Chinese riot police arrested several Uighurs Friday after
breaking up a small demonstration in Urumqi, the capital of China's
western Xinjiang Province and the scene of a riot Sunday that killed
156 people and injured more than 1,000.
Authorities arranged extra bus services out of Urumqi after
China's worst ethnic violence in decades, but demand outstripped
supply Friday as thousands of people poured into bus and train
stations to flee the violence-wracked city.
Still, Chinese police this week succeeded in averting a major
interethnic bloodbath after initially failing to control Sunday's
Similarly, on the Internet, over the airwaves, and in the written
media, Chinese propaganda officials utilized new and more
sophisticated tactics to overcome early impressions that the
authorities were to blame for the carnage and to paint a more
"Officials are certainly studying the media-management techniques
that are practiced elsewhere in the world," says Rebecca Mackinnon,
an expert on the Chinese media at Hong Kong University. "And they
actually don't work too badly."
A combination of censoring the Internet, providing Chinese
readers with a wealth of reportage (however one-sided), and allowing
foreign reporters to work on the ground represents a new Chinese
model for handling the media, says Ms. Mackinnon.
"We've moved out of the realm of trying to control everything,"
she says, "and into a more subtle realm of manipulation and spin."
How Beijing changed tactics since 2008 Tibet unrest
Eighteen months ago, when unrest broke out among Tibetans, the
government banned foreign reporters from a huge swath of Tibetan-
inhabited western China. Denied the chance to offer firsthand
accounts of events, most Western media relied heavily on exile
The result was an unmitigated international public relations
disaster for Beijing, although at home few Chinese questioned the
official version that the Dalai Lama had instigated the trouble that
left 18 ethnic Han and Hui Chinese dead.
Last Monday, in contrast, after a demonstration by Uighur
protesters had spun out of control, the government invited foreign
journalists to visit Urumqi to report for themselves on what had
happened. A press center was put at their disposal, and tours of the
violence-stricken quarters of the city were provided.
The initial assumption among most Western observers was that most
of the dead must have been Uighur demonstrators, cut down by police
gunfire. Although the authorities have not given an ethnic breakdown
of the victims, reporters interviewing eyewitnesses began to suspect
that in fact the majority of the dead may well have been Han
Chinese, killed by Uighur rioters. …