Thursday, July 16, 2009

Toeing the Xinjiang Line

By Chip Tsao | published Jul 16, 2009

Xinjiang is fast becoming China’s Palestine as a racial war has erupted between the Islamic Uyghurs and the Han Chinese. Let’s say you’re a western male expatriate CEO based in Beijing. And now you’re in Hong Kong, sipping a dry martini with your Shanghai model girlfriend at a bar in Lan Kwai Fong. Appalled by the videos on CNN of angry Han Chinese men roaming the streets of Urumqi wielding axes and knives and thirsty for revenge on the native “terrorists,” you are suddenly invited by your lovely little Zhang Ziyi of the moment to comment on the situation. You hesitate while looking at the small crowd of your Chinese friends. You’ve been living in the Far East long enough to know which side of your bread is buttered, so you know how to tackle a situation like this while both looking intelligent and not hurting the feelings of your local audience.

The key is self-condemnation of your original sin. “Well, is this situation not reminiscent of British brutality in Palestine? Angered by Jewish immigration in the 1930s, Palestinian Arabs launched a massive uprising between 1936 and 1939. During the uprising, Arabs attacked Jewish settlers and British soldiers. What did we do? We destroyed any villages we believed were assisting the rebels. As a major-general put it, every soldier’s job was to ‘bash anybody on the head who broke the law, and if he didn’t want to be bashed on the head then he had to be shot.’”

“My God, is that true?” Your Chinese friends are taken aback, but you can tell that their eyes are dazzled with hope and maybe even joy. “Oh yes, it’s damn true. The Scottish regiments were especially feared. A British officer, Sidney Burr, noted, ‘If an Arab sees anybody in a kilt they run a mile. We scarcely regard these people are human. Running over an Arab is the same as a dog in England, except we do not report it.’ It is estimated that 3,800 Arabs were killed by the British over the course of the revolt.”

Your Chinese friends will love you only if you put such arguments in the historical framework of Western colonialism. We need to seek some moral support from your erudition, and your explanation that European powers have often been in similar situations, that Chinese actions are, in fact, more restrained compared to the deeds of their fellow colonialists of the past. You need to develop just a touch of Stockholm Syndrome for the rising Red Dragon if you want to make money here. Be smart, and tell your Chinese friends that a new empire is dawning; that this is the silver lining in the cloud over Xinjiang.

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