Xinjiang Burning

July 7, 2009 at 8:24 am (China, Islam, liberation, stalinism, uyghurs, voltairespriest)

One of the world’s least-known and yet most graphically clear cases of the oppression of a minority group by a powerful state, China’s brutal hegemony over the Uyghur people of Xinjiang province should be more widely known to western progressives. It isn’t, partly because of the effectiveness of the Chinese state in blacking out mainstream media coverage of the region, but also because of residual left-wing quietism when it comes to criticising a stalinist state: one could safely assume that there would be far more banner headlines if the oppressor state involved was the USA. But, as with certain bloggers’ treatment of the inspiring protests in Iran, for some on the left a state’s opposition to the Great Satan trumps the blood of the working class as a cause for support and solidarity.

For those who weren’t aware, the Uyghur are a Turkic people, overwhelmingly Muslim and with a language related to modern Turkish, Azeri, Uzbek and Turkmen. Many Uyghur look strikingly different to the majority Han Chinese ethnic group, and their cultural traditions differ immensely. Uyghur and Chinese history has been intertwined for centuries as the fortunes of the Turkic empires, the Mongol Khanates and the various Chinese dynasties ebbed and flowed. However in recent times the Uyghur regions have been under the firm control of the People’s Republic of China. This is not a popular state of affairs, and pro-independence groups within the region include two main groupings, the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. These groups are themselves quite nebulous and formed from common historical antecedents. There have been periodic uprisings throughout Uyghur history, with the latest surge beginning in the late 1990s and continuing to this day. All of these have been brutally repressed, by successive states.

In addition to the obviously Islamic influence on Uyghur nationalism, nationalist sentiment has also been bolstered by the rise in pan-Turkism (not a trend automatically friendly to Islamist politics) in recent years. This has, in common with other Turkic “exile” groups such as the Karamans in Canada, led to a growth of interest amongst diasporean Uyghurs in pan-Turk groups. Even more so than amongst many ethnic groupings, diasporeans are important amongst the Uyghur due to their compatriots’ isolation in Xinjiang itself.

Over the past few days the Uyghur have taken to the streets in an extraordinary show of defiance towards the Chinese state’s project (as in Tibet) of allowing them to be displaced from their lands by members of the national-majority Han Chinese population. The state has responded with force and with predictable accusations of outside agitation, leading Rebiya Kadeer of the Uyghur Human Rights Project and World Uyghur Congress to issue a press statement angrily denying any involvement whilst at the same time condemning the state’s actions:

The Chinese government must change its policy of using only force to deal with all dissent. Uyghurs, Tibetans and Chinese are all victims of Chinese government policy. Until the Chinese government engages in real dialogue with its citizens, and uses the rule of law instead of rule by force, there will be no real peace in China.

The number of arrests now exceeds 1400, and over 150 people have died in the crackdown following the protests. In a particularly sinister turn, Han reprisals have begun, with armed mobs going into the streets of the city of Urumqi to hunt down Uyghur protesters. The Uyghur have not given up, however, and in shades of Iran, the protests continue.

News reports from Xinjiang are sporadic at best, and likely to become more so over the next few days. What we do know however is that women and children have been prepared to defy all the forces of one of the most powerful co-ercive states in the world, in order to demand that their compatriots be released from jail. We know that hundreds continue to be arrested for peaceful protest in the face of that same state’s attempts to eradicate one of its own ethnic minority cultures. As in Iran, the people are beginning to stand up. We stand with them.


  1. skidmarx said,

    In a meeting on China at Marxism 2009 on Saturday, Charlie Hore pointed to the conflict in Guangdong that set off the riots in Xinjiang as an example of how China’s ability to draw new workers from its poorest regions was reaching its limits. I guess he wouldn’t quite fit into your “some on the left” category.

  2. maxdunbar said,

    Except that Voltaire said ‘some on’ not ‘all of’ the left.


  3. entdinglichung said,

    it would be interesting to know if there are any leftist Uyghur or East Turkestan groups in exile or underground … I wouldn’t mind demonstrating together with the World Uyghur Congress or similar groups but a problem (especially in Germany and other European countries with a large Turkish community) can be, that solidarity demonstrations may be dominated or strongly influenced by Grey Wolves or islamists of Millî Görüş

  4. Andrew Coates said,

    Except that we do not stand for anti-Han racism.Whioch was, according to all reports, a major factor here.

    The Chinese people are our friends. Same goes for the Uyghur. As are all peoples generally. But in the case of the Chinese a bit more than many.

    I have some deep experience of this. My mum’s best friend in Prague in the 1940s was married to an Indonesian Communist (a Han) . I saw her at a Liberation conference a few years back. She is alive. He not. Guess why. Er, see massacres of Indonesian leftists by the Islamicists for a start.

    Anti-Han racist Islamicism played a big part in the pograms in Malaysia as well. And – guess where else?

    And ditto here.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    Which would be all very well Andrew, except that this isn’t a matter of Han “immigrants” per se: the Han are the dominant group in China and the Uyghur a minority under the repressive rule of a Stalinist state. Let’s not get too carried away with the “Islamism” thing either – even the openly Islamic ETIM is primarily interested in the Uyghur national struggle.

    And besides, what happened to the right to self-determination? Do we support it for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza whose main opponent is Israel but not for Uyghur whose main opponent is the stalinist state of China, now? Since when?

  6. Laban Tall said,

    “One of the world’s least-known ” indeed. That great anti-imperialist Captain W.E. Johns was writing about the oppression of the Kirghiz by Great Han Chinese chauvinism in the 1950s, in ‘Biggles In The Gobi’.

  7. Ray Wyman said,

    fuck you! You support so-called “peaceful” killing riots? Just because your mom was not fucked by a Chinese man to give you a birth? Just because luckily enough you were not there beaten by Uyghur people! You go to hell! Know some basics before you write this misleading articles!!! Go to talk with people who were killed by Uyghur people in Xinjiang!

    Yeah, Uyghur people dont’ have euqual rights as Han Chinese have, cuz they can have more than 1-child in each family (this is so unfair indeed, Han families can only have one), and they can easily get local jobs just simply because they are Uyghur people, so you wanna absolute equality? Stupid moran!!!!!!!!!

  8. voltairespriest said,

    Laban: can’t say I read that book, and the Kyrgyz are not the same people as the Uyghur anyway.

    Ray: “Stupid moran”. Yes….

  9. entdinglichung said,

    there are a few texts on the topic at ESSF:

  10. Alec said,

    Voltie, I took Laban Tall to have been responding specifically to your description of this as a previously little-known conflict. If even Biggles was opposing it, it cannot have been that obscure. I’d have to check my copies of Peter Hopkirk books, but I suspect he’s dealt with it… even Colin Thubron has mentioned events.

    If we’re splitting hairs about differences between the Kyrgyz and Uighurs, they are both Turkic-speaking [nominal, at least] Muslim groups. During the Qing period, neither group appears to have suffered more than the other.

    Furthermore, the Kyrgyz automatous region is in south-western Xinjiang… that is, the territory which was generally thought of as Chinese East Turkestan. The territory north of the Tien Shan, in which Urumqi is located, was historically called Dzungaria.

    I appreciate that you at Shiraz Socialist avoid and reject the foul anti-imperialism and outright antisemitism of those certain other blogs, but nor do I think any of us know enough to be confident in reducing this to another case of frustrated desires for self-determination or a simple rejection of hegemony.

    I endorse Coatsey’s recollection of murderous anti-Han racism. If you are arguing that the PRC is a totalitarian dictatorship (which it is, of course), it’s surely absurd to suggest that all Han are complicit in it (cf. “displaced from their lands by members of the national-majority Han Chinese population”). There is no dispute that Han bystanders have been attacked simply because of their ethnic group, and it does not bode well to use terms such as “sinister turn” to describe first “Han reprisals”.

    It potentially sounds like William Morris gloating over the destruction of British Army columns by the Mahdi in Sudan, regardless of their containing bog-standard recruits who didn’t even have the vote (unlike gentlemen socialists like Morris) or Egyptian peasants; or the subsequent annihilation of entire Sudanese villages.

  11. johng said,

    Oh yes the disgusting William Morris. And lets not forget they’re Moooooslims eh Alec.

    “Disgusting anti-imperialism”. Hysterical.

  12. johng said,

    Engels refers indirectly to the last mahdi. He mantains the assumption that the oriental social order cannot progress in the same way the European one did, but its an interesting passage nonetheless. I’ve posted the source on the thread on Eagleton:

    1] NOTE BY ENGELS: A peculiar antithesis to this was the religious risings in the Mohammedan world, particularly in Africa. Islam is a religion adapted to Orientals, especially Arabs, i.e., on one hand to townsmen engaged in trade and industry, on the other to nomadic Bedouins. Therein lies, however, the embryo of a periodically recurring collision. The townspeople grow rich, luxurious and lax in the observation of the “law.” The Bedouins, poor and hence of strict morals, contemplate with envy and covetousness these riches and pleasures. Then they unite under a prophet, a Mahdi, to chastise the apostates and restore the observation of the ritual and the true faith and to appropriate in recompense the treasures of the renegades. In a hundred years they are naturally in the same position as the renegades were: a new purge of the faith is required, a new Mahdi arises and the game starts again from the beginning. That is what happened from the conquest campaigns of the African Almoravids and Almohads in Spain to the last Mahdi of Khartoum who so successfully thwarted the English. It happened in the same way or similarly with the risings in Persia and other Mohammedan countries. All these movements are clothed in religion but they have their source in economic causes; and yet, even when they are victorious, they allow the old economic conditions to persist untouched. So the old situation remains unchanged and the collision recurs periodically. In the popular risings of the Christian West, on the contrary, the religious disguise is only a flag and a mask for attacks on an economic order which is becoming antiquated. This is finally overthrown, a new one arises and the world progresses.

  13. johng said,

    Thats not THE last Mahdi obviously but the one who did for General Gordon.

  14. Alec said,

    Oh, hallo, John. I recall the last time you and I discussed the Mahdist War, you:

    a) Completely forgot about the unnumbered *Muslims* peasants killed by the same people killing the British;

    b) Thought that Marlow was the narrator of Heart of Darkness.

    >> Thats not THE last Mahdi obviously but the one who did for General Gordon.

    You may be many things, John, but one thing you’re not is a comedian.

  15. johng said,

    And one thing your not Alec, is any kind of left winger or liberal.

    Just for the record though:

    Marlow is the narrator of Heart of Darkness:

    And no-one denies that the Mahdi didn’t carry out massacres. In fact the British had destroyed a modernising Islamic regime in the area and the rise of the Mahdi was the result. A familiar enough Empire story.

  16. Alec said,

    >> And one thing your not Alec, is any kind of left winger or liberal.

    That doesn’t make sense.

    >> Marlow is the narrator of Heart of Darkness:

    No he’s bleeding not! The narrator is an anonymous passenger onboard the Nellie listening to Marlow’s tale!

    >> And no-one denies that the Mahdi didn’t carry out massacres.

    Actually, you do.

    >> In fact the British had destroyed a modernising Islamic regime in the area and the rise of the Mahdi was the result.

    Go on, tell us how George III was to blame for Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab a century before, and the subsequent devastation of the west and east Red Sea littoral zones by his inheritors.

    >> A familiar enough Empire story.

    Just admit that you’re a little racist who doesn’t think non-Europeans have any moral agency of their own but react, unbidden, to the only morally-aware creatures there are, that is upper-class Europeans.

    How is the viva going?

  17. Alec said,

    Is it just me or is John avoiding talking about China to hide his lack of concern for something that doesn’t involve the USA or Israel?

    No? Good, I’m not alone

  18. johng said,

    a) The story which is reproduced as a narrative told by marlow from beginning to end. Marlow narrates, and the author narrates the narration. Is this really the kind of nit-picking idiocy that your argument relies on? b)Why would I tell you something that isn’t true? c) Why would I admit something that isn’t true to an idiot who thinks that opposing Empire is racist and involves denying agency to those who do? And yes its just you. Given that I reacted in amazement to the idea that Tibetans are oppressed but Uyghor not on the basis that one people is non-Muslim and the other is not. Both are oppressed.

  19. efrafandays said,

    a) Marlow was not the narrator. Live with it;

    b) It ungrammatical twaddle, and especially shocking for a PhD researcher. When is that viva coming?;

    c) What on Earth are you talking about? When did I say the Uighurs were not oppressed? Are you an anti-Han racist now who doesn’t believe killing them is wrong?;

    d) Did you smash a Starbucks window in January?

  20. Lobby Ludd said,

    “It ungrammatical twaddle…..”

    Yeah, best to check before submitting a comment, isn’t it?

  21. Alec said,

    Good try. I think you meant, “yeah, best to check before submitting a comment, *is* *it* *not*?”.

    We’re all allowed a bit of latitude when clattering away on a keyboard. Gameboy, however, is consistently semi-literate.

  22. Alec said,

    I’m sorry, Gameboy’s posts are like those gifts which keep on giving.

    >> and the author narrates the narration.

    No, the author does not. The author recounts the narration. A literary construct called the narrator narrates the narration.

    I forget which Swuppie faction you’re in. Are you with Terry Eagleton? I’d recommend you ask him for a lesson in literary theory.

  23. Lobby Ludd said,

    “Good try. I think you meant, “yeah, best to check before submitting a comment, *is* *it* *not*?”.”

    No, I meant what I wrote, didn’t I.

  24. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Alec: I don’t think you’re right about Han migration. The analogy that strikes me is with systematic movements of Russians into minority regions under the Soviet Union. I think what’s going on in yours and Andrew’s respective heads is indigenous persecution of migrants, and that is not what is happening as far as I understand it.

    Furthermore, the figures for deaths etc all come from Chinese state-aligned sources. I doubt whether they accurately reflect the number of Uyghurs arrested, injured and killed, and probably in fact they understate it considerably.

    It isn’t “splitting hairs” to distinguish between Kyrgyz and Uyghurs just because they speak related languages, any more than it is “splitting hairs” to distinguish between English people and Australians. Either way however it’s peripheral to the point that I was making.

    On the subject of Biggles, if I’m honest then for the purposes of this debate I don’t really care whether or not the books mention the Uyghurs. The fact is that most people would have had no idea of who the Uygur people were until the press coverage over the past few days, let alone known about the history of their oppression at the hands of the Chinese state. So yes, I think it’s fair for me to point out that the region’s history and politics is not widely known.

  25. efrafandays said,

    Voltie, speaking for myself and, I assume, Laban, the query simply was your description of this as a great unknown case. It should be possible to discuss events on their intrinsic degrees of repression (or not) rather than referring to their celebrity status (or not).

    Yes, the Uighurs and Kyrgyz are distinct ethnic groups (is it really apposite for socialists and internationalists to speak of “peoples”?) but, although I haven’t read that Biggles story, I doubt very much Johns made a clear distinction between the various groups in this lost heart of Asia. Plus, he was referencing the mis-treatment of a Muslim Turkic-speaking minority in western China, so that’s close enough.

    You’re right that it would be in the Chinese state’s interest to big up attacks on Han inhabitants, but they are happening. Yes, we have little information coming out, but this works both ways… you don’t know just how serious the repression is but, I suspect, viewing this simply as a cipher in your workview. Of course, you have a long way to go before you’re an optical isomer of the deranged Andy John Christopher Timothy Jennings Newman and the disgusting John Wight.

    What the bloody hell have Han shopkeepers done to deserve this?

  26. skidmarx said,

    Talking of the deranged Newman, he seems to have taken exception to this quote from Alex Callinicos:

    “Defenders of social democracy tend to argue that terible things will ensue unless workers act as doctors to capitalism in crisis. Frequently the terrible things happen anyway because the severity of the crisis means that capitalists demand more from workers than they are prepared to give except under compulsion. It is not ‘crisis-mongering’, but a sober reflection of historical experience to point this out. During the First World War Lenin quoted Schiller in support of his advocacy of revolution to end the bloodshed:’Better a horrible end than a horror without end.’ Perhaps today we should emend this to: Better a horrible end that saves humanity than one which destroys it.”
    From Making History by Alex Callinicos.

    It would be nice to know exactly what has offended the “spam filter” here.
    johng- another to add to your lexicon:social democracy without socialism or democracy. Though rather predated by the old adage that the Communist Party of Great Britain was more Great British than communist.

    Latest from the BBC:
    Chinese police kill two Uighurs

    Listening to an interview with one of the Bermuda Uighurs on the World Sevice, one of them told the BBC interviewer “unlike you, we’ve never known what it’s like to be free.” chjh- I think there is more to be said about China’s relative strength vis-a-vis American imperialism, I’ve been thinking about the 19th century situation where the British navy was supposed to be at least as strong as the next two strongest navies combined, yet could not enforce its will on other powers willy-nilly. Also the situation of those who have lived in societies where the balance between force and consent has shifted toward the former, without becoming an apologist for bourgeois democracy it seems important to understand how there is a pull in such societies towards it.

    It seems OK for David Ellis to make comments like “Fuck off Johng, you are the yapping meerkat of Western intervention, a true Kautskyite.” Andy Newman seemed to welcome a debate at #184 “Skidmarx in the unlikely event that you are trying to make a serious point…”.but at the end of the day in the fullness of time when all is asid and done, he’d rather throw his toys out of the pram.Here’s the assassination of John Fitzgerald Rees considered as a downmarket motor home gag again:

  27. tugsat said,

    This site very fantastic and educational !!

  28. entdinglichung said,

    an interesting “Thompsonian” piece on the conflict on LibCom:

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