Kunming train station following the attack on March 1.
After Chinese authorities blamed Uighur separatists for a deadly knife attack at a train station in Kunming, capital of the country’s southern Yunnan province, on March 1, many called for calm and reconciliation. Others, however, have taken out their anger against the community as a whole, and China’s ethnic Uighur minority is paying the price.
On March 1, a group of men went on a stabbing rampage at the train station in Kunming, killing 33 and wounding 143 others. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security said that, of the eight attackers, four were killed and a fifth was wounded in the attack, while the remaining three were arrested on March 3.
The government blamed the violence on a group of separatists from Xinjiang, an autonomous region in north-west China where Muslim Uighurs make up the main ethnic group. According to the Communist Party secretary in Yunnan, the group went to southern China with a plan to cross the border with Vietnam in order to fight jihad abroad. After several failed attempts, they reportedly changed plans and carried out their attack in Kunming. The authorities said banners of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement [ETIM], a radical separatist group, were found at the site of the attack.
Following this attack, Chinese president Xi Jingping called on the security services to step up the fight against terrorism.
Fearing hysteria, residents of Xinjiang started the hashtag “I’m from Xinjiang” to express solidarity with the victims. At the same time, a photo of a Uighur vendor (above) taken two years ago started to circulate on social media. The man stands next to a placard that distinguishes Uighurs from terrorists. It says: “Change your perception of me. I am an honest Xinjiang resident.”
Meanwhile, others appear to have been caught up in the paranoia. In the message above, an Internet user explains that, if you see someone wearing this t-shirt with “Uighur” written on it, immediately “avoid this person, take a photo … and call the police”. He adds: “Don’t be funny and take this as a joke. National security is serious.”
On the ground, the police are apparently tracking down people from Xinjiang. This photo, by blogger Wen Yunchao, was taken in Nanning, a city south of Kunming. The document, signed by the city’s public security office, states: “In order to maintain social stability in this area, if you know people from Xinjiang who run businesses, travel in the area or are staying in hotels, call the police immediately.”
In a province neighbouring Yunnan, a Uighur restaurant manager in the tourist town of Dali has reportedly become a victim of the culture of fear. An Internet user tells the story on the microblogging site Weibo: “Abudu is from Kucha in Xinjiang. He was at home in Dali, where he has lived for eight years. He told me he was warned by the police to leave his home within 10 days, following a request by his landlord. He was so shocked he was speechless.”
A poster [above] was posted on the front entrance to Abudu’s restaurant by a friend:
“Hello everybody, don’t confuse anger against terrorists with hatred and misunderstanding of an ethnic group. Don’t confuse resistance to violence with discrimination and hostility towards an ethnic group. This place is run by my friend Abudu, a normal man who lives in the same country as us.”
Dali police explained their actions in a statement: “Following the terrorist attack in Kunming, we checked the identities of people from Xinjiang who are temporarily living in Dali. On March 2, Abudu was taken to the station for an identity check. The owner of his restaurant, who hadn’t declared he had a tenant, was given a fine. Then, he called the police to say he didn’t want to lease to people from Xinjiang anymore, and we went to warn Abudu that had to leave. Please inform us if you know any business owners from Xinjiang.”
A few days later, the same police station apologised with the message above: “the method we used to check the identities of the ‘floating population’ [Chinese people who leave their home regions to go and work in other regions] on March 2 was not appropriate. Abudu still lives here and continues to run his business in Dali. Our tradition for openness, harmony and integration is intact.”
Meanwhile, police in the central city of Xining said that starting on March 4, anybody who hosted friends or relatives from Xinjiang, Uighurs or Tibetan monks must notify to the police. Otherwise, the hosts will be held responsible.
On March 4, the World Uyghur Congress, an exiled organisation based in Germany, said it “unequivocally condemned the violence” while calling on Beijing to avoid demonising Uighurs.