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.

Manchus in space…

The last (latest?) imperial dynasty that ruled what we call China today, was the Qing (清朝 1644-1911), founded by the Aisin Gioro (爱新觉罗) family of the Gioro clan. Around the time of the founding the Qing empire 1644 this clan had united several other clans and the notion of a united Manchu people (满族) became stronger. Towards the end of their reign the Manchu language was less spoken and today only few native speakers remain. However, there has been an increasing interest in recent years, and it is again being taught in some schools in northeastern China. There are also close relatives in what is now called the Sibe (Xibo 锡伯) ethnic group, living primarily in Xinjiang.

During the Qing dynasty the Manchu rulers imposed the so called queue (辫子) on the Chinese population, that is the style to shave the hair on the forehead and bind the rest into a long queue. During the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) in 1911 many Chinese were rather harsh on the Manchus, and one common banner during the fighting said ”promote Han, eliminate Manchu” (兴汉灭满). Negative images of Manchus also spread into Western popular culture, possibly the most bizarre example being the evil Dr. Fu Manchu (傅满洲). Several Hollywood movies were made in the 1920-30s where Fu Manchu was portrayed by the Swedish-American (!) actor Warner Oland (1879-1938), most known for his role as the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan (陈查理).


Werner Oland as Fu Manchu


After the establishment of the Republic of China, Sun Zhongshan (孙中山 Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙) and other Han Chinese leaders often talked about ”the Chinese nation” (中华民族), meaning all major ethnic groups within the state borders, trying to create a common ground and belonging. This expression has become increasingly popular again in recent years, especially after tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the eyes of the PRC party-state a well-adapted ethnic minority person should first think of him- or herself as a PRC citizen, then as belonging to his own ethnic group, and then further on the scale of various identities.

First Manchu astronaut Zhang Xiaoguang!

Manchus are not among the most prominent ethnic groups in contemporary China, although being one of the largest. They do not belong to a specific religion, and therefore usually do not get any ceremonial posts as Uyghurs or Tibetans do. They are rather invisible in contemporary society. However, 11 June 2013, the first Manchu astronaut launched into space from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Shenzhou 10, the fourth manned Chinese space expedition. The space craft will land within hours of the publication of this blog, early morning Beijing time 26 June 2013. The official biography of senior colonel (大校) Zhang Xiaoguang (张晓光, b. 1966) mentions his Manchu ethnicity, but there seems to be very little focus on this first for the Manchu people. However, in an interview with China National Radio (中央人民广播电台 ”Central People’s Radio”), one of the more typical stereotypes of ethnic minorities in China suddenly pops up. The reporter says: ”only after a few sentences, one could clearly feel the simple, unadorned and sincere character of this Manchu fellow” (短短几句话,就让人真切地感受到了这位满族汉子的质朴和真诚). Would the same have been written about the Han astronauts?