Call it ethnic cleansing, with Chinese characteristics.
For the past two decades, China’s communist mandarins have sought the use of nationalism to offset their dubious legitimacy. In turning every Chinese misstep into a foreign affront, the regime has successfully created a sense of “China Uber Alles,” to borrow a phrase from a long-departed regime.
The side effect of the newly fashioned Chinese nationalism is a virulent strand of Chinese racism. To be more exact, the Han Chinese racism.
The Han race dominates the Chinese world in every way imaginable. They may be rich or poor. They may speak Cantonese or Mandarin. They may hail from Shanghai or Taipei or Los Angeles. But they draw their blood from the same ancestral source.
Because China proper has a mostly homogeneous population, the issue of race or ethnicity has rarely been a topic worthy of discussion. The Han race last galvanized itself in the 19th century to drive the ruling Manchus out of China. Once the Qing Dynasty was vanquished in 1911, the book on race relations in China was closed.
After winning the Civil War in 1949, the Chinese Communists have strived to maintain China’s territorial integrity, especially after numerous border clashes with the Soviet Union, India and Vietnam. To secure those border hinterlands in the People’s Republic’s vast western territories, the government invested in a policy to place more reliable elements into those potentially troublesome regions.
It’s a settlement regimen that makes Israel’s look like child’s play.
Han Chinese flooded into Tibet and Xinjiang (literally meaning “New Territories") in the years after the People’s Liberation Army marched in to take control. The government enticed the Han Chinese to move thousands of miles away from the country's heartland with promises of jobs, status and a bright future. Tired of the crowded rat race in cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan, many took the offer to head west.
The result is one of the world’s biggest population shifts since Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe at the end of World War II. In 1949, Han Chinese accounted for just 5% of Xinjiang’s population. Today, they are up to 41%, soon to eclipse the native Uighur Muslims’ 45%. Urumqi, the modern capital city dotted by skyscrapers, is dominated by the Han Chinese, who comprise over 75% of the 2.5 million population.
The successful settlement of Han population in Xinjiang underscores the importance of the region to the regime. While Tibet gets more attention from abroad, Xinjiang is more critical to China.
More than twice the size of Texas, Xinjiang sits on the old Silk Road, a land rich with resources such as natural gas and oil. It houses China’s nuclear weapons facilities. Its frontier is guarded by the towering Tian Shan mountain range, shielding China from its unstable Central Asian neighbors.
As with Tibet, Xinjiang is nominally an “autonomous region,” but that designation is as miscast as “People’s Republic.” The native Uighurs are kept away from the levers of power, which of course are supervised by Beijing. In fact, despite being as far as 3,000 miles away, all of Xinjiang (and all of China) is on Beijing time.
Beyond moving in Han Chinese to insure a loyal populace, the other part of the “ethnic cleansing” involves moving the Uighurs out of Xinjiang. Thousands of native Uighurs (many of them women) have been shipped out of their native land to take jobs in China proper. Ostensibly, it was to provide them with better pay and future, exactly what’s promised the Han Chinese in Xinjiang.
This week’s troubles started not in Xinjiang, but in Guangdong, where the displaced Uighur factory workers were involved in a brawl with the local Han Chinese population. When the Uighurs organized to protest in Urumqi, they were met with angry Han Chinese mobs, who outnumber them, 5-1, in the capital of the ironically named “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”
It’s abundantly clear, from last year’s riots in Lhasa to this week’s in Urumqi, that many Han Chinese have developed a keen sense of their own racial superiority.
The one phrase frequently heard from the average Chinese man on the street is “ungrateful." Put another way: Those backward minorities ought to appreciate all the modern infrastructure and improved living standards bestowed them by the Han Chinese, instead of making trouble.
There was a time when racial harmony was a highly cherished concept in the People’s Republic. Mao Zedong promoted class struggle, but demanded benevolence (at least in name) toward the minorities. China’s Reminbi currency made a point to feature all sorts of racial minorities in their various native costumes.
But that was when everybody was being repressed and oppressed in China. Now that China is bigger, stronger, and richer than ever, taking care of these minorities’ grievances isn’t much of a priority.
In fact, these grievances are met not with shrugs, but fists, sticks and guns – and not just from the cops and soldiers. Call it racism with Chinese characteristics.