Death Toll Debated In China's Rioting
Today | Uyghur Related
Death Toll Debated In China's Rioting
Officially, 184 People Died on Sunday
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 11, 2009
A policeman makes an arrest in Urumqi, in the far western region of Xinjiang, as authorities sought to maintain calm after deadly ethnic clashes. Photo Credit: By Nelson Ching -- Bloomberg NewsURUMQI, China -- The Yu siblings could hardly bear to look at the police snapshots of the dead -- the images so full of anger and cruelty. So they took turns sifting through them in search of their brother, who had been missing since ethnically charged riots shook this city in far western China on Sunday.
Yu Xinqing was the one who found him, victim No. 46.
Yu's elder brother, Yu Xinping, had been finishing his shift when a protest by Muslim Uighurs turned violent and some went on a rampage, attacking Han Chinese in the city. His body was mangled from multiple knife wounds and was badly burned.
"When I saw his picture, I couldn't help crying," said Yu, 35. "If you give me a gun, I will rush out and shoot all the Uighurs I meet. I won't look at them in the same way, no matter how good of an explanation there is."
Chinese authorities on Friday raised the official death count to 184 and said more than 1,000 people were injured in the rioting Sunday, making it the deadliest clash in the far western region of Xinjiang since Chinese troops arrived here 60 years ago and one of the worst in the country's modern history. Additional people were victimized in retaliatory attacks in the following days.
Of the dead, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uighur and one was part of the Hui Muslim minority group. But other details are scarce.
Local officials have declined to release information about how the victims died or were hurt.
Nearly all of the 150 or so police snapshots of the dead appear to be of Han Chinese. Most have gashes or cuts on their heads. Only about 10 appear to be Uighur, at least three with apparent bullet wounds near their hearts -- a detail that lends credence to charges by Uighur leaders that Chinese national security forces fired into the crowd of protesters.
But the faces of several victims were so swollen or injured that they were unrecognizable. At least three bodies were completely burned.
Some Uighur residents of Urumqi, however, say the number of Uighur victims in the official group of pictures is low because not all of the Uighurs' bodies are being tallied. Uighurs -- members of a Turkic-speaking group that is culturally, religiously, linguistically and physically different from the Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of China's population -- have long complained of government policies they say are repressive.
Leaders of Uighur exile groups say that China is grossly misrepresenting the number of people killed and that the melee occurred because security forces overreacted to what had been a peaceful protest. On Friday, Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said that by her organization's tally, based on unconfirmed reports from family members and community leaders, the number of dead Uighurs could be in the thousands. The Chinese government has accused Kadeer of inciting the violence, a charge she denies.
Two Han men in Urumqi who were searching for relatives said they believe that the government might be hiding bodies in an effort to minimize the death count. In separate interviews, they said they went to all 23 hospitals in the area and checked the police pictures, but could not find their brothers, who were near the city's bazaar when the rioting began.
"The government is worried that if they announce the real statistics, it will raise the national anger," said Wang Haifeng, 21, who last heard from his 18-year-old brother, Wang Haibo, a real estate agent, when he called Sunday during the riots to say he was walking home from a date and was scared. Then the phone went dead.
The Urumqi government said Friday that families of "innocent" people killed in the unrest will receive about $29,300 in compensation, but it was unclear how officials would make that determination.
Interviews with Han and Uighur victims and their families over the past few days and visits to hospitals where many of the injured are being kept in ethnically segregated wards reveal that the violence was often barbaric and random -- and it went both ways.
Some of the injured and dead appear to have been bystanders.
Chinese troops had locked down this city of 2.4 million by Wednesday, separating Han Chinese from Uighurs and establishing a tense peace. But the accounts from victims speak to the long-standing mistrust between the ethnic groups and how explosive that hatred can quickly become.
Liu Yonghe, 44, a businessman, and his wife, Zhao Lihong, 23, were among the Han victims admitted to a hospital. They had just finished work and were on a bus en route to shops about 8 p.m. Sunday when it was stoned by a mob. They tried to escape but were beaten with sticks. Liu suffered head injuries, and his leg and two ribs were broken. His wife suffered brain injuries.
In another part of the city's bazaar that day, a Han couple on their way to pick up their granddaughter ran into Uighur protesters. Deng Yimin, 66, and Xiao Xianzhi, 65, said they were beaten until they were bleeding and collapsed.
In a retaliatory attack against Uighurs on Tuesday, Ali, a 21-year-old Uighur laborer, was on his way to his company to collect his salary at 4 p.m. when he was jumped by about 50 people. His fingers were broken, and he suffered a concussion and gashes on his back and legs. The same afternoon, Nuryeraly, 25, was running errands with his brother when someone yelled that Uighurs were nearby. Several hundred people then began to beat the brothers. The last thing he heard before he passed out was his brother calling for his mother, who was not there. "I don't know where he is now -- if he is alive or not," he said.
But there were signs of kindness across ethnic lines that have triggered soul-searching.
Ali said that before he was beaten, a Han man begged others in his group not to hit him even as the crowd turned on him and cursed him.
Zhao, who has lived in Urumqi for six years and is a shop assistant, said she was not injured as severely as she might have been because a Uighur man pulled her into the shadows of a nearby building while the attackers turned their attention to the Han men.
"I don't blame the Uighurs for all of this," she said. "There is no difference between Uighurs and Han. There are only good people and bad people."
And Xiao, who was on her way to pick up her granddaughter, said she is grateful to two Uighur men who put themselves between an angry mob and Xiao and her husband.
"They shouted at the group of people and pushed them away," Xiao recalled. "They were shouting in the Uighur language, so I didn't know exactly what they were talking about. Then they pulled us up and walked away with us."
Yu, who grew up in Urumqi and said he had no animosity toward Uighurs before this week, is not among those who say they can be friendly with their Uighur neighbors again.
"If the Uighurs are dissatisfied with the government, they should protest to the government instead of killing innocent people. Although I understand that there are bad people and good people in Uighurs, I still have a barrier in my heart," Yu said. The death of his brother, the second of six children, "is such a big hurt for our family."
Researchers Zhang Jie in Urumqi and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.