David Tobin Profile picture
Nov 26, 2022 21 tweets 12 min read Read on X
Urumchi is not Zhengzhou. I lived there for several years, observing and interviewing around many protests. I want to add some overlooked background to #UrumqiProtest conversation. Many dominant voices on the subject have never been there. 🧵

#Xinjiang #ZeroCovidChina #Uyghurs
@guardian / @Reuters quoted 1 respected political scientist but who does not research the region. Alternatively, many foreign and Uyghur experts who know the city are available, sharing videos and analysis on the capital city of their homeland.

Bypassing experts guarantees ideological framings (“Chinese protest” & “civil society”), ignoring local dynamics where Han protestors often describe themselves as “vanguard” and Uyghurs died in a building fire under ethnically targeting and excessive covid controls.
The @BBC did not mention who died or why, overlooking the very story they are reporting on. This is of course an emerging story and I hope more details are offered in coming days.

#Uyghurs are sharing videos of fire that may have killed many more than officially announced and images of Uyghur homes bolted shut from the outside. Some like @RayhanAsat have shared official announcements censoring discussion of the subject.


@AbduwelA shares images of real people who died in the fire. This is Qemernisa Abdurahman with her children, all of whom died. Reporting on the subject is intellectually bound to include these images to explain the story and the racist implementation of #ZeroCOVIDpolicy. Image

Uyghurs are sharing multiple, yet-to-be confirmed videos of gunshots in Uyghur populated districts not heard in videos of Han protests. These must be investigated by reporters.

Racist policing by People's Armed Police and SWAT is to be expected in a city that treats violence by Uyghurs as a threat to China and violence by Han as a reasonable symptom in response.

#Xinjiang #china #Uyghurs

#UrumqiProtest has been sparked by strict #ZeroCOVIDpolicy lockdowns lasting more than 100 days. But Urumchi needs analysis on its own terms to understand who is allowed to protest in what ways and how the party-state will respond.

Urumchi is described as a “frontier city” by the party and many Han residents. The Uyghur population see it as colonised.

Many Han in the city do not intend to stay permanently, moving there for work in precarious circumstances. This is why we see videos of traffic jams as Han leave the region by car. Everyone must apply for a permit (出疆申报) to be allowed to leave.


It is long established in the literature that the region's Han population are viewed as a “source of stability” by the party-state. This means handling Han-led protests has historically been an especially uncomfortable affair for the party-state.


For example, In September 2009, the People’s Armed Police only intervened with teargas against hundreds of Han protestors at Nanmen (Urumchi city centre) when they began to try to reach the Uyghur district chanting “kill the Uyghurs”.


Using Han population to secure the region against supposed Uyghur threat, while generating anxiety that they may want more autonomy themselves, is not a new dynamic. It shaped street protests during Cultural Revolution and party leadership choices.


Urumchi's Han residents are more accustomed to contact w/ military & police, aware their presence is to monitor Uyghurs. Partly explains why you hear people casually mention “it’s military police”. A tense standoff is fairly relaxed given the stakes.

These racist dynamics in Urumchi are why I would expect party to back down against Han protest and crackdown against Uyghurs. Han have little input into their representation but are officially considered vanguard of China’s settler culture 屯垦文化.


There's no evidence that #UrumqiProtest is democracy movement or advocates greater rights for all. It’s a reflex action to be allowed outside in fear they may die. Many viral posts suggest fear not empathy for those who died or why.


There are thoughtful comments on Chinese social media. This thread does not criticise Han protest. It critiques abstract analysis overlooking racist governance & social dynamics. Also, political change can emerge from spiraling self-oriented action.


Teacher Li’s account shares remarkable material. They do not place it in ideological framework or claim authoritative knowledge. They share videos from friends on the ground & ask questions. Many videos show how much leeway Han protestors are given.


I hope in coming days that reporters will consult Han in the city, Uyghur diaspora, and experts w/ fieldwork experience in Urumchi itself. It's essential to understand story's context & facts. I'm available and @j_smithfinley @JimMillward @dtbyler have much to contribute.
Online Roundtable (20th Dec)
@ShefUniSEAS @UniShefAH

Hopes & Fears: Potential for Solidarity between Uyghur & Chinese Diasporas after 'Zero-Covid' Protests

Speakers: @MahmutRahima @wuerkaixi @tingguowrites @chenchenzh @KabirQurban WeAreAllChainedWomen


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More from @ReasonablyRagin

Jun 17, 2023
The last time I visited #China, I knew it would be the last time. 5 minutes after sitting down with a #Uyghur friend, she was called by her cadre 'minder' questioning her why she was talking to a foreigner. Like so many, we've never heard from her again.
I made the choice not to return as a researcher because it endangers people. Or you can go back but you must construct your research in a way that the Chinese government approves and ignore people like my friend who has disappeared. And write about #China like it never happened.
That research access is based on approving or refusing to challenge the deadly lies which the government tells. When I worked in #China, it was clear many people maintain that access despite being racist towards Chinese people. This has nothing to do with respect for China.
Read 12 tweets
Nov 28, 2022
There has been surprise and awe as protestors in China chant “Xi Jinping, stand down” (习近平下台). Yet from our knowledge of power and resistance in authoritarian states, these demands should be expected to emerge sooner or later. 🧵
#ZeroCovidChina #UrumqiFire #ChinaProtests
The late, great Stephen White who taught Post-Communist Politics 101 emphasised that the more personalised an authoritarian system, the more that social discontent will focus on that leader as the sole actor responsible for policy and with power to change course.
The more violent the leader, the more violence expected in state transformation. For example, no analyst wonders why Nicolae Ceaușescu’s end was so violent. It is explained in relation to the intensity of levels of state violence and personalisation of the political system.
Read 16 tweets
Oct 3, 2022
Six essential books to help understand how the current crisis in the region known as #Xinjiang emerged. These overlooked, multidisciplinary works, published before the current crisis, range from history to anthropology to political science. #Uyghurs #Centralasia #China #Islam
Obviously I think you should read my book too! It explains how the goals of #China's ethnic policy shifted from gradual to rapid assimilation, exacerbating insecurity and cycles of violence between Han Chinese, #Uyghurs, and the state in #Xinjiang.

Read 8 tweets
Jul 26, 2022
NEW REPORT by @lauratmurphy, @nyrola, and myself uncovers massive networks of forced labour and transfers of Uyghur people managed by the Bingtuan and commanded by the central party-state. An explainer 🧵

#Uyghurs #Xinjiang #China


What is the Bingtuan?

The Bingtuan (#Xinjiang Production & Construction Corps) is a state-run corporation, functioning as regional government, paramilitary organisation, prisons bureau, media empire, education system, and one of world’s largest state-run corporations.

Established in the 1950s by former PLA and GMD soldiers, the Bingtuan describes itself as representing China’s ancient “settling the frontier culture” (屯垦文化) with “plough in one hand, gun in the other”

See: doi.org/10.1080/014198…
Read 16 tweets
May 19, 2022
How does Xi Jinping command policy in #China? This report analyses the #Xinjiang Papers and new evidence of #Uyghurs mass detention. 🧵


The report analyses Xi’s thinking and the centralised decision-making behind Xinjiang policy, institutional shifts to ensure policy implementation, and the arbitrary nature of mass detention of Turkic-speaking Muslim communities.

It explains how China’s political system operates and analyses the thinking behind genocide in Xinjiang. The PRC is moving towards totalitarianism: personalised rule, mass mobilisation and surveillance, and ideological education.
Read 17 tweets
Mar 26, 2022
Some book reviews! My fieldwork in Urumchi #Xinjiang planned to explore relations between Han, #Uyghurs, & party-state, particularly how urban groups most exposed to party education understand each other and how interactions shape #nationalism #security

What wasn't planned was 2009 mass violence. Han & #Uyghurs explained violence with narratives familiar from living there previously but crystallised into starker boundaries & insecurity. #China's party-state framed Uyghur identities as security problems, intensifying insecurity.
I had hoped to live there again during more peaceful times and even explore some themes in the reviews below. But Xi's ethnic extinction policies and his closed "new era" means we have to learn and use new methods.
Read 7 tweets

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