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.
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?