Pomona College professor talks Arab Spring, China
Ethnic tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang have caused conflicts, Dru Gladney said
February 13, 2013, 11:25 pm·
The Xinjiang 13 might not seem like the most rebellious of groups at first glance. It’s composed of scholars from across the United States, hailing from Georgetown University to Pomona College, and all but two of them are banned from traveling to China.
Wednesday night, the Center for the Study of Contemporary China hosted Pomona professor Dru Gladney to deliver a lecture titled “An Arab Spring in Beijing? Islam, the Middle East and China.”
Gladney, who is among those currently denied entry to China, attracted a wide variety of audiences, including first-year Wharton MBA student Liang Lu.
Lu, who is of Chinese descent, said he attended Gladney’s lecture because he’s “interested in Chinese contemporary issues … [and] very concerned about the future of China [and] my hometown.”
The lecture centered on Gladney’s assertion that Beijing is unlikely to see a revolution of equal scale to recent ones in the Middle East.
This prediction is based on Gladney’s personal experience researching Muslim-Chinese culture and working with these minority groups for more than 25 years. Throughout the lecture, he stressed understanding the very definition of “ethnicity” within the context of contemporary China.
Under current national Chinese policy, there exist 56 official ethnic categories — out of more than 400 applications for recognition.
According to Gladney, it’s not surprising that there have been significant conflicts in Tibet and Xinjiang, where minority populations are heavily concentrated.
Home to the Uyghurs — an ethnic minority of Turkish origin — Xinjiang has an overwhelming majority of Muslim residents. It’s also the location of what Gladney called the first “Twitter War,” where rioters gathered near a mosque in Urumqi for protest, eventually escalating into violence targeting Han Chinese people.
Despite government attempts at communications blackout, footage of the violence found its way into mainstream social media, sparking awareness of the mistreatment of minority groups in the region.
College junior Mariah Deters, who recently studied in Western China, attested to this difference in treatment.
“On the first night in a Xinjiang hotel, I witnessed Chinese policemen surround a square — with only old people and children present — and bang their batons against the shields for an extended period of time,” she said. “And this was a daily occurrence, according to the Uyghurs I asked.”
Incidents like these, Gladney explained, exemplify how conflicts surrounding the Muslim Chinese population have their roots in unresolved ethnic tensions and inflexible socioeconomic policies.
These issues are domestic, not reflecting international religious disputes — a slant that Western media has a tendency to portray, Gladney added.
“I don’t see a Beijing Spring along the lines of the Arab Spring, though social media might play a role in future uprisings,” he said. “Instead, I see a ‘Jasmine Tea Revolution.’ A popular revolt is only possible if it resonates and appeals to a wide sector of the Chinese public on a mass scale.”