Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Questioning the Truth

The Chinese government is now saying the number of deaths from the Xinjiang riots on July 5 has climbed to 184, with 137 killed are Han Chinese, 46 Uighurs, and one ethnic Hui minority.
Some find it difficult to believe that the vast majority of the victims were Han Chinese rather than Uighurs, but as the Chinese government has clamped down on information, it will be hard to find out what really happened.
Others can't understand why security forces and police were lax in trying to stop the violence earlier, instead arriving on the scene several hours later, when most of the damage had already been done.
The situation is even more polarized now, after the police shot three Uighurs yesterday, killing two after a skirmish that the authorities say was against another Uighur.
It seems the government is trying to muddy the waters and portray the Uighurs as violent thugs who just want to cause trouble, while also presenting images that the capital Urumqi is back to normal.
It's hard to see what's really going on, even though foreign journalists have been allowed in the area, though heavily escorted.
They are trying to present stories that they are seeing and hearing, that innocent people try to scrape a living senselessly died in the violence, the ever greater ethnic divide, and how preferential policies sidelined Uighurs in their own homeland.

While most people would call this relatively objective reporting, the Chinese beg to differ.

Currently Chinese state media are waging an all-out assault on foreign media, accusing them of biased reporting that only tell one side of the story, or exaggerate the truth. This is reminiscent of the Tibet riot coverage all over again.

One editorial writer in the People's Daily wrote he used to read the Wall Street Journal for 10 years, but now after this incident, he feels the US-based paper's reporting is biased and is calling everyone to boycott the newspaper.

First of all, only a small percentage have the proficiency to read English newspapers. Second, that paper is hard to buy on the street, unless you read it online.

Finally, why boycott a paper? It won't do anything -- why not write an angry letter to the editor and see what the rest of the world thinks of your petty and insecure arguments?

The scary thing is that so many people in China have been sucked into this belief that western media are bad, that they have become biased, only because state media have told them so. They have become so wrapped up in this ideology that some are even trying to persuade foreigners like me of the same.

One ex-colleague who is studying his MBA in the United States sent me a mass email, in which he tried to undermine a New York Times story point by point. However, he didn't address the real crux of the matter -- the reason why the riots started -- a Chinese policy that has no sensitivity towards ethnic minorities, choosing instead to crush their will by force.

Even those who are half a world away become even more nationalistic despite having access to all kinds of media, an opportunity to open their eyes and try to develop some critical thinking skills.

But no -- they are all blinded by the belief that separatist forces must be defeated. However there is no separatist movement -- Uighurs just want to live freely and treated equally in their own homeland. They don't feel particularly Chinese, but are forced to live under Chinese rules. And so they comply, but the bias against them is so extreme, they feel helpless, and the frustrations are pent up.

The situation will never be resolved. The Chinese government would never have equal talks with the Uighurs as that would be a sign of weakness. Instead the repression will continue and they will wonder why ethnic minorities like Tibetans and Uighurs are so ungrateful for all the economic development and investment they've made.

And now with the majority of the population on the side of the government, the Uighurs are in a losing public relations battle, even if foreign media are seen as more sympathetic to their cause.

The propaganda machine will continue churning out "the real" stories of Xinjiang...

1 comment:

gung said...

foreign media always portrait china as a tyrant oppressing minorities. look at the aboriginals of australia, the red indians of the u.s. they are treated just the same. what is the difference?