Weekend Xinjiang / Uighur / 愤青 update, #2

More from the mailbag:

1)  A reader with a Chinese name points out another aspect of the story -- the extreme reaction inside Turkey, where the "reality" of events appears to be as one-sided as it has been portrayed within China:

"Have you noticed the reaction in Turkey?  Here's what appeared in today's two big papers.

"The nationalist Hurriyet reported the riot "has claimed the lives of hundreds of ethnic Uighur Turks." The other big daily reports the released breakdown of the death toll but as background reported the retaliatory attacks by Han against Uighurs but did not mention Uighur attacks against Han. And the Prime Minister stepped in to declare that the riot was "almost genocide."
"I'm amazed that despite the free flow of information, open parts of the world can still live in different universes.  A reader in London will read an article in The Times about the "butchered" Han family while on the same day a Turkish reader will read about the massacre of Uighurs."

The point about separate fact-universes is one of the sobering marvels of the modern info-age. It's true within the United States, as discussed long ago here; and it's true between countries, as China, Turkey, and the rest of the world all digest different versions of the Xinjiang "truth." Main point: the internet, mobile phones, and other info technology, far from eliminating the country-by-country differences in information and belief, in some ways may increase them, as each little info-sphere is able to reinforce its own view of the world.

2) From reader Yuan Song:

"To be frank, I'm astonished to see such a big post [the "Han Chinese only"] sign, explicit, yet cold. If I were a Uighur that could read Chinese, I would have felt so insulted. Last time, one of my Canadian friends told me he that when he traveled in Austria, he saw an advertisement to let room saying "no Jewish or Northern Italians" (I forgot the original German word he used that actually means people from Northern Italy.) My Canadian friend was obviously very much annoyed by that advertisement. So was I. Then I had worsening impression of Austria after that.

"Anyway, thanks a lot for giving me more insights in the situations in Xinjiang. I've never been there personally. The fact that I, being a native Chinese, rely on this source of information to understand Xinjiang, is funny, though. The Chinese media should have done better job. I don't know whether you have heard of Phoenix TV, a mandarin TV station. They have good reputation for giving objective and insight reports on different issues. [Agree]

"Are you from US? I heard in US, there is a law that guarantees the proportion of employees from different ethnic groups hired by each employer should resemble that of the whole society. Is it true?"

3) A reader with a Chinese name points out that the real news is not the "Han Chinese only" aspect of the sign but rather the "ages 18-30 only" part. The reader says:

"And, because the problem is bigger, discrimination against minority (and favoritism toward minority, as adding grade points to minority for "Gao Kao" [the nationwide university admissions exam]) is not actually that unique, or big, a problem.
"My point is that if you title your paragraph with "No 18-30 Need Apply" it will educate more than "No Uighurs Need Apply."

"Chinese (including American-Chinese, Canadian-Chinese) who have direct access to western media report will understand that main stream western media is far from perfect but is still the best in existence.... The impression was that the western media have been reporting that there were 156 or 184 death and there was police crack down on peaceful protests.This is very unfortunate for the Chinese.  And as a result, for the world."

4) To end on a brighter note (after all, it is my wife's  birthday), a message from a foreigner who like me has found the day-by-day reality in China far less defensive, more open, friendlier, and overall more engaging than some online disputes with 愤青 ("angry youth") would indicate.

"I agree with your observations here [about the nature of daily life in China].  Most Chinese are generally good natured, approachable, often very individualistic, and will usually display lots of friendliness and warmth towards foreigners (white foreigners that is).  
 
"However, I think hyper-sensitivity towards any perceived foreign criticism is consistent and can be observed in nearly every Han Chinese regardless of region, occupation or income level.  The same friendly, smiling, welcoming Chinese person will turn into a foaming-at-the-mouth furiously rabid nationalist in a split second whenever they hear or read anything that is not directly in line with the "official" and therefore "correct" point of view that they see in their newspapers and TV network.  In order to be considered "objective", a foreigner and the foreign press must agree with the Chinese position completely.  Otherwise, prepare for accusations of prejudice, ulterior motives and the ever present and ominous desire to split the country.  
 
"With the continuing effectiveness and future improvement of the great wall (see Green Dam) [meaning Great Firewall internet blocking and current new proposal], this situation is unlikely to change (without being exposed to alternative viewpoints, how could anyone hope to develop a deeper understanding of such complex issues?).  Therefore, such outbursts will simply have to be accepted and chalked up to a national idiosyncrasy that many other countries often have i.e. America's previous terror at anything or anyone labeled "Socialist", or its Bush administration era myopic obsession with terrorism.  I think looking at in this way can allow us to be more patient and understanding when we observe the fact that the average Han Chinese cannot understand why a "no Uyghurs need apply" sign is a bad thing."
 
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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.

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