The Uighur issue in perspective

The NYT online has a very nice graphic just now showing the parts of China with significant "minority" population. Minority, in this sense, means one of the 55 recognized groups other than Han Chinese that together make up about 8 percent of the country's population. The screen shot below is not the default version of the graphic, which shows all counties in China with at least 10 percent minority population. Instead it's the version that shows counties where at least half the people are something other than Han.


In a sense the map is misleading, in the same way "Red State / Blue State" electoral maps are misleading about real division of opinion within the United States. The big western areas marked as Tibetan or Uighur are rugged territory that is very lightly populated (think Alaska, Nevada), compared with the dense, mainly-Han areas of the east. For instance, the ethnic Tibetan areas are shown as covering not just Tibet proper but also parts of the neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu (in all of which places I have been to Tibetan villages). But the total ethnic-Tibetan proportion of China's population is something under one percent. Still, the graph gives an idea of the control issues China has with some of its minority groups.

After the jump, three responses on the 愤青 -- fenqing, "angry youth" -- tone of response to outside criticism I mentioned earlier.

First, from Jeremiah Jenne, a Beijing-based academic and author of the Granite Studio site:

I just read the latest post with a smile on my face.  I saw the job ad post earlier and mused out loud, "I wonder how long it will take before [your] email is inundated by the fenqing/no race problem HERE/You don't GET China" crowd.  

I might suggest that this exchange also highlights another aspect of the China/US dissonance on postings/articles critical of Chinese policies or society: The nit-picking of small, relatively minor or unintentional inaccuracies and the celebration of such discoveries as PROOF that even the most well-reasoned and supported critiques are 100% off-base.

Whether this sign has anything to do with pork or other cooking products is less important than that job ads there routinely have requirements based on race and that these attitudes do little to reduce tensions between Han and Uighur.*

*That said, as you know, job ads all over China contain demands and requirements not found in the US: height requirements for receptionists, age limits, preferred races, attractive appearance, etc.   

Next, a reader who identifies himself as a Uighur gives quotes from two job-recruitment sites for operations in Xinjiang, here and here. The sites are in Chinese, but they are seeking applicants for academic jobs -- and in most cases they ist "Race: Han" as one of the qualifications for applicants. I can't vouch for the original authenticity of the sites being quoted (and they are shown on a Uighur-support site), but to me it's clear that they're spelling out a Han racial requirement. The reader says:

Especially, the second one is very intersting. Being a dean of a college has nothing to with the "pork" !!! [the alleged reason for the "Han only" listing in the Chinese-restaurant ad.]

Finally, from a US-based analyst who is ethnically Chinese:

The parallels of the Xinjiang violence to US race riots are salient, and I've been thinking whether China, if it doesn't recognize the insufficiencies of its minority policies, will soon enter a period that resembles the 1960s in America. This problem clearly isn't going away soon, and could very well escalate with each recurring incident, possibly enlarging in scope.

But the biggest difference is of course the limited public sphere in China compared to what existed in the 1960s in US. You just can't have the equivalent of a "One Million Uighur March" into Beijing. Also, in the 1960s US, you had a critical mass of the majority White population (White) aligning with the minority (African American civil rights leaders) on a substantial political cause that allowed a movement to blossom to unimaginable proportions. Han Chinese (even the more liberal-minded ones) and Uighur alliance? Highly unlikely.

Very tough issue...     
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In