Dong Yuanyuan was a happy newlywed until ethnic hatreds spilled over into bloody street violence in China’s far west. She is recovering: her husband is still missing
Dong Yuanyuan should be on honeymoon, sightseeing in Shanghai with her husband. But late last Sunday night, their bus stopped when a set of traffic lights in Urumqi turned red.
A few seconds earlier and the newlyweds might have escaped the ethnic riot sweeping the city. Instead, the hail of rocks and sticks that crashed down on them began an ordeal that would leave the 24-year-old teacher with injuries to her head, neck, arms and legs — and without her husband.
“I really hope to find him, no matter whether he’s dead or alive. At least I would know something. Now I know nothing. We had just got married and our new life was about to start. Now everything is … ” She did not finish her sentence.
As the capital of China’s north-western Xinjiang province appears to be settling into an uneasy calm, policed by a security force of about 20 000 paramilitary, riot and regular officers, Dong is one of thousands counting the cost of the past week’s vicious inter-ethnic violence.
After scouring hospitals, her parents have found one body and one unconscious patient who they believe could be Liang He (29) They cannot be sure until Dong is well enough to be discharged from Urumqi’s People’s Hospital and to look herself.
The government today raised the death toll to 184 and offered the first ethnic breakdown of the dead: 137 Han Chinese — the dominant ethnic group — and 46 Uighurs, who make up almost half of Xinjiang’s population of 21,3-million. One Hui Muslim also died. More than 1 000 people were injured.
Officials had said that 156 people had died on Sunday when peaceful protests over Han killings of two Uighur workers in Guangdong, in the south, turned into a mass riot and apparently indiscriminate attacks on mostly Han Chinese.
The state news agency, Xinhua, did not say whether any of the deaths happened last Tuesday, when vengeful Han mobs took to the streets armed with shovels, iron bars and cleavers and savagely assaulted Uighurs. Paramilitaries eventually dispersed them with tear gas.
Some Uighurs in the city voiced disbelief at how few alleged deaths they had suffered. “That’s the Han people’s number. We have our own number,” Akumjia, a Uighur resident, told Reuters. “Maybe many, many more Uighurs died. The police were scared and lost control.”
Independent evidence to back claims by exiled Uighurs that the authorities beat to death and shot dead peaceful protesters has not come to light, despite the presence of foreign journalists. But Uighur witnesses told one reporter they had seen police shoot dead two Uighurs.
Many Uighurs reported gunfire and the People’s Hospital said it treated people for gunshot wounds. The government has said rioters were armed.
Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation, saying China had presented “a skewed and incomplete picture of the unrest” that had not included attacks on Uighurs or fully accounted for the role of security forces. The authorities accuse Uighur exiles of orchestrating the violence. They deny the claims.
Dong was caught by a group of young Uighur men as she fled the bus with other passengers, losing sight of her husband in the crush. “They thought I looked like a Han, not a Uighur. The people came and started to beat me. I ran away but they dragged me back. I fell to the ground. Some people punched me as they didn’t have rocks.”
She came around hours later in the darkness, covered in blood; shaken awake by a Hui Muslim woman who hid the newlywed in her home. “I asked them to find my husband,” said Dong. “But they said there were many people lying out on the streets and the Uighurs were still there. Nobody dared go out to rescue people.”
Instead, Dong lay listening to the sounds of breaking glass, fire spreading through torched vehicles and the roar of the mob sweeping back and forth before police finally suppressed the riot. “When I was young, many Uighurs were my neighbours and classmates. Nothing like this ever happened. We’ve had very good relations,” said Dong. “Now my Han female friends and I feel a bit scared when we see Uighur men because we were all hurt by them. I’ll still be nice to the friends I know well, but I may feel scared by strange Uighur men.”
The sense of bewilderment is common to many Han in the city. Several said that government policies — such as the one allowing minority couples to have more than one child — favour Uighurs.But Uighurs resent mass Han immigration and strict controls on their religion. Unemployment is high and many feel the Han look down on them,
“We feel pressure,” said a young man in a Uighur part of town, who requested anonymity. “Our standard of living is lower than Han . We are not comfortable here. We are attacked. We are hassled.” But there is nothing good in this fighting. I want ethnicities in Xinjiang to unite. A quiet life would be good for us.”
It is a longing widely shared despite the seething fear and enmity here. Thousands took part in the rioting; but most of Urumqi’s people want life to return to normal.
For Dong, crouching on a hospital bed, perhaps it never will. Despite her bloodied eye, bandaged head and widespread scarring, all that bothers her is the fate of her husband. “My physical injuries may heal soon, but my emotional wounds won’t heal for a long time,” she said. – guardian.co.uk