Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Uyghurs: Chinesization, Violence and the Future

Academic journal article IUP Journal of International Relations

Uyghurs: Chinesization, Violence and the Future

Article excerpt

This study examines ethnic tensions and conflict in China's conflict-ridden Xinjiang region where Uyghurs, who share distinct traits such as language, culture, and religion, claim geographical domination. The major thesis of this study is that Chinesization of Xinjiang region by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has fueled ethnic conflict and violence. The study attempts to understand violence of both parties. Each party's violence or violent attitudes against the other increases the sense of distrust between them. This paper also discusses some fundamental historical factors that play a role in understanding Xinjiang's ethnic violence. It finally suggests solutions to the protracted ethno-political conflict-partition or power sharing.


In July 2009, China's oil-rich and ethnically-sensitive far-western Chinese province of Xinjiang experienced violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Media reported that more than 100 people were killed and 800 injured from the disturbance which broke out in the provincial capital, Urumqi. The disturbances occurred after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uyghur ethnic minority-the historical ethnic majority in Xinjiang-who say they have been socially and economically marginalized by Beijing's policies that introduce Chinesization of the region. On August 4, 2008, four days before the start of the Beijing Olympics, two ethnic Uyghurs drove a stolen dump truck into a group of some 70 Chinese border police in the town of Kashi in Xinjiang, killing at least 1 6 of the officers. The attackers carried knives and home-made explosive devices and had also written manifestos in which they expressed their commitment to jihad in Xinjiang.1

When violence broke out in Xinjiang, people living outside China had one simple question: "Why do Uyghurs rebel?" Ethnic riots do not occur in vain. There are several scholarly explanations to understand ethnic violence.2 Of these, one explanation is politicization of ethnic distinctions by major political parties that fuels ethnic violence and conflict.3 The July 5 violence was the most brutal act of violence against the protesters since Tiananmen Square unrest some 20 years ago. China's state- controlled media and ruling communist party officials identified those Uyghurs who had taken part in the riots against the Han Chinese as "terrorists", and accused the exiled groups, including the World Uyghur Congress, of fomenting violence.4 But the questions are: Why have some young Uyghurs, a minority group comprising roughly half the population of Xinjiang province, lost trust in the state and its institutions?5 What causes have contributed to the anti-Chinese campaign-both violent and non-violent-by young Uyghurs? It is clearly difficult to rationalize human actions and motivations. Instead, there are many factors that can lead to tensions between groups of people in divided societies. This paper will first review many of these complicated factors, and then focus on how the politicization of ethnic tensions has triggered violence and tragedy in the Xinjiang province.

Theoretical Frameworks

The primordialist approach offers one simple yet powerful explanation about ethno- political conflict. For primordialists, ethnic identity is inborn and, therefore, immutable6 as both culturally-acquired aspects (language, culture, and religion) and genetically- determined characteristics (pigmentation and physiognomy) in shaping ethnic identity. Primordialism's socio-biological strand claims that ethnicity, tied to kinship, promotes a convergence of interests between individuals and their kin group's collective goals. Consequently, even racism and ethnocentrism can be viewed as extreme forms of nepotistic behavior driven by feelings of propinquity and consanguinity. Primordialists thus note nationalism as a natural phenomenon.

In contrast, the constructivist theory views ethnic identities as a product of human actions and choices, arguing that they are constructed and transmitted, not genetically inherited, from the past. …

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