November 02, 2004

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Internal disharmony

In yesterday's Asia by Blog I linked to a piece by Richard on the clashes in Henan province. Via Enzo comes this article that China imposed martial law to control the situation, and they've imposed a military blockade and news blockout as well. The fighting began late last week when a taxi driver, being a Muslim Hui, killed a Han girl aged 6 in a car accident. This quickly spiralled into an orgy of violence, although the exact numbers are subject to dispute. Estimates of between 7 (AP) and 148 (NYT) killed, over 5,000 involved, perhaps as many as 30,000. This AP report has interviews with some of the residents.

Infidel has an interesting excerpt from a reoprt looking at the significance of this dispute:

The violence between the Hui and Han is an example of the greater underlying socio-economic problems that Beijing faces. Under Mao, the Chinese adopted a policy of transmigration, inspired by Stalin's policies in the Soviet Union. Chinese from the ethnic Han majority were settled in different minority areas to dilute other ethnic groups and thereby reduce sectarian sentiments.
This experiment in social engineering created more problems than it solved. For one thing, the Han majority, which now represents 92 percent of the Chinese population, soon came to dominate the regions to which they were moved. That, along with China's skyrocketing economic growth of recent years, has exacerbated ethnic tensions. Although disturbances involving the Hui, the fourth largest ethnic group in China, have not been common, Chinese economic growth has widened the gap between rich and poor, especially in the countryside. (The Hui have grievances stemming from the distribution of resources, which they perceive to be in favor of the Han.)

Beijing has responded to these tensions by trying to appeal to Chinese nationalism, downplaying the country's multiethnic identities and replacing them with a collective Chinese identity.

There's plenty more and well worth reading. This incident touches on issues I mentioned in responding to Joe's questions on Chinese nationalism. while the Han Chinese dominate the economy, their economic and social advancement has often been at the expense of local minorities. Combined with Beijing's deliberate policy of Hanification, whereby migration is used to solidify the Han majority, the internal tensions within China are a Pandora's box. That is why China is so keen on controlling news and clamping down so hard on these riots. Instead of trying to achieve balance between the various ethnic groups, China's busy imposing its Han majority to expense of its minorities. It is not a co-incidence that many of these minorities reside in provinces that are amongst the poorest in China. The country is a vast one and controlling it is not an easy task, especially for a central Government that has weak powers over the provinces.

One other thing to note. For all of China's attempts to restrict information on these events, news leaks out. This riot occured late last week and now it's all over the New York Times, Reuters and according to Google at least 241 news outlets. China's ability to control news isn't what it was.

posted by Simon on 11.02.04 at 04:57 PM in the


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