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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.

Friday, June 25, 2004

China: Different Degree of 'Fear'

Due my interest in the Uygur people of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in north western China I have developed many friendships with Uygurs living there as well as those living in diaspora.

Through the media of emails, instant messaging and the occasional old fashion post and telephone call I keep as up to date with things in Xinjiang as much as is possible.

I say "as much as possible" because knowing the situation of the Uygur in China I consciously have taken the decision that I would not allow my friendship with my Uygurs friends to place them in any danger. Accordingly I will not directly ask them questions of a political nature as I do not know for certain just how effective Chinese internet spying is.

I do know however that I and my websites are known to Beijing.

Whilst China Letter is automatically blocked from being viewed in China because it is hosted on Blogspot which has been banned holus bolus for some time by Chinese censors my Uygurworld site is also banned.

In the early days of Uygurworld my site was visited daily by Beijing officials of what ilk I do not know. I know this firstly because I was banned generally and could not be viewed by the general populace and secondly all the "hits" according to my traffic logs came from Beijing and were not always 'hits" from another computer browser but sometimes actual "spiders" similar I suppose to what internet search engines employ. They were by thier frequency apparently some sort of scheduled thing as if they were pre-programmed.

It could have been the censors but after banning the site what was the use? It could have been higher level Chinese officials and party members who can circumvent the blocks placed on viewing banned websites by ordinary Chinese or it could have been some Security division checking to see if the my site was transmitting hidden "call to arms" type messages.

Regardless I must have some profile because in a twist on the usual Chinese censorship I am actually banned from viewing Xinhua's news website from Australia. Thankfully they must not share information because I am ok (touch wood) with China Daily, People Daily and some other English language mainland news sites.

So in knowing that I am known and in not knowing how effective they are at eavesdropping I do not ask political questions of my friends. But there are innocuous questions that can be asked to get a feel for the general climate and occasionally, without prompting, my friends will get a "feeling" across to me in an indirect way, though even this is a rarity.

But my friendships in China are not limited to the Uygur. I also have developed one strong friendship in particular with a Han fellow who lives in Shanghai but hails, co-incidently as it turns out, from Xinjiang. I say co-incidently because I can not remember exactly how we came to meet on the net and maybe it was in somehow related to my interest in Xinjiang. I do recall however that the manner of the first contact was peculiar enough at the time for me to be rather wary of what I said.

Regardless of his ethnicity, out of consideration of this mans friendship and well being, I do not initiate political conversation for the same reasons as the Uygur.

I mention all of this as background because it struck me last evening, after a late and long conversation with my Han friend, the difference between him and my Uygur friends in terms of "fear". The fear of talking about anything but the weather and the number of foreign tourists in town.

And the difference is very palpable, you can feel it being transmitted down the line.

Whereas my Uygur friends are very circumspect in what they say and will try to say something, that could even vaguely be construed as being political, in a very obtuse manner, my Han friend shows none of this reticence. Whilst he stops short of denouncing the current regime he is not adverse to being critical.

What got my train of thought working on the subject of this post was when my Han friend, who in no way could be considered a political animal, related to me a story of the persecution his parents suffered at the hands of Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution, persecution that ultimately forced their removal form Shanghai to Xinjiang. It was delivered with such open contempt of Mao to the extent that I suggested to him that if he kept on he might get a rather loud knock at the door to which he replied that I should not worry so much.

Juxtaposed to this I thought was an email communication with an Uygur university student in Urumqi I had over a several week period about a year ago. He contacted me initially, probably through Yahoo's personal directory where I am listed as being interested in the Uygur people. As a result we swapped stories of our lives, again, as with my other China situated friends, there was absolutely no mention of politics in any shape or form.

After several weeks of this correspondence I received an email asking whether I had given his email address out to anyone that might be "bad people" to which I assumed him to mean of "separatist" or anti Chinese inclination. When I replied in the negative he almost pleaded with me that I keep his email address confidential.

This was strange in itself but sometime later I received another email in which, almost incoherently and for no obvious reason, he talked about his love of China, how China was the motherland and that he was patriotic and loyal. Fearing something was amiss I emailed back and said to the effect that yes his love of China always shone through in his emails and that he must be a true patriot. I never heard from him again despite some follow ups. Whether someone told him of my associations with human rights activism or something more sinister I do not know suffice to say something seriously spooked him.

Whilst obviously my "sample, being based on limited numbers as it is, would not hold up to scientific analysis, I have personally ruled out education or economic situations as being a factor in this difference in "fear" levels.

My Han friend is university educated and part of the new Chinese Yuppie class. Young, upwardly mobile and displaying discretionary spending characteristics. My Uygur friends on the other hand comprise a more eclectic group and range from a non tertiary educated street tour guide (the ones that pick you up and walk you places for a modest fee) who when asked how he survives from day to day responds that "Allah provides" which I take (with no disrespect of Allah) as meaning "just", through to members of a more elite and educated class though by no means monied by eastern Chinese standards.

Without exception they all act in the same manner in communications.

I can only put the differences down to cultural and ethnic reasons and as evidence of the very real level of fear felt by the Uygur of Han government reach and authority.

Fear that is ingrained perhaps from birth as a result of the Uygurs cultural interaction with the Han or of actually witnessing China's persecution in all aspects of their life.

Actually as a result of knowing the extent of Han authority and its inherent danger to them rather than just thinking it possible.

It is like a dog which, being institutionally mistreated, harbours a fear that causes it to cower even at an innocently raised hand or voice or at an implied threat of punishment.

Whatever the reason it is an inhumane way for a person or a people to live.