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?
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.
According to a 2004 report by Human Rights Watch, Beijing’s Strike Hard campaigns, tasked with combating terror and dissent, have put down more than 12 rebellions in Xinjiang. While real numbers are hard to isolate, the death toll from 1997’s Ghulja Uprising, in the Xinjiang city the Han Chinese call Yining, is thought to be somewhere between hundreds and thousands. Post–September 11, despite evidence to the contrary, Beijing has managed to connect armed Uighur rebel groups to Al Qaeda, even though little evidence exists to support this conflation. One of those groups, the East Turkistan Independence Movement, has been blamed for this past Monday’s attack that killed 16 Chinese military police in Kashgar, an ancient city on the border of Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan where China’s largest mosque exists uneasily with a 79-foot statue of Chairman Mao.
As it does with other minority groups throughout China, the CCP uses both so-called modernization efforts and environmental legislation in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) to colonize the natives. As part of the Ecological Migration Project (EMP), traditionally nomadic Mongolian herders are being relocated to cities and towns. The CCP claims it is in fact the Mongolians’ livestock grazing — not the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants and full-scale Chinese industrial revolution — that is causing the massive expansion of the Gobi desert and the blinding sandstorms that now reach as far away as Japan. Because of the EMP, thousands of herders are losing their animals and homes. But don’t worry about the poor nomads — once they relocate, they are rewarded by the Chinese government’s fair-market value for their property and livestock, which is the equivalent of, er, $1100 US or, for those who decline the payment, a $550 US mud hut. In other words: jack shit. Plus, many of the urbanized Mongols are unable to function in a Han-dominated society that relies on Mandarin fluency.