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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

A Monument To A Monumental Problem

A quadripod in Guandong

Xinjiang's Social and Humanitarian Crisis


A bronze Chinese quadripod, a replica of an ancient Chinese sacrificial vessel, was erected in Urumqi capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in north western China on Thursday to commemorate the International Day of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to be observed today, June 26.

The quadripod is a symbolic article used in China to commemorate significant events.

The picking of Urumqi and Xinjiang by the Chinese government for the observance of this particular day is twofold.

Firstly China's first "anti-drug crusader" Lin Zexu (1785-1850) died in Xinjiang after being exiled there from the east in 1842. According to the Xinhua newsagency Lin seized 1,000 tons of smuggled opium from foreign merchants in 1839 and oversaw it's destruction to fight China's drug problem. His anti-drug and anti-foreigner stance later was to bring him to loggerheads with those wishing to appease foreign governments and as a result he was exiled to Xinjiang.

It is next to a statue of Lin that the quadripod has been erected and the area around it is set to become an anti-drug educational base.

The second reason one would think for choosing Xinjiang is that according to a report by Prof. Justin Rudelson to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Uyghur Panel, June 10, 2002, Xinjiang has become the most seriously affected region in China for AIDS brought about mainly as a result of dug addiction and the consequent needle usage among Xinjiang's Uygur population.

According to the professor

"..heroin started coming into Xinjiang in 1994 from Burma. Uyghurs initially smoked it but over the past few years began injecting it, creating a nightmare AIDS crisis. Within a drastically short time, Xinjiang has emerged as China's most seriously affected region and the Uyghurs are the most affected of all of China's peoples."

According to a BBC report carried in China Study group the first case of HIV was diagnosed in Xinjiang in 1996 and by September 2003 there were 7,893 reported cases. This figure however is believed to be the tip of the iceberg with officials estimating the real figure to be between 20,000 and 60,000, and tests in government detoxification centres indicate around 70% of intravenous drug users to be HIV positive.

As stated many of Xinjiang's drug users are Uygurs and the problem is prevalent in 69 cities of 16 counties in Xinjiang. As with indigenous people supplanted by colonists in the likes of Australia and the Americas the Uygur youth suffer high levels of unemployment and feel marginalised in an increasingly Han Xinjiang. Turning to drugs and alcohol is a means of escape from the reality of their situation.

With the culture of their people crumbling everywhere as a result of Han Government policy and faced with a rapidly changing society brought on by Han immigration and economic dislocation the normal support mechanisms of family and religious beliefs, so important to the Uygur culturally and historically, are being eroded leaving Uygur youth feeling hopeless and directionless.

Medical and psychiatric treatment facilities in Xinjiang are almost non existent and are totally inadequate to deal with the AIDS problem let alone the root problem of drug abuse and dependence from which 96% of AIDS cases are reported to be as a result of.

Drug addiction is a crime in China and for a majority of drug addicts "treatment" is limited to a sixty day stint in a state run detox center and then release without any ongoing support. As a result, treated like criminals and thrown back into the very environment that caused their addiction in the first place many return to their old habits.

So serious is the drug, AIDS and alcohol problem among the Uygur that Prof. Justin Rudelson stated to the Congressional Committeee that the current situation has

"...brought the most devastating threat to Uyghur survival as a people".

What the problem needs is attention, funding and proper treatment of the root cause of the drug and AIDS problem but the task seems too big for the Chinese government to handle. With an estimated 6 million drug addicts in the country effective treatment is expected to cost US$1 billion dollars, an amount the Chinese government is either unable or unwilling to part with.

Putting up Chinese quadripods next to statues of Han hero's, apart from being totally insensitive to the very people most affected by the drug problem the Uygur, will not go far to alleviate this considerable social and humanitarian problem existing in Xinjiang today.