In the wake of the horrific violence in Kunming, Uyghurs around the country have taken to Chinese-language social media to create distance between themselves and the killing of the innocent. The celebrity of Uyghur-Han ethnic friendship, the Guizhou kebab-seller-turned-philanthropist Alimjan (A-li-mu-jiang), put it best. Echoing the massively popular Indian-American film My Name is Khan, Alimjan said, “My name is Jiang and I am not a terrorist.” Many people also expressed empathy with those who experienced personal loss and pain on March 1 by writing on their WeChat accounts, “We are all Kunming people today.”
In Uyghur-language social media, Uyghurs have also condemned the attack as “ruthless and inhumane.” But in writing for Uyghur-speaking audiences, their responses include more than just outrage; their commentaries are inflected by feelings of shame, fear, and uncertainty. As one writer identified as “Tikenkush” put it, referring to the attackers, “What were they thinking? They have cast a black shadow on Uyghur people and Islam as a religion.” Since the attackers have been identified as “Xinjiang terrorists,” many fear the region, the people, and their faith will be affected as a whole.
The Uyghur Present
Based on the Uyghur-language social media networks I am a part of, many Uyghurs in Ürümchi are advising their family members to stay away from places known to have high concentrations of Han migrants such as Hualing International market (the Lowes of Central Asia). Uyghurs around the country are reporting being put on leave or having their job contracts canceled. Many hotels in major cities now refuse to rent rooms to Uyghurs.
One of the most forwarded post-“3.01” Uyghur-language Weibo messages illustrates this clearly. It described the experience of a Uyghur photographer who was in Shenyang on work assignment. In the evening he went to many hotels but could not find a place to stay. He finally went to a police station and explained his situation. After checking his ID multiple times, the police helped him get a hotel room. The next day he went to an Internet cafe, where an employee there asked him for his ID. When he showed his card, the employee said, “Your ethnic group is not allowed to go online here.” When asked why, the employee only said it was an order from “above.”
The Uyghur Future
Another writer on a Uyghur discussion forum called Gullug typified the apprehensive and self-denigrating attitudes that many Uyghurs are battling with deepening intensity. As the lines between ethnic pride and alienation are drawn in sharper distinction, this writer, identified as “David,” illustrates the ambivalence of not having a comfortable position in the nation.
Commenting first on the future prospects of being able to move and work in Chinese society, he wrote: “They have inflicted a huge wound which cannot be healed. From now on you (Uyghurs) will face all kinds of discrimination in airports and train stations, you will lose the freedom of speech and movement that you have now.”
Then turning to a discussion on quality or cultural capital (suzhi), he said: “Because of this (incident) you (Uyghurs) will be perceived as having less education relative to Tibetans and Mongols…”
Finally, voicing a strongly critical stance toward dominant Uyghur world views, the writer said: “Uyghurs are simply proud because they have a substantial population in Turkey and they are well known by Turks. They are like Ah Q1, they have no idea how statistically insignificant they are. Like the backward nationalities and tribes of the Middle East2, they will be taught a lesson. This group of bastards has harmed millions of people.”
It is interesting to note that David has to some extent internalized the civilizing discourse of mainstream Chinese society that places rural, frontier, and ethnic people in the lowest position of quality (suzhi). A long time ago W.E.B. Du Bois referred to the kind of experience David is going through as a kind of “double consciousness.” He said that the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of the majority while at the same time trying to value one’s minority heritage puts tremendous strain on the self. David sees Uyghurs as inhabiting a position of lack. They lack suzhi, they lack self-awareness, and now “a group of bastards” has created an even greater gap between them and the rest of the nation.
1 The well-known character in Lu Xun’s short stories
2 A reference to the U.S.-instigated wars in Iraq
Beige Wind runs the website The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, which attempts to recognize and create dialogue around the ways minority people create a durable existence, and, in turn, how these voices from the margins implicate all of us in simultaneously distinctive and connected ways.