23(-24?) March 2008: Protest in Xotän

Xotän (Hoten, Hétián, 和田, Khotan) is not a very nice place to be, these days. First, there were the recent earthquakes that destroyed thousands of structures and left their residents homeless. Now, the Chinese authorities have confirmed that a protest took there on 23 March 2008, possibly continuing into 24 March, around the time of the earthquakes.

The incident was first reported by the leader of the Uyghur World Congress, Dilshat Rishit, and by Radio Free Asia, which has followed the story closely. They reported that at least 600 Uyghurs, mostly women, joined the protest. Multiple hypotheses were advanced for the protestors’ anger: firstly, a potential ban on the wearing of headscarves in the workplace and, secondly, an alleged PRC policy that takes young Uyghur women to work in the Chinese Interior as low-cost laborers. It was reported that several hundred individuals had been taken into custody following the protest. This report was picked up today by the International Herald Tribune, which received official confirmation that an incident occurred, at the very least a small protest. An official from the Xotän Regional Administrative Office asserted that the protest was not about headscarves or somesuch, but that it was, rather, a response to the continued rioting in Greater Tibet. This is the first real hint we have seen that any trouble in Xinjiang may be related to the unrest in Tibet. The New York Times has also picked up the story, but has been thus far unable, it seems, to dig up any new information. Radio Free Asia, curiously, suggested that the protest came about as a result of the 3 March revelation of the death of a jade trader in police custody, Mutällip Hajim. This sparked broader protests concerning the status of political prisoners and cultural and religious freedoms. If the RFA report is correct, the protests may have lasted even longer than has been reported.

The main protest is meant to have started from Xotän’s Lop Bus Station and proceeded to the Grand Bazaar. RFA claims that another protest that took place at a market in Xotän’s Qaraqash County was confirmed by that area’s Chinwagh police station.

Let’s start with news analysis. I am having trouble finding information about the protest from anywhere but Radio Free Asia. Even the IHT’s news comes primarily from that organization. The positioning of the story concerning Mutällip Hajim’s body, twenty-five days post-mortem and one day before the protests were covered, seems awfully convenient. I am in no way suggesting that RFA has fabricated this story. However, they certainly own its discourse. Has anyone found any on-line “twitters” or an official PRC news story? I can’t seem to.

So, what was this protest really about? I’m going to bet it was all of the above: a dead pillar of the community set the tone of tension with the police and government. I suspect that the implementation of “second-type bilingual education” – Mandarin-only by 2011 – has doubtless raised the hackles of many locals. There is certainly pressure on Muslim women not to wear the veil in the workplace, but I am not aware of an official policy against it at this time. Finally, there’s been a story, I think half truth and half boogeyman folktale, about programs to bring young Uyghur women into the Interior to work and be abused for a long time, now. You regularly see stories in Xinhua about new initiatives that give jobs or scholarships to young Uyghur women, often to work in the tourist industry. My favorite was a “longest hair” contest that would give sixty minzu girls from Qumul/Hami an education and jobs in the tourism industry. Many localities engage in both local and national initiatives to send groups of workers to factories in the Interior. My sense is that Xotän Uyghur women felt that their religious identity was being infringed upon and staged a protest similar to ones now seen in Turkey or, perhaps, in reaction to the “unveiling” of Muslim women in Soviet Central Asia.

We can only hope that more concrete information will come to light in the near future. If this really is related to Tibet, I think it may be the first manifestation of Tibetan-Uyghur political sympathy in the PRC itself.

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Comments 5

  1. tok wrote:

    RFA=The Epoch Times

    Posted 03 Apr 2008 at 10:24 am
  2. Gaz wrote:

    I really don’t think this is a protest of ‘sympathy’ for the Tibetans. Maybe they saw them protesting and thought “Hey if Tibetans can do that and get world headlines maybe we can too” or not even that, but you know what I mean.

    Some Ughurs were beaten up by Tibetans alongside Han Chinese, and I’ve never seen any sympathy towards Tibet from Ughurs, I personally highly doubt its anything more than a ‘convenience’ to coincide with the Tibet protests. Although I would really love it if it was a sympathy/’count us in’ protest, maybe some Han Chinese would grow a pair too if it started to spread.

    Posted 03 Apr 2008 at 6:54 pm
  3. OpkeHessip wrote:

    Radio Free Asia may be a propaganda tool, funded by the US government and run by myopic nationalists, but I’m pretty sure its Uyghur-language office isn’t run by Falun Gong, as the Epoch Times very certainly is. Is the RFA Chinese service connected with them?

    Posted 03 Apr 2008 at 8:22 pm
  4. OpkeHessip wrote:

    Hiya, Gaz,

    I’m inclined to agree. I think that, if this were in any way a sympathy protest, the international Uyghur nationalist community would have picked up on that immediately.

    That’s interesting what you said about Uyghurs being beaten up alongside Han. Do you have a link? I think it would give credence to what I usually say, that Uyghurs and Tibetans have no especial love for each other.

    Posted 03 Apr 2008 at 10:15 pm
  5. YouAreIgnorant wrote:

    One fact i can confirm is that there are already hundreds of Uyghur women taken to Chinese interior as a low-cost labor, and no doubt they will be exploited because most of the don’t speak the Chinese language, Chinese are good at getting the better of them utilizing their weaknesess. those writing about why there are’nt any resources to confirm the news are totally no idea about how Cnina controlls the news.by the way, let me tell you women protest has nothing to do with unrest in Tibet, the information is controlled so strictly that either Tibetans or people in Xinjiang are not able to get information. I figure even people in Xinjiang except those close to the incident have no idea about women protest, let alone any press or foreign news agency. all in all the writer of the article have little knowledge about Chinese policy toward ethnic minorities.

    Posted 08 Aug 2008 at 7:04 pm

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