High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in June 2014 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on June 14, 2014.
The blogpost highlights the everyday discrimination felt by Tibetans and Uyghurs in the PRC today. The YouTube video below is in Chinese but Woeser summarises the content in the first paragraph of her post. The video has been viewed more than 57,000 times.
“Document No. 33 of 2008”
There is a video that was widely circulated online because of the explosion that happened in Urumqi on May 22 this year. This video shows a Uyghur man who goes to Shanghai for business and is made to take off his shoes at airport security and when he asks why people in front of him did not have to do so, airport police informs him: because you are from Xinjiang. This Uyghur immediately took out his mobile phone and recorded his argument with the police, directly saying to them: “Today’s explosion is a result of your discrimination against us.”
This kind of scene is, in fact, not unfamiliar at all. In my book “Tibet: 2008” I recorded how official Chinese media distorted and misrepresented Tibetans after the protests in March 2008. It resulted in Tibetans being labelled as ungrateful “terrorists”, which made countless Chinese reject, yes even hate Tibetans. Once when a Tibetan named Norbu wanted to go through immigration at Beijing airport, he was held by airport staff shouting, “Hey, he is Tibetan!”, upon which he was taken into a separate room to be searched and interrogated in a humiliating way. Another Tibetan, a friend of mine and low-level official was once held at Kunming airport by soldiers with guns who reported to their superior: “He is Tibetan, what should we do?” My friend said to them angrily: “‘March 14’ precisely happened because of people like you.”
Back then, a friend from Lhasa said that her Aunt, a retired cadre, wanted to go to Changchun during the October National Holiday to visit her son who was studying there. But her son heard that no hotel was willing to accommodate Tibetans so he suggested to her not to come. But she really wanted to see her son and was prepared to do anything to be able to go. So she managed to get a copy of a specific document. It was said that after “March 14”, the Central Government issued a special document, which said something like: Our ancestral land is one big family, with 56 flowers, we are all Chinese, so none of these flowers must be discriminated against, or else it is a violation of the Party’s ethnic policies.
This retired cadre took this notice and, not without worries, embarked upon the long journey on the day of the nation’s birthday. Even though she did finally meet her son, she was not allowed to check into a hotel and instead was forced to stay in a simple university guest house. Clearly, the Central Government’s document was of no use.
So what kind of document are we talking about? Some time passed until I came across this document on the website uighurbiz.net (see footnote). Its name is “Document No. 33” and it was issued by the general office of the State Council on April 23, 2008. It read, “In the recent efforts to safeguard stability in Tibet and strengthen anti-terrorist work, there have been a few incidents in a small number of work-units that violated the country’s ethnic policies. Some airports separated people according to ethnicity during security checks; some taxis, hotels, or shops refused to serve ethnic minorities and hereby infringed their rights and benefits.” This behaviour is harmful to ethnic unity and has to be corrected etc. etc.
In China, whenever the government issues a special document warning all units and people not to do something, it means that units and people have been doing exactly this for a very long time, to the point that the government has no choice but to stop this “malignant social trend”. But why is it that units and people still keep on doing the same things even after the government issued the document? Is it because officials at different levels are simply treating this as a formality, that when they deal with the State Council, they simply pretend to be compliant and polite, or is it that most people do not actually take government documents seriously? Or is it related to the already existing and deeply embedded ethnic discrimination? Today, six years have passed; “Document no. 33” was of no use back then and it is of no use today.
Footnote: uighurbiz.net is the Chinese language website of Ilham Tohti. It was closed down many times, so it was moved to a server abroad, upon which it was blocked. “Document No. 33” can be found here: http://www.uighurbiz.net/bbs/index.php On January 15, 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested and the website was closed down.