Monday, July 27, 2009

Tonghua vs. Urumqi

The Tonghua Steel violence is getting much more detailed, rounded coverage on the mainland than abroad. Why does this fact matter? After all, lots of things are reported better by Chinese, whether online or through outlets like Southern Metropolis Daily, than by foreign reporters, who tend to get to stories late and present them piecemeal.

Well, compare the Chinese reaction to workers rising up against their factory's privatization and killing their boss in this instance to the reaction to Uighurs rising up against Han domination and killing Han civilians. is going after the NY Times right now for captions in a slide show about Urumqi (lousy captions, admittedly, but does anyone even read captions on slideshows?). CNN has been hit again for when it uses the word "riot" and when "protest." Chinese campaigns for Kurdish independence to get back at Turkey for criticizing China's treatment of Uighurs are being chatted up (not out of any real sympathy for the Kurds, sadly). Yada yada yada....

In other words, the focus in terms of Xinjiang is all on whether folks abroad are being sensitive enough to violence against the powerful by the weak and whether the authorities in the form of the police are being respected. Kind of like using the Watts riots as a starting point for a discussion of the plight of the white man in America. I'm exaggerating, I suppose. Poor Han who moved to Xinjiang seeking a better life must also be classed among the "weak." But the point is that few Chinese netizens are using their excellent cyber detective skills to dig into the origins of the Urumqi riot or the casualty figures.

Simultaneously, though, the Tonghua incident is getting thoughtful analysis like this one translated by ESWN:
A big thing occurred at the Tonghua Steel today. I will say that it is a big thing only, because I don't know if it is a good thing, a fortunate thing, a bad thing or a tragic thing. A life perished under the hands of countless number of workers, and that person was the newly appointed Tonghua Iron and Steel Company [head] Mr. Chen who came from the Jianlong Group.

Violence involving minorities engenders a knee-jerk rallying around the flag and the majority ethnicity. Violence involving workers and bosses or rich kids with sports cars and poor students or officials at a massage parlor and an employee... seem, on the other hand, to engender sympathy for the underdog and suspicion of authorities.

This is sad in a way. But it's also heartening that social justice claims have such a pull. No one is rushing to play things at Tonghua Steel down in the interests of China's image. There's anger and confusion, instead. Natural emotions. And hopeful.

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