Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, October 27, 2018


I have been having a tough time getting a handle on the situation in Xinjiang. I have only been to Xinjiang once, and that was back in 2005. The riots in Urumqi, the terrorist attack in Kunming, and the current repression by the government have all taken place since then, so apparently Xinjiang is becoming a very different place from when I visited.

There have been several reports in recent years about repressive policies, such as cutting men's beards so that they don't become terrorists, and restricting access to the Qur'an or the practice of Ramadan (daytime fasting for one month a year). But what has disturbed many human rights groups recently has been the reports of thousands of Uyghurs being taken from their homes and placed in detention camps. It has not been easy to get accurate information about this, because China severely restricts media access to Xinjiang, at first did not acknowledge the camps. But for some reason, they have changed their approach and decided to acknowledge the camps and defend their existance.

There is another problem with news about things like this. In China, the media is strictly controlled/regulated by the government, so government papers are replete with scripted propaganda, or restricted from mentioning the subject at all. But in America, media is controlled by advertising. This means that headlines are structured to get you to click on them, and bad news than good news. So reporting about China tends to be negative. In addition to this, allowing media to be controlled by advertising means that subject matter is controlled by the prevailing appetites and fetishes of the masses rather than a sincere, dogged pursuit of the truth. So with American news outlets, especially online ones, the important stories of the day are often buried in mountains of trivia.

So what is the difference between click-bait and propaganda? Only the intent--they're both garbage, just with different purposes. So I tend to avoid media that is afflicted by either of these problems. Still, I would like to get a source from China, because they would much less likely (obviously) to tell a story that was totally negative. The problem is that news articles in the Global Times and the China Daily are extremely boring and poorly written, and there is little or no in depth discussion of issues, because it isn't politically safe. So, with modern smart phones, where I can sit on the bus or the tram and read the news from any number of international news outlets on my smart phone, I don't read Chinese news nearly as much as I ought to.

Last night one of my students informed me that there was widespread detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. She said she got the information from BBC. Interesting. So if local people are just finding out about this now, that must mean that the Chinese media has been pretty quiet about it.

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