an Uyghur would even be considered is quite astonishing, even if it is only a token ”affirmative action Chinese style”. It has never happened before. But will there be a 20th CPC congress?

How do you get fifteen years in a Chinese prison?

Former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun (王立军) was sentenced to fifteen years in prison yesterday for ”bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking” (徇私枉法、叛逃、滥用职权、受贿). A detailed account of the trial was also published by the official news agency Xinhua. Without mentioning him by name, only by position, it was revealed during the trial that Bo Xilai had literally ear slapped Wang Lijun when he told Bo of his wife Gu Kailai’s alleged involvement in the killing of British businessman Neil Heywood. How will Bo Xilai be punsihed for that – or will he? Hopefully People’s Daily offspring Global Times is right when saying ”… justice will eventually trump over any privilege”.

Actually, Wang Lijun got several sentences of seven, nine and two years, that would combine to 20 years in prison, but he was instead given a total of fifteen years, and one year deprivation of political rights. It is likely that his revealing of facts around the Bo-Gu affair helped reduce his sentence.

Besides the bizarre setting of the whole case, it gives some perspective to Chinese criminal punishment. In 2009 Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (阿里木江·依米提) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”illegally revealing state secrets to a foreigner” (向境外人员非法提供国家秘密). He had told his American friend of the pressure he received from the local religious affairs office. Is that a state secret? In 2010 Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz (海莱提·尼亚孜) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”endangering state security” by talking to Asia Weekly (亞洲週刊).

Abuse of power is a central issue in all these three cases. Global Times writes also on this: ”Is such abuse of power by Wang [Lijun] an individual case, or is it typical?”. It seems typical to me.

What’s with the beard? (2)

In February I wrote about a teacher in Xinjiang who lost his bonus because he did not shave his beard off. Now beard control seems to have spread also to other areas. Yesterday a Yunnan friend (Han Chinese) with a nice goatee (山羊胡) told me that when he recently went to renew his ID card (身份证) he was told by the police that ”only special religious communities can take photos with beards” (留胡子拍照的只有特殊宗教群体)?! This was only mentioned in speaking, no written regulations were shown. Actually, the specification for photos used in second generation Chinese ID cards says nothing of beards.

My friend has grown his beard for some years and did not want to shave it off, and decided to take a photo without shaving. When bringing it back to the police station the staff told him that ”if the higher level leaders will approve then we will let it be, and if not you must come back and take another” (如果上级领导认可就算了,如果不认可要回来重拍).

A bearded Zhou Enlai (周恩来) in the 1940s

Not everyone is as courageous as my friend, and Chinese web sites gives ample evidence that similar things happen around China. One may think that it is merely a matter of overzealous local police wanting young men to look proper with crew cut (平头) and without beard, but the comment to my friend says something else. Why mention ”special religious communities” at all? That comment is also in conflict with the incident with the Xinjiang teacher. He was a Uyghur Muslim, but could not keep his beard. Things are definitely getting worse when they want to control how people look and if they shave.

Praise, rule and terror

The last few weeks have been exciting for sinologists and China experts. Still, many in the West seem not to have noticed the drama around Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai, and the rumours about Zhou Yongkang (周永康) and a coup. Even fewer follow what happens outside Beijing and Chongqing, for example in Xinjiang. In late February there was an ”incident” in Kargalik (Yecheng 叶城) outside Kashgar (喀什), and at least 15 people were killed, maybe more. The government claims a terrorist attack, other sources refute this.

Yesterday it was announced that one Uyghur has been sentenced to death as a result of the ”incident”, and now things are ”stable” (稳定) again. Maintaining stability is a top priority for Xinjiang party secretary, Zhang Chunxian (张春贤). Zhang has been described as ”the new commander to rule Xinjiang” (治疆新帅), an expression that to me echoes the times of warlords-cum-governors Yang Zengxin (杨增新 1864-1928) and Sheng Shicai (盛世才 1897-1970) in the first half of the 1900s. When Zhang had ”ruled” Xinjiang for one year in 2011, a long and horribly panegyrical article appeared, where Zhang Chunxian’s abilities were praised. It even starts out with a scene where Zhang ”arrives in Shaoshan, and solemnly admires the bronze statue of Mao Zedong” (来到韶山,静静地瞻仰着毛泽东铜像”, just before leaving for Xinjiang. Shaoshan is Mao Zedong’s birthplace in Hunan. Have we gone back to the 1970s and the Mao cult? That article is still a top link on the major official Xinjiang news page, one year later.

Zhang Chunxian meets happy farmers in Mäkit (Maigaiti 麦盖提) outside Kashgar.

Despite the colonial attitude that echoes in the praise for Zhang Chunxian, he apparently wants to be a modern ”ruler”. In 2011 he opened a micro blog and wrote quite regularly for a short period of time. This shows a change in style, but policies remain focused on controlling ”the three evil forces” (三股恶势力) of separatism, extremism and terrorism. According to the government religious extremism lies behind most of the terrorist actions, and now they see a need to further strengthen the ”management of religious affairs”. What if they instead allowed more religious freedom? What if Zhang Chunxian had to step down like Bo Xilai and Uyghurs could ”rule” Xinjiang instead?

Mångbottnat ”rivningsraseri”

För någon vecka sen, mitt under det kinesiska nyåret, revs ett hus på Bei zongbu hutong 24 i Beijing (北总布胡同24号). Inget konstigt med det kan tyckas, det rivs hela tiden i Beijing och huset var redan skadat av tidigare rivningsförsök. Men plötsligt uppstod en proteststorm och till och med statliga nyhetsbyrån Xinhua skrev kritiskt. Under några år på 1930-talet bodde Kinas viktigaste arkitektpar Liang Sicheng 梁思成 och Lin Huiyin 林徽因 i huset och hade där sin mest kreativa period. Trots myndighetsbeslut för något år sen om att bevara och renovera byggnaden kunde ett fastighetsbolag ändå riva huset. Är detta ett tecken på svaghet hos myndigheterna? Eller beror det på bristande förståelse för eller insikt i opinionen? Är det ett tecken på svaghet hos regimen? Kanske är det ”bara” korruption. Frågan är inte helt okomplicerad. Frågan om bevarandet av Beijings gamla delar är inte enkel. Övergrepps har begåtts och begås fortfarande, människor blir rotlösa och mycket av karaktären i vissa kvarter och hela stadsdelar försvinner. Liksom Klarakvarteren i Stockholm kommer denna omvälvning att talas om länge framöver.

Gammalt och "nytt" i östra Beijing – flerhundraårig portal med nästan utsuddad inskrift "Länge leve ordförande Mao" (Foto: Fredrik Fällman)
Det är bra att människor nu protesterar mot urskillningslöst rivande och kulturförstörande åtgärder. Det är också en del av civilsamhällets långsamma uppvaknande och formande i Kina. Som besökare och turist i Kina kan man förundras över den gamla kulturen och hur mycket som trots allt finns bevarat – men samtidigt har så oerhört mycket mer försvunnit redan för länge sen. Stadsmuren, gatuportaler och annat som revs i Beijing på 1960- och 1970-talen för att bygga hus, vägar och tunnelbana, var egentligen betydligt större ingrepp än det som sker idag, om man nu kan göra sådana jämförelser. Sinologen och bankmannen Lars Ellström, som bott i Beijing under mycket lång tid, skrev för ett par år sen på Utrikesbloggen tänkvärt om perspektiven på bevarande och vad som egentligen är nytt och gammalt.
Upprördheten kring det enda gamla huset i Beijing får mig också att tänka på vad som hänt i Kashgar de senaste åren. Den gamla delen av staden försvinner i snabb takt och endast ett litet område blir kvar som turistattraktion. Läs Stefan Geens fina rapport från Kashgar 2010. Levande uigurisk tradition och kultur försvinner. Var är de stora protesterna här? Ett fåtal röster hörs i Kina, till exempel Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre, som också drivit fallet med Liang Sichengs hus. Mest hörs från Väst. Kashgar ska istället bli en ekonomisk zon och ett av de slagord som förs fram lyder (se bilden): ”Gör Kashgar till ‘västra Kinas pärla’, en världskänd, modern stad med stark etnisk prägel”.
把喀什建设成“中国西部明珠”,世界知名的、具有浓郁民族特色的现代化城市 (Foto: Fredrik Fällman)

”Rivningsraseri” kan ha många bottnar. Det kan vara upprörda känslor mot orimliga rivningar och fysisk förstörelse. Men att protestera mot att kultur och traditioner raseras och rivs ner för att aldrig kunna byggas upp igen är också ett sorts ”rivningsraseri” och här är händelserna i Kashgar betydligt allvarligare. Vad är ”modernt” och vem får vara med och bestämma vad som behövs, vilken ”etnisk karaktär” som ska finnas och vilka uttryck den ska få ta sig?

Some thoughts about the tearing down of old buildings and entire city districts in China, and what it means to us; who decides and what is the result. How is culture and tradition torn down and who owns the process?

考虑一下中国“拆”现象、老建筑、全城市地区(北京、喀什)都全部被拆了。这种发展如何影响我们?谁作出决定?结果如何?文华和传统如何“拆掉”?谁拥有发展和现代化的进程?

Hänger det verkligen på skägget?

Återigen händer det märkligheter i Xinjiang. Nu har partifunktionärer i Kalpin (Keping 柯坪) i Aksu-regionen dragit in lönebonus för lärare som vägrat raka av sig skägget! Man verkar ha svårt att skilja på skägg och övertygelse och saknar helt respekt för mänskliga rättigheter. Som vanligt (tyvärr alltför vanligt med sådana händelser!) har den kinesiska (och uiguriska) bloggosfären reagerat snabbt och enligt uppgift har en del Weibo-konton redan stängts av sedan man skrivit om detta. Det kanske är dags för oss skäggiga västerlänningar att starta en kampanj i stil med den för den blinde advokaten Chen Guangcheng? Läs mer på Autonomous region eller hos Uighurbiz.