DONG: Reflecting on terror

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Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

“You are never told what really happened. You are only made to hate in confusion, fear in confusion, live in confusion and die in confusion.” Among the millions of comments after the terrorist attack in Kunming last Saturday, no one said it better than a reporter in this popular quote.

On the night of March 1, eight terrorists stormed the Kunming Railway Station, in southern China’s Yunnan Province. They attacked civilians indiscriminately with knives, leaving 29 dead and 143 wounded in a span of 12 minutes. Although the authorities have been careful not to emphasize the identity of the attackers as extremists from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, many Chinese people are fully aware that something is gravely wrong with ethnic relations in the country.

The general population has limited knowledge of the history of contemporary Xinjiang; official propaganda focuses primarily on the “peaceful liberation” of Xinjiang in 1950, though it also mentions fighting bandits in the region. Over 10 million Uyghurs, a Muslim people, currently live in Xinjiang, making up 45 percent of the population.

In the past several years violent incidents have erupted, and most Western media outlets place blame on the repressive policies in Xinjiang. But most Chinese people do not know about the troubles caused by ethnic policies in the region. Immediately after the attack, hate messages flooded the Internet. Uyghurs cannot enter hotels and cannot pass security checkpoints on highways in many parts of China. “Xinjiang” and “Uyghur” are closely associated with “terrorist” in popular vocabulary, although propaganda emphasizes that Xinjiang is an inseparable part of China and that all ethnic groups live in harmony.

Beyond the fear and hatred, a surprising number of people refuse to reflect. As I jot down my thoughts, I can imagine the cold stares and nasty words some of my countrymen would offer in response to my attempted reflection. They simply deem rational discussions irrelevant. After all, many of them were the mindless ones in China who applauded 9/11. Now that the blades feel closer to their necks, they finally agree to grieve at terrorist attacks, some going as far as calling for ethnic cleansing on the Internet, but still refuse to reflect on the reasons behind the tragedy. Constant censorship — or harmonization, as we optimistic teenagers like to call it — has successfully bred a rejection of reason and truth. Sadly, sometimes ignorance can really be the strength in China, but people also have a right and a responsibility to know about the problems our country faces.

One of the authorities’ most effective approaches to problem solving, of course, is to cover up and pretend to have no problems. On Wednesday, when the annual National People’s Congress and Political Consultative Conference convened in Beijing, public attention needed to be directed away from the terrorist attack. So official media outlets immediately capped the terrorist attack with the good news in two short paragraphs: two days after the attack, the three fleeing terrorists were finally captured. Although first deeply disturbed by the bloody images I saw on the Internet, I felt fortunate to have viewed them before countless such posts were censored on the Internet.

In this way, the case is sealed, with no follow-ups on the victims or the terrorists, let alone the bigger issues that are even beginning to trouble ordinary people. As one Kunming residence asked the question shared by millions of Chinese people, “What had aroused so much hatred in the terrorists that they would commit such an act?”

Unfortunately, such questions can only be asked, not answered. Chinese people will continue to “live in confusion” and “die in confusion,” as the popular quote goes. The majority of people in cities and countryside alike suffer from air pollution, worry about food safety and experience economic insecurity. Underprivileged people can only suffer, little by little, through a chronic confusion that they cannot overcome.

Now, as the cold stares shine with hatred and the lips blurt out profanities, accusing me of writing “illegal” reflections, I can only smile and acknowledge that whatever they are saying will be mainstream for a while. If only someone can give us a better answer.

Yifu Dong is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at yifu.dong@yale.edu .

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