May 29

Kristof on Xinjiang: Terrorism and the Olympics

Written by Buxi on Thursday, May 29th, 2008 at 8:37 pm
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Nick Kristof continues his quest in search of topics that should be “sensitive” to Chinese by heading to Xinjiang where he found little to write about. This follows earlier editorials on Tibet that we discussed here and here.

On his blog, he tries to incite commentary with these questions:

Especially for those of you in China, do you expect the Olympics to go smoothly? Do you worry about the terror threat from Xinjiang?

My response (submitted as a comment on his blog) is here:

I can only assume Mr. Kristof was working a deadline, or perhaps just needed to prove to the Times that he actually spent his time in Xinjiang working rather than vacationing. It’s hard to find anything of substance in this most recent column.

After struggling to find anyone in Xinjiang willing to refute his or her Chinese identity, or criticize the Chinese government of anything beyond being “wasteful”, Mr. Kristof ultimately ties it back to the US war on terror and Uygur militants held in Guantanamo Bay. Frankly, I hope Mr. Kristof isn’t suggesting the Uygurs automatically sympathize with Islamic militants who fought on behalf of the Taliban on the basis of race alone.  After all, few average Americans sympathized with the “American Taliban”.  But I guess any NY Times columnist can always fill in a few paragraphs by emphasizing that they were followed by the men in black.

As far as whether I’m worried about the Olympics and the terror threat from Xinjiang, of course I am concerned about the possibility. While the United States has the luxury of being separated from Islamic fundamentalists by an ocean (and a billion dollar wall on the border), China shares a substantial land border with Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan.

The multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious nature of our country is threatened by racial and religious purists who have a hard time with the idea of living next to people from other races. (And I’m not speaking of just Xinjiang.) But I also have great faith in the ability of the Chinese people, united in our diversity, to overcome this type of hateful and divisive rhetoric.

Oh, and can someone talk to the NY Times editorial staff about increasing professional standards just a tad? The caption on the image that sits on the top of this article reads: “One of China’s few remaining major statues of Chairman Mao is in Kashgar, where he presides over a people who don’t feel very Chinese.” Could you guys clarify that statement a little for us? Is it the people who themselves don’t feel very Chinese, and if so… where are the quotes to confirm this sentiment?

Or is it that the people don’t “feel very Chinese” to the NY Times staff? If this is the case, can you guys let us know what it means to “feel Chinese”? I’d love to hear the official NY Times metrics on this.

So, what are your responses? Post them here, and make sure you head over to Nick Kristof’s blog and paste it there too. (And why not link back to this blog while you’re at it!)

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23 Responses to “Kristof on Xinjiang: Terrorism and the Olympics”

  1. maxiewawa Says:

    Mr Kristof is surely an idiot. And you’ve exposed him well and truly. But online lynch mobs aren’t cool. Anyone who reads that sentiment and believes it isn’t going to be enlightened by an angry group of Blogging For China readers hurling insults at him.

    I don’t like idiots like him writing crap like that. But I also don’t like people like Buxi inviting all of us to ridicule him publicly.

    Next we’ll be dragging him through the streets, spitting on him, in a glorious revolution of culture.

    Say “no” to online lynch mobs.

  2. Buxi Says:


    I’m not sure if you were being sarcastic or serious…? But in case you were serious above, you must have misunderstood. Nick Kristof invites comments on his blog, especially from Chinese readers. There are always hundreds and hundreds of comments after every entry, some of which are truly excellent responses.

  3. EugeneZ Says:

    Ever since the Tibetan unrest on 3/19, I have spent hundreds of hours studying this facinating Tibet issue and anything related to it. To be honest, after the Dalai Lama, the next person I studied most is Mr. Kristof.

    We must take this guy seriously. He is not an idiot, he was a Rhodes scholar, won prestigeous awards, married a Chinese American woman in NYC, reported and wrote books about China extensively. He has a regular columist on NY Times, which means a lot of readers. He has influence.

    He solicits comments from CHinese on his NY Times columns, and as a result, he columns and the readers’ comments are the most resourceful because so many intelligent Chinese, most of them overseas Chinese contribute to it.

    The problem is that he is a white, liberal, sinophobic american who harbors rather evil intentions towards China. Or at least it is the position he decides to take, a niche he is playing, perhaps to keep him employed at NY Times. It is still possible that his personal views are a complete different story. But to keep his job, he has adopted a stance that is fundamentally anti-CHina, and very damaging to China’s reputation.

    Buxi, you are doing a good job in exposing Mr. Kristof for who he is. Keep up the good work. I will post my comments on his blog as well.

  4. snow Says:

    In recent months phrases such as “online lynch mobs” or “fenqing” have been frequently used against certain group of netizens (mostly with a Chinese background) who had given strong opinions on China related issues, sharp and caustic with a biting anger but mostly reasonable and sensible and sometimes very insightful views. Is this something that ought to celebrated as the Chinese either inside or outside China can now truly exercise freedom of expression at grass root level to show to the world that they can speak for themselves?

    To be sure the “online lynch mobs” have been around almost since the day the Internet came into being. If people in the West have grown sophisticated enough to tolerate even the most appalling hate mongering that they frequently encounter online (as long as they don’t break the law and order), I don’t understand why someone is always there to make such a fuss over some strongly critical but legitimately sound Chinese opinions? Does it ever occur to you that such criticism may sound unpleasant and non-sensible like “mob lyching” to some but forcefully logical, convincing and enlightening to many others?

    The Chinese have long been deemed by western and Chinese liberals as lack of critical and independent thinking, having been “brianwashed” by CCP or old tradition for too long. But once they utter their critical voices on the world forums it is often those liberals that quickly engage in an effort to shut them up. They simply cannot take it.

  5. snow Says:

    People like Nick Kristof as well a quite few others from major US and British newspapers who regularly write on China related issues certinly deserve our close attention. To some extent they are the “opinion makers.” now whatever they say about China have to be checked and balanced by an inceasingly large number of Chinese netziens in China or overseas, which was unthinkable a decade ago. a good thing for world demoncracy.

  6. Nimrod Says:

    Good point, snow. Actually Chinese netizens have been around a long time, since the days of USENET newsgroups. Even a decade ago there were a huge number of Chinese netizens, but only recently have there been enough that could (or that cared to) cross the language barrier.

  7. Michelle Says:

    Here’s one of the comments from the blog – “From your passage, I know what an evil heart you have. Your writing made me disgust. Everybody hopes a peaceful world. But I feel that you hate this peaceful life we are having now. I will laugh that your evil hopes will never come true in China.”

    While there are many well thought out responses from Chinese people, it’s comments like this that stick in people’s minds. Fenqing comments can be taken in context in China, but I fear that those reading the NYT will think that this is how people in China actually think.

    Anyhow, I worked in Xinjiang a while back, and i’m not sure what it means to feel Chinese, but many people do say they do not. It may mean that they feel different from the Han? I’m not sure it has anything to do with ‘splittism’. There are minority groups in American which do not feel very american either…. And it’s equally hard to pin down what that means.

  8. Jane Says:


    Every country has its unsavory elements, the Chinese are no exception. It’s unfair to expect all 1.3 billion people to be perfect when we (i.e. the US) are hardly so. If the West decides to focus on the few fenqings while ignore the more reasonable Chinese voices, it’s the West’s own problem.

    Xinjiang has been part of China long before the US was even a nation. Of course the Han Chinese are not going to be happy when western reporters go there looking for independence activists. Americans probably wouldn’t be too happy either if say right before the Atlanta Olympics, Chinese reporters go to Hawaii and Native American reservations and ask the indigenous people how they feel about being ruled by Europeans, whether they feel European, and the Chinese throw themselves on the Atlanta Olympic torch, and unfurl Free Hawaii, Free Native Americans banners while the torch passes through China.

    The problem with the West is that it only sees things from its own perspective. How arrogant is it that it thinks its views on China take precedence over the Chinese people’s views on themselves.

  9. tommydickfingers Says:

    two points – one for each side.

    Buxi writes: “Oh, and can someone talk to the NY Times editorial staff about increasing professional standards just a tad? The caption on the image that sits on the top of this article reads: “One of China’s few remaining major statues of Chairman Mao is in Kashgar, where he presides over a people who don’t feel very Chinese.” ”

    Well, I think anyone who has spent time in kashgar and spoked to locals can very quickly come to the conclusion that they don’t feel very Chinese. Their identity is Uighur. No problem there. Many in Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland don’t feel very British. Again, not a problem. The caption was merely stating this and so is correct. Please no pedant replies.

    Kristof writes: “Then just this month, a crowded bus blew up in Shanghai, killing three people and injuring many more. No one publicly claimed responsibility, but it recalled the 1997 Uighur bus bombings.”

    – highly irresponsible and, if reports are to be believed, inaccurate reporting, of the kind that a recent HK newspaper was heavily criticised for. The allusions he makes in thsoe two sentences are clear. I would expect this from a HK tabloid, but not a NY Times reporter. Seems he is trying to build a story – the terrorist threat – where there most likely isn’t one (probably to justify his kashgar junket)

  10. maxiewawa Says:

    I just think that an article that so clearly and unabashedly expresses one’s own view on a source, then invites others to do the same doesn’t help one’s cause. Particularly when the main article’s primary contention is that the other article (kristof’s) is one-sided and reactionary.

    I heartily disagree with Buxi’s article. I take issue with everything he says. His

  11. Buxi Says:


    I agree with you that kind of comment (“you have an evil heart…”, “hate our peaceful life”) is unproductive, unfair, and untrue.

    Many Chinese probably still have limited experience reading the Western press. (More experience than Westerners reading the Chinese press… but this blog’ll change that. 😉 ) As a result, they read faulty (or at least incomplete) conclusions and jump to the conclusion that the author is intentionally being wrong.

    Those of us who’ve read the Western press longer have a better understanding of the reason for these faulty conclusions. Quite simply: they’re heavily biased by the world-view held by the journalists (see: so-called “liberal media”). Furthermore, while long-held journalistic principles keep them from (intentionally) lying… there’s nothing in the oft-cited journalistic principles that exhorts them to give a complete, objective, value-neutral story. Western journalists don’t do value-neutral.

    So, with more time and exposure to Western columnists, I hope that kind of Chinese response will gradually diminish. We have logic and reason on our side, and we should reflect that.

    I used to think, when I was much younger, that all of the worlds’ disagreements could be resolved if we just talked it out. (Seriously; I used to day-dream about a forum where we broke down every dispute logically to the smallest atom…)

    But I’ve since learned that isn’t possible. We can’t change the minds of people with strong held value-judgments through logic alone. All we can do is strengthen our own conviction, build mutual respect, and reach out to the people in between who’re still looking to reach their own conclusion.

    As long as we make our argument convincingly and consistently, even Mr. Kristof will eventually be forced to respect our logic.

  12. Buxi Says:


    It looks like your post was cut off? Perhaps you’ll get back to explaining what part of my post you disagree with.

    However, let me address this:

    I just think that an article that so clearly and unabashedly expresses one’s own view on a source, then invites others to do the same doesn’t help one’s cause.

    Maybe we have different opinions of how the world should work. But in my opinion, and in the opinion of everyone else writing on this blog… the best way to “help my cause” is to do precisely that: clearly and unabashedly express my views. I’m not remotely ashamed of my views or my cause.

    I love my country, and that’s the chief motivation for everything I’ve written here. But I do not love my country blindly; I love my country with logic, with reason, and with values. The best way I can help my cause is to share exactly what my logic, reason, and values are. And I hope others do exactly the same.

  13. AC Says:

    I second Buxi on the photo caption. I, too, find it offensive. Just imagine if the NYT prints “Hispanics (or blacks) in America don’t feel very American”, it would outrage many Americans (especially liberals like Mr. Kristof). Of course, when it comes to China, this kind of political correctness doesn’t apply in the Western press, because they can get away with it!

    I don’t think the caption is an error, I think it reflects the sentiment of the editor. Using “Uygur” and “Han” in the same sentence would imply that both Uyghur and Han are Chinese. On the other hand, using “Uyghur” and “Chinese” in the same sentence would give you an impression that Uyghurs are not Chinese. Get the idea?

    Deep down, many in the West just don’t want to accept the fact that Xinjiang (or Tibet) is part of China. And that’s why some Western journalists like Mr. Kristof always try to mislead their innocent readers in the West to believe that Tibetans and Uygurs are not “Chinese” and therefore they hate the “Chinese”.

    Using “Han” instead of “Chinese” in the photo caption would have been more appropriate, but it would make Mr. Kristof’s article pointless. Well, if the Uyghurs don’t “hate” the “Chinese”, what does Mr. Kristof have to write about? The delicious Xinjiang lamb kebab?

    If you really want to find out how the Uyghurs and Han in Xinjiang think about each other, this article will give you some good idea (read the comments too):

  14. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Buxi:
    “Quite simply: they’re heavily biased by the world-view held by the journalists” – this is a fact, but needn’t be associated with a positive or negative connotation. If you want a simple accounting of “facts”, then the best way would be to place an automaton in the middle of the action, and provide a means for data transmission. Once you involve a human, no matter how conscientious, you’re going to get bias. So to say that journalists are biased is simply to say that journalists are human. You’ve oft referred to Western and Chinese values, so I’m not sure where you would find a truly value-neutral story about anything, or who would be capable of providing such. When you then look at editorialists, you assume they’ve already come to a conclusion, and will include that which supports their position, to the exclusion of other perhaps contradictory “facts”; after all, these guys are not writing an academic piece. So a guy like Kristof has his opinion, just like you do, and thanks to the freedoms we enjoy around here, we’re able to avail ourselves to those and more.

  15. Nimrod Says:

    That’s the whole point: value-neutral is hard to pinpoint and even harder to find in practice. But you’re mistaken that a freedom to read all points of view and a hunger to do so are enough. There also needs to be the material to supply those points of view, and we have preciously few of those right now. It doesn’t help that the Western audience is also language-bound.

    We’re doing better now that many Chinese at least read English so we don’t have two-way isolation, but we still largely have one-way isolation. Maybe this place will chip away at that.

  16. bleargh Says:

    It’s very true that neutrality is very hard to achieve, if not impossible. The problem is that people don’t think their news sources have a possible bias, therefore they don’t read it under a skeptical lens. Since they think that by having a free press, all opinions will be presented equally, and no opinion can be given an advantage. However, that’s not true in practice. Some opinions will be given a boost by being within reporters’ and common people’s original assumptions, and people will be making their judgment prematurely based upon this bias. They will too often think that their thinking has no chance of failure, and most likely dismiss those that disagree as brainwashed junk. It won’t cause any harm to express a possibly biased view in an editorial, but when a vast majority of respectable media express the same view, people are going to adopt the slanted view of the media, other than the few that dig for the opposing view.

  17. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I agree that Westerners would benefit from more exposure to the Chinese perspective…but that perspective would also hardly be value-neutral. So the point is to seek out more perspectives, rather than worrying about getting a perfectly neutral one (which doesn’t exist).
    I disagree that people feel all opinions are presented equally. One only need watch CNN and Fox News to detect the differences in spin. However, I do agree that people naturally gravitate to things they agree with, and perhaps need to work harder to seek out contrarian points of view.

  18. Buxi Says:

    S.K. Cheung,

    I disagree that people feel all opinions are presented equally. One only need watch CNN and Fox News to detect the differences in spin. However, I do agree that people naturally gravitate to things they agree with, and perhaps need to work harder to seek out contrarian points of view.

    We absolutely agree on this point. Good comment.

  19. Opersai Says:

    S.K. Cheung,

    What you say is probably true, that most people know there are biases in the news, in the “west” and in China. But this is also where the problem is. Many people know news is biased, but few take it to the heart and reflect it on every matter they read, especially on foreign subjects they know little about. This applies both ways.

  20. tommydickfingers Says:

    ac – the analogy with hispanics and blacks doesn’t make sense. neither are indigenous peoples (unlike Uighurs in Xinjiang). maybe an analogy with Native American Indians in US is more appropriate. and if somebody wrote that the NAI feel less American than they do NAI, do you really think anyone would be offended?

  21. Buxi Says:


    What if I were to tell you that Han Chinese were the *original* indigenous people of Xinjiang? The Tang dynasty was in Xinjiang before the Turkic predecessors to the Uygurs migrated into the area.

  22. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Opersai:
    I agree that people can be more critically analytical of the stuff they read and hear. Certainly, the run-up to the Iraq War was a disheartening example of group-think, both among the news agencies and their consumers. That it occurred was disappointing; that it COULD occur in the 21st century is downright alarming, and hopefully has led to a more critical presentation and consumption of the news in the years since. And I agree that foreign policy stuff is most susceptible to media bias, since the consumer often has little background knowledge of the subject to draw upon, and is thus more easily influenced by the “message”. But as you say, this likely applies to both sides. And a site like this is a good place for a guy like me to learn more about a different perspective. I wonder if there’s a site in China that allows PRC citizens to mingle with a “western” point of view?


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