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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

China 2003 Socioeconomic Statistics

China Study Group

The 2003 socio-economic statistics for China in 2003 are out and show a staggering 9.1% increase in GDP over the previous year with little increase in inflation figures.

What is very interesting to note is the absolutely staggering fuel import figures.

"China last year imported 91.12 million tons of crude oil, up 31.3 percent; 28.24 million tons of oil products, up 38.8 percent; and 37.17 million tons of rolled steel, up 51.8 percent."

At this rate China will become highly dependent on the outside world and as a result increase it's susceptibility to any form of pressure economic or social.

As well, such increasing integration into the world economy can only further assist in the opening up of the channels of communication at all levels which can only be a positive thing.

From a human rights perspective this is good as it will allow foreign governments and organisations increased economic leverage to elicit change.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Reporters sans frontires - China

Reporters sans fronti�res - China

The above link relates to the latest moves by the PRC government to censor the internet.

Even with a reported 30,000 staff attached to the internet censorship department one would have to think that they face an uphill battle and will have to one day just give up!

Here's hoping at least. I have a lot of friends in Xinjiang that have never seen my websites which I have dedicated to them.

Analysis: Pressure mounts on China rights

United Press International: Analysis: Pressure mounts on China rights

HumanThe recent US report on Human Rights in China paints a very damning picture and with good reason but it is said by some observers that all is not bad. The above link is to an analysis of trends in China's Human Rights and concludes that the question of Human Rights "management" is increasingly being taken out of the hands of the authoritarian government and old hardliners and into the hands of social pressures which erodes the government's stance.

The analysis argues that freedoms are "burgeoning out of official control" and that the likes of the internet, inbound and outbound tourism and travel, greater involvement in the world economy among other things are enlightening the Chinese people who are now setting the pace of Human Rights Reform not the PRC government.

The article cites The U.S. annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices in acknowledging "rising urban living standards; greater independence for entrepreneurs; the reform of the public sector ... and expansion of the non-state sector increased workers' employment options and significantly reduced state control over citizens' daily lives."

To quote en block

'Yes, say China supporters, old habits die hard, but the key word in the above quote is "space." Society has become more porous, they argue, and though people do get caught in the nets cast by suspicious and conservative officials, the majority has more freedom than ever before to read, think and discuss, if not to publish their views.

"The social environment is opening up," said a Chinese journalist, who preferred not to be named despite her insistence she enjoys greater freedom of expression than before. "People have more space to live, to breathe, to think, to express themselves. This is the result of the flow of information, from the Internet, from people who have been abroad. There is more exchange with the outside world, and no one can stop it."

..they (the PRC) know what is expected.


The article goes on to quote an academic who has a very unique turn of phrase

"They know what is expected. At least when they are cracking down on people, when they're putting them in prison, when they're shooting people, they do it with a bad conscience. This is a very big difference from the past," she added.

I do not have any doubts that increased interaction with the outside world will have the effect of increasingly taking away from the Chinese government the ability to set the Human Rights reform agenda and timetable.

And I agree with the articles analysis that in their own minds the PRC government feels that they are making great leaps and bounds with Human Rights reform but they just do not yet see things in quite the same way as others do.

What did it used to be called in the Vietnam War days? People Power?

China to issue Human Rights Record of the US

China to issue Human Rights Record of the US

China FlagAccording to the above linked article The Information Office of the State Council of China will issue on March 1 the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2003, in response to the latter's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices which they claim contains "many distortions and denouncements".

This is a diplomatic tit for tat thing and should not really be seen as too important. It certainly does not mean that the PRC government did not take on board what was said in the US report.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Beijing Olympics Evictions

China Study Group

The following is a full reprint of the linked article. If the Chinese can do this so easily to their own Han citizens then, in light of my article yesterday, what are they capable of doing with the Tibetans and the Uygurs?

..100,000 families, over 300,000 people have been evicted..

-Scott Leckie-

"China had evicted 300,000 people from their homes in Beijing to prepare for the 2008 summer Olympics, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (Cohre) said yesterday.
The group said the evictions were part of a global crisis which saw an average of six million people illegally thrown out of their homes every year.

The mayor of Beijing, Wang Qishan, admitted on Saturday that in some cases the demolition of homes and evictions had been conducted illegally.

Scott Leckie, the executive director of Cohre, said: "Large international events including global conferences and sporting events like the Olympic Games are mostly accompanied by forced evictions.

"Nearly 100,000 families, over 300,000 people, have been evicted so far in Beijing, and thousands more evictions are expected." He said Cohre, a non-governmental organisation accredited to the UN in Geneva, was calling on the International Olympic Committee to try to stop the evictions.

It was asking companies to withhold sponsorship to countries hosting the games if they carried out evictions. Cohre had reports that Roma residents in parts of Athens had been evicted ahead of this summer's games. "

China Respond to Human Rights Allegations

Reuters | Breaking News from Around the Globe

China FlagVery predictably China has responded quickly to the release of the U.S. State Departments 2003 Human Rights Report in which it accused the Chinese Government of "backsliding" on human rights during 2003 after positive trends in 2002.

According to a Reuters report (see link) China has responded by criticising the United States Human Rights Report but significantly stopped short of warning of a setback in ties with Washington.

"China wants to express its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said of the annual U.S. report on human rights around the world, branding its criticism of China as being "without reason".

"We hope the United States can treat China's progress and achievements on human rights objectively and correctly, and correct its mistaken submission of such reports."

To add further pressure on the Chinese government US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner told reporters the United States was heading in the direction of a U.N. resolution on China's rights record.

Earlier in the month, China told the United States to "think three times" about introducing a resolution at this year's session of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission, which begins its six-week meeting on March 16.

In the past the US has been fairly scathing in it's criticism of China's Human Rights record however with the events of "9/11" and the subsequent moves in Afghanistan and Iraq the Bush Administration had drastically scaled back it's criticism in an attempt to garner Chinese support for it's initiatives in the "War On Terror".

The Uygur being a Muslim people have been particularly ignored during this period as US elected officials, seeing little political capital in supporting Muslims, have virtually ceased any open support.

It will be of interest now to see if the US will follow through by introducing the resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March

I have said it before and I will say it ad nauseum that with the Beijing Olympics around the corner and China's rush to fully join the world economy that there has never been better times to achieve change within China as it concerns Human Rights. All it needs is the political will of the western "free" world

Asia Times Online - News from greater China; Hong Kong and Taiwan

Asia Times Online - News from greater China; Hong Kong and Taiwan:

Asia Times online has been running a three part series on Tibet and in Part 1 they examine the effects of the forthcoming Beijing Olympics on human rights negotiations concerning Tibet but which would also hold true for the Uygur

"When astronaut Yang Liwei rocketed into space on China's first manned spaceflight, he carried with him the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games banner and China's national flag. Just like the spaceflight, China's award of the Olympic Games represents the coming of age for this growing world superpower.

On this historic flight the Olympic Games logo was flown high. But the Chinese government fears that the banner will be dragged through the dirt by protestors when the games begin. 'Free Tibet' and human rights agitators are gearing up to protest, and the government does not want their glorious sports epic sullied by dissent at home or abroad. "

WE gave Beijing the Olympics and I wonder in doing so did we take into consideration one of the Olympic Ideals

"Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principles, 2."

"Fundamental Ethical Principals" three words that do not describe China's stance on Human Rights.

But the decision is made and provides very real opportunities to elicit change from Beijing.

As the Asia Times article postulates China is fearful that it will lose face in front of the world if the Beijing Olympics is used to highlight their human rights violations.

Now this can go two ways, either they will, over the next four and a bit years, attempt to address their shortcomings in a positive manner or they will employ extreme measures to make sure that the likes of the "Uygur and Tibetan Questions" do not raise (from China's perspective) their "ugly heads" and spoil the show.

If it is the latter you can expect it to quite brutal. A possible scenario is as follows

1. One to two years out a series of mass detentions will occur of those people within China likely to attempt to cause any disruption. The timing will allow for the ensuing ruckus to die down.
2. Tibet and Xinjiang will be "Locked Down" with travel by Uygurs or Tibetans outside these areas forbidden in the lead up to and during the Olympics.
3. Tibet and Xinjiang will be "locked down" and travel to these areas by foreigners will be denied on the basis of a jumped up "terrorist threat"

None of these actions are really in the spirit of the Olympics I am sure you will agree.

It is time now, some four years out, that the message be given to the Chinese in no uncertain terms that actions of this type will not be countenanced.

As well the "free"* world must use this run up to the Beijing Olympics to press for change in Beijing policies towards it's ethnic minorities and religious groups.

We have a marvelous opportunity here that should not be squandered. We can, if we do it right, make the Beijing Olympics a celebration of a Brave New World. If we don't we will expose the whole Olympic ideal as a mockery and a sham

* Readers may wonder why I put the word "free" in inverted commas in my posts. Well I do it because the word "Free" should not only denote the condition under which the people in that particularly country live but also their desire for the conditions of all people in the world. How can we be "free" if do not fight for the rights of those who are not. Most times I feel the word "greedy" is more befitting.

Last "Singing Nun" Released by China

GoUpstate.com: An online service of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Tibet MapThe last of 14 Tibetan "singing nuns" was released Thursday from a Chinese prison, granted a sentence reduction after nearly 15 years behind bars.

Phuntsog Nyidron's sentence was due to run until March 2005, but she was granted an early release.

Phuntsog Nyidron was arrested at age 22 in 1989 on charges of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" and sentenced to eight years in prison.

In 1993, she and 13 other women became known as the "singing nuns" after they used a tape recorder smuggled into the prison to record songs about their love for their families and their homeland. Their sentences were extended after the tape was smuggled out of the prison.

The linked article states the belief of interested parties that the release came about due to pressure from the United States and a desire on China's part to be seen as conciliatory ahead of planned talks between Chinese officials and representatives of the Tibetan Government in exile.

Such "strategic" individual prison releases is a common tactic of the Chinese to gain bargaining power ahead of any negotiations with foreign countries or organisations.

Regardless of the reason thankfully another innocent is free.

McDonald's bets on Chinese growth

BBC NEWS | Business | McDonald's bets on Chinese growth

McDonalds ChinaFast food outlet McDonald's has said it is planning almost to double its outlets in China ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The burger chain has also agreed a fresh eight-year deal to sponsor the games for an unrevealed sum.

"It's an investment we obviously think is worth it for the long term," said McDonald's chairman Jim Cantalupo.

It is a hard question isn't it? The problem of unfettered foreign investment is a conundrum.

On one hand it has positives: shareholder returns, greater involvement of China in global economics, more communication channels opened up, greater prosperity for the Chinese people through employment opportunities etc etc. But on the other hand we can be seen to be giving de facto approval to China's human rights violations and exposing the essential avarice of free societies.

Depending on the school of philosophy you adhere to will provide differing answers to this question.

At one end of the spectrum we have the position that it is morally wrong to be involved at all if even one individual continues to suffer, at the other it would be held that the benefits to humanity as a whole outweigh the negative effect on a relatively small group.

I think that individual organisations must, by and large, have the right to seek economic opportunities as and when they feel fit but be self regulated in doing so. Part of this self regulation would be to prominently display in the likes of any prospectus or annual reports their economic interests in countries that are identified as human rights violators thus allowing shareholders to make informed decisions. We see examples of this type of self regulation in the so called "green corporations" whose investment strategies must, by self regulation, meet certain predefined environmental characteristics.

I am sure that a great majority of the shareholders of McDonalds for instance have never heard of the Uygur and feel that the Tibet problem, which received such wide exposure in the 70's and 80's but not as much now, had pretty much been resolved.

The government of the corporations principal residence must also have oversight of planned investments with legislation similar to the various "Anti Trust", "Monopolies" and "Arms sales" legislation where they can veto such plans if the corporation has not exhibited due diligence or at least demand some human rights concessions from the target country as a pre-requisite for approvals.

Obviously this is not the venue to go into depth but I am sure these things are feasible.

I wonder when shareholders last checked their investments and thought whose blood was on the dividends cheque?

Thursday, February 26, 2004

China Back on Top

China Legal Reforms Accompanied by "Backsliding" on Human Rights

Well it looks as though the U.S. might be once again hearing the voices in the wilderness concerning China and it's "War on Terror" and other human rights violations.

The 2003 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in China is officially out.

To cover themselves for not being critical in their last report the U.S Government states that after some positive moves in the right direction in 2002 the Chinese have been guilty of "Backsliding" in 2003.

Let us hope that this may be the start of some (to use an Australian idiom) "fair dinkum"* pressure not only from the US but all "Free" nations.

* fair dinkum = Honest

Got Me!!


You have got to hand it to the Chinese. All my websites are "forbidden" in China, in other words people in China can not view them. In a way I can undersatnd that.

But click on the link above. Do you see anything?

Well I don't!

Now they have blocked me from even viewing one of their websites. The mistake I made was stupidly joining Xinhua's email news alert with my Uygur world email account. Over at the People's Daily I am ok because I subscribed to them under a non Uygur associated address.

That's Him Press The Button

Why I even get updates from the Chinese Foreign Affairs Department.

You think they would have better things to do with their time and money especially with millions of rural Chinese citizens living below the poverty line!

But the last laugh is on them. I have two computers attached to different ISP's

Dalai Lama's Envoy Speaks Out.... - www.phayul.com

Dalai Lama's Envoy Speaks Out.... - www.phayul.com

Mr Gyari on right of pictureThe Uygur and Tibetan situations are very similar. In reading any story on Tibet or the Uygur you could just swap names and you would not know the difference. The Chinese are consistent if nothing else.

The linked article deals with the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy Lodi Gyari thanking the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference for support of the Tibetan's situation.

Special Envoy Lodi Gyari right of picture

A few of things about this article stood out for me beside the litany of human rights violations that we are so familiar with in the Uygur's situation.

Firstly is the theory he puts forward that China's policy towards the Tibetans (and we can assume the Uygur) is as a direct result of the break up of the Soviet Union.

He believes that through the PRC's analysis as to why the Soviet Union collapsed they came to the conclusion that something similar could happen in China. Further, he believes that they identified religion as being a key determinate in the Soviet's demise.

They conducted this analysis, he postulates, to attempt to avoid a similar fate:

"They did this because they wanted to take pre-emptive measures to prevent the same thing happening to China and Tibet'.

'Their investigators reported that the disintegration of the Soviet communist system largely came about because the people's religion, particularly the Catholic faith, had outlived it. This is the view overall in China, particularly for Tibet'.

The article then goes on to provide facts as to anti-religious policies in Tibet to support this theory.

If one believes that this was an overriding concern why then has this policy really only been used against the Tibetan Buddhists and the Uygur Muslims and to a lesser known extent Christians? Muslims for example in the "Inland" (Eastern China and predominantly Hui)) have very few restrictions placed on them in comparison with the Uygur.

I think that this "religion theory" does go a long way in understanding China's position vis a vis the Uygur and the Tibetans but falls short of a total answer. I have no doubts though that some serious soul searching took place within the ranks of China's politburo in the early 90's.

There are some things that set the Tibetans and the the Uygurs apart from other religious groups in China

  1. They are congregated in particular areas
  2. They are reasonably sizeable
  3. They are in border regions and,
  4. they are ethnically different

I think then that yes religion would have been identified as a potential threat to the regime but it had to be combined with certain other characteristics, namely the above. That is why some religious followers have fared better than others.

The exception of course is the Christians. By some reports they have fared even worse than the Uygurs or the Tibetans but because of their diverse nature their treatment has not come to the the attention of the world to the extent of the former.

I can only conclude that they constituted different types of threats. The Tibetans and Uygurs as separatist threats and the Christians as long term regime threats. Memories of Christian Missionaries must hold fearful connotations.

I would not hesitate to throw in the race/racist angle as well as being a factor in the treatment of the Uygur and Tibetans. I think xenophobia has very much a lot to do with it.

The second very interesting thing about the article was the fate of the Panchen Lama who was abducted as a child in 1989 and stands (if he is alive) to succeed the current Dalai Lama.

Having personally come late to the Tibetan's problems I am not totally au fait with this story but am amazed that it has not received far more attention. To use a Christian analolgy isn't it tantamount to kidnapping the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury?

The penultimate point of interest for me was the question of globalisation and the ever increasing economic involvement of Western nations with the Chinese government.

Mr. Gyari felt it was unfortunate that many Western politicians had ignored religion and religious questions in their dealings with the Chinese. This for me is an understatement. In their quest for the almighty dollar, or whatever currency they have they have not only ignored human rights violations but have effectively condoned them. Never has the time been better to use economic sanctions as a tool to force change on China.

Finally, Mr Gyari spoke of the Chinese leadership and his hopes that the newer crop, being far more worldly then their predecessors, may provide a ray of hope for the Tibetans and by extension the Uygurs.

This is something I too believe and hope for. China by entering the global economy has to move totally away from isolationist and insular type thinking and policies.

I do not think it has happened yet and I feel it may take a generation or two having spoken to younger Han who still are very Red Bookish and very defensive when it comes to such things as ethnic relations, but it has to happen. The Titanic could not turn on a sixpence but maybe a "sixpence" can turn China.

I hope that The Tibetans and the Uygurs are prepared to look longer term and in the meanwhile bide their time to a certain degree.

We have to get our "freedom loving" governments to put a bit of a financial screw on, not to much to turn the Chinese back but enough to allow them to move positively forward

Watch Out Guys Some More Friends Coming to Tea

More solid minerals found

New findings have further boosted China's rock-solid mineral reserves, which are believed to be one solid pillar for the country's surging economic development, officials said Wednesday.

Especially exciting is the discovery of new copper mines reporting total reserves of more than 12 million tons in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Southwest China's Yunnan Province and Tibet, said Shou.

Copper shortages have forced the country to spend more than US$3 billion each year during the past several years to import two thirds of the country's annual copper consumption amount.

Ancient tomb discovered intact in Xinjiang

Ancient tomb discovered intact in Xinjiang

A farmer in Turpan in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northwest China, recently found a well-preserved ancient tomb on his farm.

The farmer, Halik, discovered the tomb when he was working in the field. Archaeologists said it could date back to the early years of the 20th* century.

The trapezoid-shaped coffin is 2 meters long, 50 cm at the upper border and 60 cm at the bottom border. It was covered with red paint with patterns of flowers such as lotuses and peonies.

Inside was a mummified man dressed in cotton-padded clothes, a cap on his head and face covered by a document paper. So far, archaeologists have no information on the identity of the tomb owner.

*Source:Xinhua I think it might be a bit older than what Xinhua reported. Probably a typo whilst they were worried about blocking my access.( see other story today)

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

A Xinjiang Perspective: Professor Colin Mackerras

Colin Mackerras Staff Profile

China Map Courtesy BBCLast evening I had the pleasure to attend a presentation at Sydney University by Professor Colin Mackerras of the Griffith University, Queensland Australia.

Professor Mackerras is a world respected Asian scholar specialising in China with a particular emphasis on Xinjiang and the Uygur minority.

As well he is a regular visitor to Xinjiang and has recently returned from a three week "field trip" which included visits to Urumqi, Aksu, Hotan Kashgar and Yarkend.

His one hour presentation, followed by a question and answer session, concentrated mainly upon his general impressions as to the changes he has seen in Xinjiang over the period of his many visits.

Some of the Professor's major observations include a perceived strengthening of Islamicism among the southern Uygur, an easing of Han/Uygur tensions, rapid modernisation, demographic changes and an emerging Uygur middle class.

State of Religion in Xinjiang: Strengthening Islamicism .

The professor's field work on this trip included many interviews with Uygurs and he attempted at every opportunity to speak to Uygur clerics in the cities that he visited.

He came away with the impression that in the south of Xinjiang, particularly Kashgar and Hotan, that there was a strengthening of Islamicism among the Uygur there but this was not reflected in the more Han dominated areas of the north.

Whilst not stating outright, one draws the conclusion from what the professor related in his presentation, that the PRC may be very sensitive to this issue specificly and the situation in Kashgar generally.

In his opinion he thought he was monitored more closely in Kashgar by State Security then elsewhere in Xinjiang to the point that a planned trip to an Uygur school was vetoed by officials even though he had been allowed fairly open access to such facilities elsewhere. Unfortunately he did not expand on any theory that he may have on reasons for this growing Islamicism

Strengthening of Islam among the Uygurs in the south..

-Prof Mackerras-

He noted in the presentation that in speaking to Muslim clerics they seemed very reticent when it came to discussing the general state of Islam in Xinjiang. Whilst they were more than happy to discuss affairs at their particular masjid when it came to the larger picture he was given a stock answer of "speak to the authorities".

As well, and not surprisingly given the the Chinese governments cleric "re-education" programmes, there is little support for Separatism or Islamic extremism among the Uygur clerics.

He was able to confirm that Uygur boys under the age of 18 were not allowed by PRC policy to enter Masjid prayer halls but were able to be in the general environs of the Masjid.

Modernisation and The Economy

Modernisation has brought benefits to the Uygur..

-Prof Mackerras-

Professor Mackerras commented at length on the modernisation of Xinjiang that he had witnessed over the period of his visits.

His feeling was that, on balance, modernisation has been beneficial to the Uygur despite the fact that some older Uygur areas have been demolished.

He cited the leveling of the square in front of the Id Kah masjid as a particular example. Whilst a new square in keeping with the historic and religious significance of the area had been promised by the Han authorities at the time of his visit this was not complete.

He was however critical as to the provision of such infrastructure as running water and health care delivery which he believed could be markedly improved in Xinjiang. He did qualify this by saying that it was a general problem and not one related soley to the Uygur.

Of particular interest to the professor was the rapidly expanding cotton industry in Xinjiang. He thought it possibly a double edged sword, on one hand it had brought increased prosperity to those Uygur involved in the industry but on the other it raised concerns as to the long term effects of the large water requirement on the environment.

With regard to living standards he noted that despite evidence of pockets of poverty among the Uygur there had been an obvious general increase in ethnic minority prosperity, though, he believed that the rate of wealth accumulation for the Uygur, was nowhere near the level the Han had achieved.

Emerging Uygur Middle Class

Emerging Uygur middle class..

-Prof Mackerras-

It is the professors contention that modernisation and economic development in Xinjiang had brought about the emergence of a burgeoning Uygur middle class.

This new Uygur middle class is typified by an acceptance of Han economic and political dominance and permanency in Xinjiang and a desire to better themselves within this environment.

They seek Han education for their children in preference to the Uygur and enjoy the economic benefits and trappings that come with working with the Han. They still however suffer social discrimination at the hands of the Han.

Ethnic Relations

Professor Makerras is of the opinion that ethnic tensions as between the Han and the Uygur have reduced quite markedly in the last several years. He believes that the Chinese "carrot and stick" approach to ethnic relations is having it's effect.

He notes that most tension exists between the Uygur and the newer Han 'migrants" rather than those Han who settled in Xinjiang in the fifties and sixties. He believes there is a measure of mutual respect between these Han and the Uygur that does not exist with the newer breed of Han "migrant".

This class of "migrant's" loyalty to Xinjiang is transient and based only on a desire to "make a quick buck" and return to the inland. They are also obviously very much imbued with PRC propaganda and as a result treat the Uygur with open disdain thus fueling ethnic tension.

Little open support for Separation..

-Prof Mackerras-

Surprisingly the Professor noted very little solidarity among the Muslims of Xinjiang. The Uygur, Kazakhs and the Hui worship in their own mosques and provide little support to each other as a religious community. In fact he pointed out that there is quite a lot of ethnic tension as between the Uygur and The Kazakhs despite them being both Muslim and Turkic.

With regards to the issues of Separatism he found little support for the concept among the Uygur he spoke with but he did qualify this by saying he did not expect them to be vociferous on the subject to a foreigner. He went on to say that The PRC's position on "Uygur terrorism" was to a large degree political opportunism but that it was not without some basis.

Demographic Changes

An interesting aside was the professors observations about the data from the 1990 and 2000 official population censuses.

He claims that the initial figures released by the PRC showed Xinjiang's population to be 19.25 million and this reflected a rapid increase in the Han proportion above the 1990 census. This total population figure he noted is also sometimes quoted as being 18.49 m.

The difference apparently is in the number of "non residents" captured in the census.

He theorises that if "non residents" mean people who have not been in Xinjiang for more than twelve months then this differential of some 791,000 must represent Han immigration in a twelve month period, less of course true short term visitors such as tourists, army and business people.

Whatever this latter group's numbers are these figure are truly startling. If we extrapolate from that then upwards of some 750,000 Han have entered Xinjiang permanently since say 1999 giving credence to those commentators who believe the Han is now the dominant ethnic group in Xinjiang.

Another point raised by the Professor is that on this trip he saw much less evidence of larger Uygur families. Whereas before he would often see families of up to nine he did not notice this so much this time. He did not elaborate as to what he thought the reasons for this may be.


The Professor's conclusion was that through a policy of "stick and carrot" the Chinese are winning the battle for Xinjiang, if in fact they have not already won it.

Modernisation and rising living standards have gone a fair way in lessening ethnic unrest among the Uygur and whilst he does not catagorically state that the "Uygur Question" is solved from a Chinese perspective he believes that it is on the way to being so.

Finally, he could not forsee any future separatist inspired strife of any consequence and as such believed that the Chinese are being unreasonably hard in continuing their fairly heavy policies and practices concerning the Uygur.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

If You Want To Alter History...Silence The Historians!

Banned Books Week

tohti Tunyaz
Tohti Tunyaz was an up and coming young man. I say he was because at the moment he has had his career put on hold by the Peoples Republic of China.

You see Tohti is a spy. Or so they say.

Tohti is an Uygur and an historian and he has currently 3 years into an eleven year sentence in an Urumqi Xinjiang jail for "stealing state secrets for foreign persons"

The Man

Tohti Tunyaz (pen-name: Tohti Muzart) is an ethnic Uighur historian and writer.

Tohti graduated from the history department of the Central Institute of Nationalities, Beijing, in 1984 and was assigned to work for the China National Standing Committee. During this time he reportedly formed a close relationship with former Xinjiang governors Seyfundin Eziz and Ismail Emet, and was involved in the translation of some of Eziz's works.

Tohti began studying for his PhD at Tokyo University's School of Humanities in Japan in 1995, specializing in Uighur history and ethnic relations. He has reportedly published several papers on Uighur history in Japan, and has published a book in Beijing.

Tohti is married with two children who remain in Japan

The Arrest

Tohti re-entered China for the purposes of research for his doctoral thesis He was arrested in Urumqi, Xinjiang on February 6, 1998 where he had gone to collect research material. He had reportedly been watched by security police for some time prior to his arrest, and he is claimed to have been arrested with allegedly sensitive material in his possession

Some reports claim that the content of this material related to ethnic relations published for classified circles only, others that it was material published for the general public.

Tohti Tunyaz is said to have been formally charged with 'inciting national disunity' and 'stealing state secrets for foreign persons' charges that were upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Court Decision and Response

Tohti was convicted in March 1999 by the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court, and his conviction and 11-year sentence in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Prison No. 3 was confirmed on appeal in March 2000.

The courts decisions was based on the supposition that the Tohti intended to publish a book in Japanese for the purpose of instigating national disunity, and made copies of confidential documents at Urumqi in order to leak them to foreigners. Also it was alleged that he published a book in Japan in 1998 entitled The Inside Story of the Silk Road which incited national disunity and saparatism.

According to the court's decision, which was reportedly read by supporters in Urumqi in August 1999, neither the book nor its manuscript was submitted to the court as a proof.

As far as is known Tohti's colleages claim that he wrote no such book in Japan. As to leaking confidential documents supporters state that it would appear that the only proven "crime" is that of obtaining and copying part of a 50-year-old document for his research with the help of an official librarian, which the authorities claimed was "theft of classified information" and "inciting national disunity"

It is further claimed by supporters that the "foreigners" who was alleged to have received the documents were never identified at the trial. Consequently, his supporters argue, the decision was based on a misrepresentation of the facts concerning Tohti's scholarly activities. His real and only intention, they say, was to collect source materials in order to complete his doctoral thesis dealing with the modern history of the Uygur people.

"It can't be," they said, recalling that Tohti was well-known for being critical of the Uighur independence movement.

Tohti's wife has stated

"If my husband were a real believer in independence from China for his home region, he would be ready to risk his life," said Tohti's wife Rabiya, 37, who lives in Japan with their son and a 4-year-old daughter. "But the Chinese court's charges are unjust and intolerable. I should have appealed to the public earlier." referring to her having kept quiet at the time of his arrest. ." Kyodo News 22/9/2002

In December 2001, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an official opinion declaring Mr. Tohti to be arbitrarily detained. It further concluded that the Chinese court's sentence was in violation of Tohti's freedom of thought and speech by extended interpretation of "state secrets" and that it violates Article 16 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stipulations in the International Covenants on Human Rights.

The committee's official opinion that Tohti was arbitrarily detained is nonbinding because China did not ratify the treaties

Tohti has received wide support from Academic circles in Japan and in August, 1999 Professor Sato and a colleague, Professor Kishimoto Mio, visited Urmuchi in order to see him. Two other Professors (Kishimoto and Yamaguchi) visited Urmuchi together with Tohti's son in 2000 and were afforded a short meeting with him.

The Japanese government has little to say on the case taking the line that it is an internal affair of the Chinese, in fairness to them, however, Tohti was at the time of his arrest a Chinese citizen.

"The Japanese government has no say in (China's) domestic affairs," said an official at the Japanese Foreign Ministry's China and Mongolia Division in charge of human rights. "The issue of ethnic minorities is a raw nerve in China. Doing nothing could be useful for (Tohti)."

Analysis and Conclusion

My first reaction to learning of the background of this story was to jump up and down ranting that the Chinese once again have committed a gross violation of human rights.

But as I thought about this and other high profile cases such as that of Rebiya Kadir the more I had to take a step back and consider the whole thing more deeply. Not only about these particular cases but the whole strategy of dealing with the Chinese over such matters.

Firstly, we have to admit that a nation state has the "right" to treat it's citizens in accordance with the laws of the land. In doing so, by and large, it's actions should not normally be the concern of others.

If I can draw an analogy here, what one family deems to be the correct way to raise children may differ from how other families view raising children. This is certainly just as true within a culture and definately true between cultures. Being different is not wrong per se.

A family also is not obliged to justify every decision it makes as to how it raises those children.

Again there is a line in the sand and obviously this line, if overstepped, can justifiably draw outside criticism and intervention.

What we have in the Tohti case is a court exercising authority vested in it under the constitution of the People's Republic of China. Like most such cases in China there is very little transparency. Without being a Constitutional lawyer one would think that this is because the constitution does not require such openness and transparancy.

So, essentially we have a case where due course of law has been followed in the Chinese context. Essentially then we have very little recourse and the Chinese can effectively say "mind your own business"

What the problem with the Tohti case and all the others involving the Uygurs, Tibetans et al is not that the result is wrong but that it is not seen to be right. Therein lies a very major difference.

What we are prone to do is "humanise" the process. In other words put a name to a case.

We then run off and sayfree Tohti Tunyaz Why do we automatically do this? Because some friends and relative say he is not a spy and because it is China?

But the esssence of the problem is that Tohti Tunyaz may very well be a spy and by humanising the case we allow the Chinese to scoff at our stupidity and ignore us further.

In the words of the Japanese government spokesman by humanising a case we may very well be detrimental to the person if that person is innocent.

We therfore should not out of hand be demanding the release of Tohti because we believe he is innocent but instead we should be asking for proof that he is guilty. Again a very subtle difference.

Back to our analogy, if the children of family are in danger then authorities should act. It is to them that we should go when seeking intercession. In the case of China the "authorities" are the U.N. and our individual Governments.

Amnesty International et al will not get one person released from a Chinese prison and may in fact be responsible for that person serving a full term where otherwise he may not have. The Chinese will not want to lose face as an early release may evidence that they have cowed to international pressure.

What I am saying then is that we can not tell the Chinese what to do, we can only show them why it is in their interests to act in a certain way.

In the family analogy a Child Protection Unit Officer will say to a parent "alter your ways or we will take decisive action"

We should not be lobbying China or criticising China we should be lobbying and criticising our governments for not showing China why it would be in their interests to act in a certain manner and for not sending in the "Child Protection Unit".

Do we send in the "Child Protection Unit"? Obviously not, China has the Olympics don't they?

Look at todays headlines alone Ford Plans $1 billion Plant in China and Australia China Free Trade Talks. Every day you will see hundreds of such examples.

We not only do not send in "The Protection Unit" but we are crawling over ourselves to aid and abet them in their abuses.

China has well and truly entered the big world. The are subject now as never before to the inter-dependencies arising from globalisation and their ever increasing need for foreign trade and investment.

Do our governments say " Hey China we are not going to invest one more dollar in you or buy any more of your goods or sell you anymore of our raw materials until you become far more transparent? No we do not.

Save your breath berating the Chinese. Any nation that can and does regularly shoot it's people in back of the neck or throw them in jail arbitrarily is not going to have any concerns over a few emails or news articles.

Berate your governments, flood them with emails.

It is funny but elected democratic governments can be fairly attuned to Public Opinion.

Tell them it is time to send in the Child Protection Unit!

P.S. May I just say that I mentioned Amnesty International only because of their high profile and that they have my full respect in what they do best, that is, alerting us to these sorts of problems.

As for Tohti I will not say that he is innocent or guilty (1997/1998 were difficult times for the Uygur and many Uygur did things outside of their character as a result) and I will not be signing any petition to the Chinese Government. I will however be sending some emails to the Australian Government (I am Australian by the way) asking them to consider penalties unless the Chinese become far more transparent. I would not hold my breath on either result.

More on the Acrobat Defectors

Radio Free Asia

Seven Uygur Defectors
Uygur Defectors In Toronto Picture courtesy of the "Toronto Star"

You may remember the story from a week or so back about the seven members of an Uygur Acrobatic troupe that defected in Canada during a Chinese Government organised cultural visit there to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Well, in a follow up one of the female Uygur acrobats has told how she and other woman of the troupe were co-erced by their Chinese "minders" to perform extra- curricular duties.

Aygul, one of seven Uyghur acrobats, stated that "Once we were taken to a private party room in the Fulu Hotel to carry out a so-called political duty" Aygul said. "After the performance, we were not allowed to go back home but forced to eat and drink with the official leaders. The worst thing was, we were forced to keep the official leaders happy by drinking alcoholic wine, even if we said no"

She said the Manager of the acrobatic troupe, Zheng Qinhai, also commanded women in the troupe to invite his guests to dance, as a "political duty". "After drinking alcoholic wine, we were also forced to invite the official leaders for dancing. It is actually against our traditional rules" she said. (The Uygur being predominantly Muslims are forbidden from drinking alcohol)

Members of the troupe complied through fear of losing their jobs.

More worrying however is the report that the Acrobat's families back in Xinjiang had been threatened.

Aygul said her family in the regional capital, Urumqi, had already received threats from the Chinese authorities.

"They told my family that without my going back to Urumqi, they would confiscate our house. It is so unfair. We just bought that house by saving every single penny... for 20 years... It is our private house, it is not a free house given by the government. They have no right and no reason" she said.

This story highlights a problem with touring "Cultural Groups" from China in that they are used as part of the overall Chinese Government propaganda supporting the notion that the country is "one big happy family".

Every occasion of any importance in China, such as visits of foreign dignitaries, has the obligatory trouping out of the "happy ethnic group" to dance and perform their unique music.

One can not of course blame the performers, they are doing what is in their nature to do and in most instances it is a way for them to earn above average wages and to travel.

In the case of the Uygur at least these "performances" are nothing more than tools of state propaganda and are treated by the Chinese as little more than "dancing bear" routines.

One can only hope that the families of the defectors are not unduly treated by the Chinese government

Monday, February 23, 2004

NPR : Tibet 'Treasures' Exhibit Prompts Protests

NPR : Tibet 'Treasures' Exhibit Prompts Protests

An exhibit of Tibetan art which opened in California has apparently aroused protests from "Tibetan Exiles" according to a local radio station.

Regardless of the political situation in Tibet or Xinjiang the cultures of the these peoples must be celebrated and I would think it highly unlikely that either would have "protested' against any exhibition of their art unless it was run by the Chinese government for propaganda reasons.

Any publicity is good publicity for the cause of the Uygurs and Tibetans but I am continually amazed that a small Tibetan art exhibition in a town in California can make it into the work news when the Uygur, whose cultural art by the way is of a high calibre as well, rarely rate any media coverage.

I will make it a subject of a post one day as to why this is so for the dynamics of international "protest" is very intriguing.

Check out the five photos they have in the article, it is worth the visit.

Economist.com | China's material needs

Economist.com | China's material needs

If you ever wondered why the western world is falling over itself to be a part of the Chinese economic boom and in doing so is prepared to turn a blind eye to China's human rights violations then this article will give you some incites.

Money is more important then lives!

Sunday, February 22, 2004

China: Worrisome Demographic Trends

Demographic Trends: China

China Map Courtesy BBC
China is a populace place. At 1.3 billion people and growing rapidly population trend analysis must be of paramount importance to government planners.

The above linked article highlights some disturbing trends in China's demographics such as

  • "The sex ratio" in some areas of China is as high 130:100 (male/female) and generally is higher than the accepted world ratio of around 103:100
  • By 2025 there will be 300 million people in China above 60 years of age
  • In ten years China will face a "bride shortage" unprecedented in world history

Of course China's 'two child' policy has a lot to do with two of these trends. Parents are practicing "birth sex selection" through the likes of abortion to ensure the birth of sons who are considered better long term investments in terms of rural labour and as "superannuation policies" for parents.

The other trend, the aging of the population, is a concern as China does not have an aged social security programme nor has superannuation planning been a priority in China as it has in the west.

In the words of the columnist whereas Japan got rich before it got old China will get old before it gets rich.

The social ramifications of these trends are immense. A population bigger than the United States, a very high percentage of which having no form of income other than as provided by family, and millions of men without partners.

The psychological impact on the mental health of the nation alone is staggering to contemplate let alone the financial aspects.

It is interesting to note in her article that the skewing of the sex ratios does not apply (yet) to the Uygurs and the Tibetans whom as minorities had, until recently at least, been excluded from the "two child policy" and whose religions would look poorly upon certain "sex selection" techniques.

Tibetans celebrate New Year in a traditional way - The Times of India

Tibetans celebrate New Year in a traditional way - The Times of India

Tashi Delek (Tibetan greeting) to all Tibetans

The Tibetan year of the Wood-Monkey, 2131, began on Sautrday with the beginning of the Losar (Tibetan New Year). The Tibetans all across the world celebrate the first seven days of Losar (New Year) as times for thanksgiving, homecoming and prayer.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Book exposes the misery of China's forgotten peasants - World - www.smh.com.au

Book exposes the misery of China's forgotten peasants - World - www.smh.com.au

Main Street Lop XinjiangIn my studies of the Uygur people I am often amazed at the juxtaposition of urban Han prosperity and rural poverty evident in Xinjiang.

When one looks at the modern glass and steel city of Urumqi (home to a majority Han Population) and the unpaved and poorly serviced rural towns like Lop one can not help feeling that in Xinjiang the money goes where the money comes and where the money comes the Han go.

Urumqi Capital of XinjiangThis article about a new book by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, a husband and wife team who spent three years researching their 460-page Report on the Condition of China's Peasants, say China is becoming "one country with two systems" is truly timely and it is far overdue in highlighting what is becoming an increasing chasm not only for Uygur rural peoples but obviously for the rural peoples of China generally.

Palliative measures get introduced when the poverty cycle becomes a crisis, but no fundamental reforms are introduced to change the social and political system that exploits the peasants

-Report on the Condition of China's Peasants-

It is all very well for the PRC to be riding the crest of an export boom and raking in the hard currency if it does not, to a degree at least, share the benefits of this new found wealth with all peoples of China, especially the ethnic rural minorities.

Xinjiang has always been a hard place. It is an area of mountains and deserts interspersed with oases a region where the Uygur have eked out an existence for nigh on two thousand years.

There are numerous problems of desertification rising salinity levels and infrastructure all which will only further impact on rural poverty.

It is hoped that this book may draw some world attention to what feasibly is a potential source of internal strife and in a land of 1.2 billion this is to be avoided at all costs.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Freedom Of Religion: 11 Nations of Particular Concern

Press Release - USCIRF Recommends 11 Nations to Secretary Powell As Countries of Particular Concern

Prayer at the Id Kah Masjid KashgarThe U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended to the US Secretary of State that it designate 11 countries as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) for the systematic, ongoing violations of religious freedom. Not suprisingly China is one of the nations classified.

The U.S. Congress created the Commission in 1998 and the Commission is charged with identifying countries that practice on-going violations of religious liberty and recommending economic and diplomatic steps that the U.S. government should take to pressure governments to end religious persecution.

The covering letter of the commission's findings to Secretary of State Colin Powell (Feb, 10 2004) states in part:

"The Commission remains especially concerned about the situation in China, where repression of religious freedom continues to be a deliberate policy of the Chinese government. In the past year, Chinese authorities have intensified their violent campaign against religious believers, including Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other groups, such as the Falun Gong. This campaign has included imprisonment, torture, and other forms of ill treatment. As you know, the Commission attempted to travel to China twice in the past year but was thwarted in both attempts by unacceptable limits imposed by the Chinese government that prevented such a visit. The Commission recently visited Hong Kong, but continues to seek a visit to other regions of China."

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance

- Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Constitution

Religious freedom in China is “guaranteed” under the Constitution of The People’s Republic of China (1998) as the following extract states:

Article 36 of the PRC Constitution (as amended) 1998

"Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organisation or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination."

Article 36 of the Constitution is quite clear in guaranteeing China’s citizens the right to enjoy freedom of religious belief.

There is however a rider, one that is all powerful:

No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order..” or “interfere with the educational system of the state”

The Reality

The Chinese claim that the Uygur people of Xinjiang, as do all China's citizens, enjoy great religious freedoms. The supporters of the Uygur and independent organisations and commentators say they do not.

The Chinese claim that:

The great majority of Islamic people in Xinjiang and other religious believers there are patriotic and law-abiding and conduct their religious activities as permitted by laws and regulations and government policies.Chinese Embassy US

The opposition claims that the “laws and regulations and government policies” amount to nothing less than religious persecution and denial of Uygur rights as set out in the constitution. And further that these “laws and regulations” are being used to destroy Uygur culture.

What then is the true case? Who is right?

Firstly some history......

Prior to the Cultural Revolution in 1966 the Uygurs enjoyed almost normal freedoms of religion. With the advent of the Cultural Revolution there was a massive wave of anti religious feeling throughout China and, for Xinjiang and the Uygur, this resulted in deprivation of religious freedoms and the destruction of many hundreds of masjids (mosques).

After the Cultural Revolution in the years 1983 to 1996 Uygur Muslims experienced virtually no religious persecution, on the contrary their religion began to prosper.
Masjids destroyed in the days of the Cultural Revolution were repaired and rebuilt and the total stock was actually added to. Restrictions on trips to Mecca were loosened and reputedly some 30,000 Xinjiang Muslims were allowed to take the trip. State Officials, employees and young people were not banned or actively “discouraged” from openly practicing their religion as is the case today.

It would appear, however, that in years 1996/97 the Chinese authorities’ position vis a vis the Uygur changed dramatically and from the Uygur's point of view certainly not for the better.

Whether the Chinese became aware of some significant Separatist/Islamic/Terrorist plan, or concluded that the growing Uygur unrest and sentiment for Uygur Separatism had either religious foundations or that religious gatherings were being used as venues to ferment unrest, we may never know. We do know that the Chinese attitude as it concerns the "Uygur Question" changed very comprehensively and very brutally.

Now to today

It is impossible to analyse all claims of religious persecution in the space available in this format so I will look a few items only.

Masjids And Their Use

Uygurs Pray at a MasjidA point often made in any article on Uygur religious freedom is that those under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter mosques.

Prior to 1996 this does not seem to have been the case.

It has been said that this is a distinct policy of the Chinese applied only to the Uygur and is an attempt to break the “religious cycle” to raise up a generation of "Uygur atheists".

(The) “Chinese government is trying to cultivate Uyghur’s next generation as an atheist.(sic) If you visit east Turkistan you will see on the door of each mosque was written that less than 18 years old are forbidden to enter” (sic) Religious Intolerance

(It must be said that while this particular case is unique generally speaking in China children of primary and secondary school age are not allowed to be overtly religious in public.)

I put the question as to what restrictions are placed on "Inland Muslims" (closer to Beijing) to a Muslim Hui from Yunnan China who is a devout Muslim but no great lover of the system and his answer was:

Yes, there are some restrictions, for example primary school and middle school must be non-religious in China

In response to my question as to age restrictions in Masjids he goes on to say,

but not the kind you mentioned, even junior communist members can go to Masjid in inland China”

So it is obvious from this and other anecdotal information that this is a distinct discrimination against Uygur Muslims that is not practiced against Chinese/Hui Muslims. As such it must be an open violation of the Constitution despite the rider, for why would any 17 year old Uygur boy, by going to a mosque, be more likely to “make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order.” than his Hui ethnic counterpart?

Another standard complaint raised in the West is that the building of Masjids is outlawed in Xinjiang.

Tom Malinowski Director of Human Rights Watch testifying in front U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations recently stated:

As the State Department report makes clear, authorities in Xinjiang have in fact cracked down on all independent manifestations of faith by Muslims. Officials have prohibited the building of new mosques....”

The Chinese in response to similar criticisms in the past have kept a line similar to the following quote:

There are nine million Moslems in Xinjiang, accounting for half of all the Moslems in China, but the number of mosques in the region totals 23,000 and represents two-thirds of the total in China, or one mosque for every 200 Moslems” Chinese Embassy USA

From my understanding the Chinese figures are reasonably correct and therefore it does beg the question as to why the Uygurs would need more mosques? (if in fact they really do) In a land of religious privations the per capita mosque count must be considered reasonable.

The real problem however is not not being allowed to build masjids but in the ability to use them as they wish. The Chinese position is very much like the United States saying to it’s citizens that they have the right to bear arms but you can not have ammunition:

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of north-western China (previously known as Eastern Turkestan), Forum 18 News Service reports on the pervasive state control over the religious life of native Muslims, who make up about half the local population. Mosques are strictly controlled by the authorities and all the imam-hatybs are state-appointed. Posters on mosques declare that children under 18 cannot attend, while an unofficial order bans employees of state-run companies from attending under threat of dismissal.”
Muslim News UK

Islamic Literature

Another point often raised is the freedom of religious literature. It has been claimed that many religious texts are banned and that some, for example, are banned from sale in the Uygur language but are freely available to non Uygur Muslims. This would seem to be borne out by many sources.

Rukiye Turdush in her moving article 35 Days in East Turkistan reports on a conversation with a Hui Muslim:

“One Hui [Chinese Muslim from Central China] man..... tried to explain Hui history to me.

For us religion is not very restricted. I don’t understand why the government has restricted the Uyghur’s religion. Usually most of the religious books which ( are banned from use ) used by the Uyghurs are published by our publishing house.’ he said.”

There are many other supporting anecdotal reports along similar veins.

The state protects normal religious activities

PRc Constitution

Private Religious Study

Another oft heard complaint is that the Uygur are restricted from the private study of the Qu’ran. By private I mean not through the Masjids but either in home groups or Uygur religious schools (madrassas). It would appear that the Chinese have a great fear that small groups of Uygurs meeting behind closed doors pose a security threat. As such these Madrassas (Islamic Schools) are outlawed and even small gatherings of families and friends for religious study are not tolerated

"Fear is rampant among the Uyghur religious community. There is no place where ordinary Uyghur Muslims can teach their children what their forefathers believed for more than one thousand years. I always wanted to teach my son Azimat Ghayret who is now in Urumchi to study Quran. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any place to send him since China considers private religious education as illegal religious activity.”

Ghayret Sidik Testimony to the US Government Committee

No single person in China has been or will be detained or imprisoned simply because of their religious beliefs or their legal religious activities

PRC American Embassy 2000


Despite the “guarantees” of the Chinese Constitution and the words of their Ambassadors and others there is no unfettered freedom of religion in China.

For the Uygur it appears that they are being singled out for repressive religious policies above and beyond that which the other ethnic or religious groups are experiencing (with the possible exception of the Tibetans).

The Chinese are using the constitution (which supposedly guarantees religious freedom) to actually assist them in denying same to yhe Uygur. By using arbitrary judgements of “state security” and “public order” backed up by state run courts they are severely curtailing the Uygurs peaceful enjoyment of their religion.

Uygurs are being harassed, jailed or even worse for their religious beliefs.

In the words of Ghayret Sidik

Today, the only way for the Uyghurs to be a good citizen is to give up their religion, culture, tradition, and
way of life and totally conform to the standard of the Chinese government”.

Ghayret Sidik Testimony to the US Government Committee

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Uygur: An Introduction to a unique people

Kashgar Image Courtesy BBC The Uygur Letter is dedicated to the Uygur people of Xinjiang. It’s raison d’etre is to help promote world awareness of the Uygur and the situation they currently face in China.

If they are known at all, then they are known to a majority of people as just one of the 56 Ethnic groups in the world’s most populated nation. Their “claim to fame” is that they suffer human rights violations at the hands of a nation of people, whom predominantly are ethnically and culturally different to them.

Their story to many is very much a contemporary one, one of international politics, dissent, nationalism and human rights. A story of an indigenous people battling to maintain their culture and way of life in the face of a rolling juggernaut.

But the Uygur are more than that.

The Uygur have an incredible history. They have an wonderful culture that has had an immense impact on Central Asia, China and the world. Their music and dance for example is both beautiful and passionate.

The Uygur people are enigmatic. They have a timelessness about them that one can not describe.

Like the wolves that figure prominently in their folklore, they have a presence that speaks of an unstated superiority in the scheme of things. It is not the “superiority” of say an American an Englishmen or a German. It is somehow different, it speaks of having seen it all and having survived, of waiting.

Over a period, depending on how news breaks, I would like to introduce you to them. Their history, their culture, where and how they live. I think it is important to put a face to the people.

Today I would like to talk very briefly of the early history from their days of nomadic roaming across Mongolia and southern Siberia through to their empire and eventual migration to what is now China.

The History.........

Uygur history has been played out on a stage that would try even the most inventive of fantasy writers in their attempt to recreate it. Towering snow caped mountain ranges, blistering deserts, rugged mountain passes and verdant oases. All in an area that is the farthest point from any ocean on our planet.

Add to this scenario marauding tribes of "barbarian" nomads, battles and conflicts, in-fighting, historic trade routes and political intrigues at the highest office of some of the greatest empires and Dynasties in history, the Uygur were at the center of it all. Not only as bystanders but as active participants.

The influence of the Uygur on the history of central Asia is undoubted by any who know it; their influence on the history and culture of the world is grossly unacknowledged and underestimated.

For over two thousand years the Uygur have played a central role in the historical and cultural development of the central Asian region. Around the time of Christ the Uygur were emerging as a potent political, military and cultural force.

In constant battle or confederation with the numerous tribes of the region as well as the dynasties of the Han and Tang Chinese the Uygur grew into a great Central Asian empire. Their influence as concerns religion, literature, law making, diplomacy, industry and trade was immense.

Compared to the Europeans of that time, the Uyghurs were far more advanced.

Albert von Lecoq

The consequences of these experiences combined with their political and intellectual maturity would eventually, through their subsequent influence on the Mongols, have ramifications felt around the world and have a very real influence upon civilisation as we now know it.

Being at the very crossroads of two great cultures, East and West, the Uygurs acted as conduits for the transference of culture and tradegoods. Over the centuries they have been involved, one way or the other, in the intrigues, the strategic and political positioning of great religions, nations and empires.

The Chinese Dynasties, British and Russian Empires, the Soviets, the communist Chinese and lately the Americans all have wooed the Uygurs and just as many times betrayed them. Buddhism and Islam have both been championed by the Uygurs and their influence in the growth of these religions in both in Central Asia and China is very significant.

To a modern world, that knows little or nothing of them, claims as to the Uygur's global influence would come as a great surprise. However, in learning more about these unique people, surprise will give way to admiration of a people that for 2,000 years have defied great events and empires to develop a unique and wonderful culture in the very crucible of modern civilisation.

A people who have, to this date, over 2,000 years, maintained their cultural an ethnic identity in the face of immense military and political powers and pressures.

Ab Initio: Rise and Supremacy

The tribes and clans that would eventually become known as the Uygur rose in Mongolia and Southern Siberia and were first mentioned in Han Dynasty histories in the first century BCE.

There is hypothesis that the Uygur were descendants of the Hun, however this does not seem to be proven. Chinese records would indicate that they can definitely be traced back to the Dingling nomadic tribe that roamed north and north western present day China and in areas south of Lake Baykal (south central Siberia) and between the Intush River and Lake Balkush.

In 744 CE the Uygurs threw off the yoke of the then ruling Go Turk tribes and under ruler Khutlugh Bilge Kul Khagan (Khagan meaning Ruler/King) founded the first true state constituted under the name Uygur.

The Uygurs commenced the building of this empire by subjugation of other Turkic tribes of central Asia and eventually extended Uygur sovereignty north to Lake Bayakal, east to present day Gansu China and South west to present day India. The capital of the Uygur empire was established in Togabash on the banks of the Okhun River and their empire became known as the “Orkhun Uygur Empire”

As an example of their power and prestige in the years 755-757 The Tang Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom China were facing an internal rebellion and requested help from the militarily powerful Uygur to help quell it.

The Uygur successfully prosecuted several campaigns and eventually the Tang where triumphant. In reward they bestowed favourable trade terms on the Uygur as well as an annual Tribute measured in silk. The Chinese Emperor also gave his daughter as a bride to the Uygur Khagan and all told in the period 740 - 840 CE three Chinese Princesses would become Uygur Khatuns (Khagan’s wives)

The Uygur empire came to an end in 840 when the Kyrghiz, another Turkic tribe, brought the Uygur predominance to a close.

It was after their defeat at the hands of the Kryghiz that the Uygur migrated to the Tarim Basin area in what is now present day Xinjiang and to the now Gansu Province in China, areas that had formed part of their previous empire.

Further Recommended Reading

Some Quotable Quotes

Albert Gruenwedel:
(Along the Ancient Silk Routes: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York April 3 - June 20, 1982)

"Turfan(Turpan) is without doubt a forgotten Asian city of extraordinary interest. The size of it is remarkable: the inner, holy city, consisting only of temples and palace, measures 7,400 feet at the widest point of the still extant walls. Hundreds of terraced temples and grandiose vaulted edifices cover an extensive area of lane."

Fredinnad de Sassure:

"Those who preserved the language and written culture of Central Asia were the Uyghurs." 47

Albert von Lecoq: (Shuyl Unver, Uyghurlarda Tababet, Istanbul 1936. pp. 4,5,6.)

"The Uyghur language and script contributed to the enrichment of civilizations of the other peoples in Central Asia. Compared to the Europeans of that time, the Uyghurs were far more advanced. Documents discovered in Uyghur Region prove that an Uigur farmer could write down a contract, using legal terminology. How many European farmers could have done that at that period ? This shows the extent of Uyghur civilization of that time." 48

Lazlo Rasonyi: (Lazlo Rasonyi, Tarihte Turkuk, Ankara 1971, pp. 105, 107)

"The Uyghurs knew how to print books centuries before Guetenberg invented his press." 49

Wolfram Eberhard: (Wolfram Eberhard, Cin Tarihi, Istanbul 1947, p. 116)

"In Middle Ages, the Chinese poetry, literature, theater, music and painting were greatly influenced by the Uyghurs." 50

Next Instalment: More about the Empire Years

The Uygur (Uighur) of Xinjiang need the support of the world in the attainment of basic human rights. This blog of news commentary and analysis hopes to add to pressure on the People's Republic of China to bring about positive change.

Monday, February 16, 2004

China: Small But Far From Hollow Victories

In a recent article “Uygurs: Friendless In Central Asia” I alluded to the role China plays in manipulating sentiment among the Central Asian nations and others concerning the “Uygur Question”

(Ahmadjan Osman pictured courtesy of Al-Hayat (Arabic) )

Essentially, I argued that China uses it’s economic clout to impel these nations into taking a pro-China stance over the Uygur Question in return for economic, diplomatic and other favours. As such, where once the Turkic countries showed support for the Uygur now they are more than likely to turn a blind eye at best or actively support China at worst.

But it is not only the Uygur’s Turkic “brothers” that are increasingly distancing themselves from their situation. Other nations too are being “encouraged” by China, in it’s day to day diplomatic relations, to act in a way that is detrimental to the Uygur cause.

A recent event that appears to have the hand of the PRC in it is the deportation of a respected Poet from Syria.

Ahmadjan Osman is a Poet, well known in the Arab world for his command of the classical Arabic poetic tradition, is married to a Syrian national and has resided in Syria for 15 years.

But he is also an Uygur and an occasional contributor to Radio Free Asia, an organisation, among other things, often critical of the PRC’s ethnic policies.

These two things it would seem has resulted in his deportation from Syria. This has occurred despite the foregoing and despite having the support of 270 prominent figures in the world of Arabic poetry, including the Syrian poet and Nobel Literature Prize nominee Adunis, who have signed a petition, and staged a demonstration against the deportation order.

Osman in an interview with Radio Free Asia after his deportation claims that he has never used either his poetry or his contributions to Radio Free Asia for political ends and knows no reason why the Damascus authorities have acted as they have.

Why then has Syria deported him?

One can only conjecture that the deportation came about at the behest of the Chinese Government, who are known to have a strong and growing influence in the countries of the Middle East. This is especially true with nations like Syria who are feeling isolated and a little vulnerable with the recent changes in Iraq and Libya.

China seems to delight in obtaining these small concessions, these little shows of support from their client states or those wishing to curry favour with them.

In getting Osman deported it would serve the purpose of sending a strong and unconditional message to those Uygur in diaspora and at home that the tentacles of the PRC are long and far reaching and that no “victory” for them is too small. It is telling them “do not think you can use your position or potential influence against us”.

What is in it for the Syrians? Economic considerations perhaps, promises of support in the event of America moving against it? Who knows? But somewhere along the line they will be repaid, of that there is no doubt, that, after all, is the nature of diplomacy.

They are small these PRC victories but they are far from hollow ones. Each in it’s own way is another “straw on the camels back”, each weighing that little more heavily upon the collective will of the Uygur people.

The Uygur (Uighur) of Xinjiang need the support of the world in the attainment of basic human rights. This blog of news commentary and analysis hopes to add to pressure on the People's Republic of China to bring about positive change.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

The People’s Republic of China: In full justification mode

The People’s Republic of China is predictable if nothing else.

Recently in the world’s media China has been getting quite a lot of attention over the “Uygur Question”. It started in earnest in December last year when the People’s Daily, the PRC’s official news organ, published a list of “Uygur Terrorist Organisations”.

This type of press statement by the PRC is not unusual and it appears to be a part of a premeditated, pre-programmed and ongoing justification of their continued violations of the Uygur’s human rights in the name of the “War on Terror”.

What was striking about this piece in particular was that at the top of it’s “most wanted” list was a supposed terrorist leader who had in fact been dead for almost three months!

I commented at the time in my article China’s Bin Laden: The Terrorist China Forgot” that such a significant faux pas was perhaps indicative that a) China’s stand on terrorism has another agenda, b) That these press releases are written months in advance and pre scheduled for periodic release and c) just how seriously do the PRC believe their own propaganda (not very obviously).

I have also mentioned on several occasions that the PRC is very reactive to the world's media if it is critical of the PRC's Uygur policies and that as sure as the sun rises once they have received significant criticism up will pop a new “justification” piece.

Well, true to form we have yesterday a fresh item of “news” appearing in another lesser known official news agency the China Daily (also mirrored in Xinhuanet).

In an article entitled Joint efforts to combat terrorism saluted China Daily) Updated: 2004-02-13 23:07 the lead in paragraph states and I quote:

“The Chinese Ministry of Public Security on Friday reiterated China's firm support for international co-operation in combating terrorism and its hope of gaining more assistance from other countries for its anti-terror endeavour.”

All very fine and well you may say. A noble cause and a just sentiment.

They then go straight on to say, and again I quote whilst holding back an undignified chuckle:

“A ministry spokesperson said the publicising of a list of the first identified "East Turkistan" terrorist organisations and 11 terrorists by the ministry on December 15, 2003 has drawn active responses from the international community”

Well you have to hand it to them for they tell no lies here, however, they do neglect to mention that they are not responses of overwhelming support as you would imagine from reading this paragraph.

If by “international community” they mean the Diplomatic Corp then I have not seen one thing for or against from this august body concerning the December article. If they mean the international media, web chat sites, forums, blogs, notice boards etc then they did receive very active responses; overwhelmingly negative.

The China Daily then goes into full justification mode with supposed “confessions” of Uygur prisoners pointing an accusing finger at the head of ETIC, (East Turkistan Information Centre headquartered in Europe) Abudujelili Kalakash claiming that he personally ran Uygur terrorists within China supplying them with equipment and money.

As well the leader of the WUYC (World Uygur Youth Conference) Dolqun Isa
comes in for similar treatment being also accused of several similar things.

Finally, it gives the dire warnings that ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement), whose alleged leader died last year is planning revenge attacks. In other words read "stay tuned we will have reports of these incidents coming soon in our main bulletin".

Of course I and no-one else can verify these claims and please see my levity in the last paragraph for what it is, but, one truly has to question the veracity of any information garnered from Uygur prisoners given China’s alleged use of torture as a method of obtaining “confessions”

One can only look for patterns in an attempt to learn the truth and the pattern I see most clearly from the PRC in it's press releases is one of pre-planned propaganda, immediate reaction to criticism and the setting of the stage for further "reveals". Stay tuned for the next installment!

The Uygur (Uighur) of Xinjiang need the support of the world in the attainment of basic human rights. This blog of news commentary and analysis hopes to add to pressure on the People's Republic of China to bring about positive change.