Translation: phone conversation with my Uighur college classmate after the riot
Note: this post is a translation of an article titled “phone conversation I had with my Uighur college classmate after the riot“. There have been allegations in recent days that most of the deadly violences were carried out by outsiders of Urumqi (i.e., not residents of the city). This article contains some details of such allegations.
This dude is a Muslim, but strongly assimilated in the Han culture. Twenty years ago, we were classmates in a university located in the central China. He was very good at soccer, which is the sport I actively participated in. I asked for playing tips from him a number of times. He didn’t have much money. I frequently invited him for (cheap) soda drinks on me, and had a fairly good relationship with him back then. … After graduation, he got a job in the Xinjiang Civil Affairs Bureau before leaving to start a business about 10 years ago.
We have not had contacts for years. Because I might travel to Xinjiang for business soon, I called him to say hi and ask how things are over there. I didn’t expect the phone call to go through but it did. And a conversation that I expected to last a few minutes went for an hour…
He is still as outspoken and talkative as I remembered. As soon as the phone got connected, he began telling me all the news of other classmates: who made a fortunate lately, who got promoted, etc.
He was present in Urumqi on July 5th, but has since left. What he told me about the riot on 5th didn’t differ much from things I have learned online and in the media reports. So I will stick with the “official lines” and won’t repeat his descriptions.
He particularly emphasized one issue: that many Uighurs are now very afraid and helpless. They worry about retributions from Han and even government. He kept telling me that the bloody violences had very little to do with regular Uighurs, particularly those living in Urumqi. Those Uighurs with families and jobs also loved and appreciated civil peace. Even among those with resentments towards Han people, fighting and in particular deadly violence were just completely unthinkable. “It was too much. Those people were animals, so brutal.” (Those were his original words, spoken with a strong hint of Hubei dialect. When he started learning Chinese, the teacher must have been someone from Hubei. He still cannot correct such tones twenty years later.)
The way he put it: (he didn’t say if it was his own observation and analysis or heard from others) there were two groups of participants in the July 5th protest and riot. One consisted of Urumqi’s Uighur students and punks hanging around on the streets, influenced by messages circulated online and through SMS. They were agitated to protest in the People’s square. These people didn’t do much. They were there make some noise and release frustrations. … The other group consisted a small fraction of native Urumqi hoodlums and mainly day labors from outside, particularly those from Southern Xinjiang. Those were the core elements behind the killings and destructions. They appeared to be a lot more organized than protesters in the first group. They mixed in with other protesters at first to provoke the police. When the police mobilized to control and disperse the crowd of protesters, they slipped out, leaving others there to keep the police busy. “Where did they go and to do what? What else would they do? Those animals divided into teams to root, burn and kill!!” (Those were my classmate’s own words.)
He didn’t give me time to think through and went onto the next point: this riot deeply harmed both Han and Uighur people. On the surface, the Han population suffered the most, being on the receiving end of the violences. But the Uighurs also lost a lot, implicitly. Regular Uighurs are now deeply afraid, especially when they are faced with looks of cold hatred from Han people on the streets and in the workplace. Uighurs are concerned that government would come down hard on them, and are worried about potential indiscriminate revenge attacks from Han. Most regular Uighur residents had absolutely nothing to do with the violence or even the protest. According to him, many Uighurs received phone calls and short messages urging them to go to the protest in the streets before [July 5th], but most people ignored them. Nobody could have foreseen how awful things turned out to be.
He stressed the point that the most important task now is to dig out the direct perpetrators of violences and their organizers behind the scene. It is essential to place the blame on the real culprits and separate regular Uighur population from the suspicion. Those culprits must suffer the consequences for their actions instead of spreading dragging regular Uighurs down with them. Whichever the race, there would be some bad apples. But most regular Uighurs are peaceful and decent people. They also hate such evil elements. … After this riot, a small group of people brought incredible casualties to the Han people as well as harms to the Uighurs as a whole. They did their evil acts and now all Uighurs are dragged into the dispute. What kind of logic is this? … He said that he never felt discomfort taking as stroll on the streets, but now all he felt was awkwardness. If not for business, he would have stayed put in the home, keeping together with his wife and kids. And things could turn to the worse from now on. When and if Han people begin to look at Uighurs with hatred, the livelihood of all Uighurs would suffer. “Han is after all the majority race in this country and dominates in technology and economy. Without working with Han people, a lot of us would have to go back farming in the country side.” … “It used to be that we would enjoy shopping and eating in the city as a family. Now we cannot. All of a sudden, there are places to be avoided and we worry being on the receiving end of troubles and humiliations. How could we not be depressed and angry?”
In the end, he emphasized again the need to find out what truly happened and who were the culprits. Then those need to be publicized so that ethnic tension would not be heated up further. It is essential to find out the truth and let everyone know so that hatred between Uighur and Han would be reduced. “Don’t expect we Uighurs wouldn’t hate those culprits.” … “They killed and looted and now we have to suffer the consequences. How could we not feel angry towards them?”
He heard that some of our classmates were faring well in the government or private enterprises. “Perhaps some of them could have channels to talk to the central government to reflect these concerns.”
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