Chinese democracy

A field guide to oppression in the home of the 2008 summer games
By ADAM MATTHEWS  |  August 8, 2008


With Beijing 2008 finally at hand, China’s Tibetan occupation remains Hollywood’s cause célèbre. And why wouldn’t it be? Which other oppressed minority has the Beastie Boys, Michael Stipe, and Richard Gere as spokespeople, and a spiritual leader who’s played Lollapalooza?

Beijing 2008: Special issue: China, Tibet, and the Olympics
But all this focus on Tibet sells Beijing short in the Nasty Oppression Global Standings. Under Paramount Leader Hu Jintao’s big, secure tent, there’s room for all of China’s recognized minorities, dissidents, journalists, unapproved religions, and trade unionists to have their land and resources encroached upon and their spirits, souls, and possessions (as well as fingers) crushed! Wielding the catch-all charges of splittism, organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group, and illegally providing state secrets (a handy one for those nosy journalists), Dai Lo (that’s “Big Brother” in Cantonese) has effectively sidelined all critics of the party. (If the various crimes and statutes are too confusing, just remember the maxim that guides lawful Chinese citizens: Hu’s Your Daddy.)

Though Beijing’s enemies — at least those who haven’t been bred out of existence through intermarriage with China’s Han majority — are way too numerous to list, consider the following four non-Tibetan religious, ethnic, and intellectual minorities a sort of Olympic qualifying heat. In order to advance Beijing’s “Harmonious Society” in preparation for the 2008 Games, members of these groups have been locked up, exiled, or have disappeared altogether. Enjoy the synchronized swimming!

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) contains China’s largest reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal. To meet mounting Chinese energy demand, Beijing’s building an 1100-mile pipeline to funnel natural gas from both the XUAR and its energy-rich Central Asian neighbors Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

The pipeline and attendant urbanization of Xinjiang are tied to the Western Development Strategy, a Chinese government plan to move millions of Han Chinese (who make up 92 percent of China’s estimated 1.3 billion people) to Xinjiang. The Han have claimed the bulk of the jobs extracting the area’s resources. Thus, much like their Tibetan neighbors, the native Turkic Muslim Uighur minority has been marginalized in their own homeland.

As it does with other minority areas, Beijing ostensibly treats Xinjiang as an autonomous region. Uighurs can worship in state-approved Mosques and become Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members. But when Uighurs second-guess Beijing, they are quickly reprimanded. Rebiya Kadeer, a former high-ranking party member who questioned the income disparity between Uighurs and Hans, was charged with sharing state secrets for mailing newspaper clips to her exiled husband in the United States. After serving six years, Kadeer was allowed — as a condition of Condoleezza Rice’s 2005 state visit to China — to join her husband in Washington, DC. After her release, however, Beijing locked up two of Kadeer’s sons on trumped-up charges. They are hardly alone. In 2004, Uighur journalist Nurmuhemmet Yasin received a 10-year prison sentence for inciting separatism. His transgression? Writing a short story about a caged bird that yearns for freedom.

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