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China: Ethnically diverse forum shut down

On May 15, Uighur Online, the main online forum serving to bridge the huge communication gap between China's Muslim population, other minority ethnic groups, and Han Chinese, was shut down.

uighurbiz-copy.jpg
All that remains now of Uighur Online, courtesy of archive.org

As is the norm in China, no reason is given for website closures, just an order. All that can now be found at the site or its sister site Uighur Biz are instructions on how to donate to Chinese Red Cross, and this message:

所有各民族的朋友:

大家好!我们带着非常沉重的心情通知大家,由于众所周知的原因,维吾尔在线被关闭。
感谢大家一直以来对维吾尔在线的支持、关注和帮助,更感谢所有维吾尔在线管理团队成员,论坛版主、编辑和专栏作家、专家、学者的辛勤付出。维吾尔在线建站短短两年以来,在一个多民族的管理团队的努力下,日均PV值达到百万左右,注册用户数万人。在这里我们认识和结交了许多不同民族的朋友,彼此之间的了解也更加全面和深入,维吾尔在线打通了民间的民族交流渠道,我们坚信,民间对话交流是很有意义的。

网站投稿信箱:uighurtor@126.com uighuronline@gmail.com

站务联系QQ:237505591 技术支持QQ:80870896

维吾尔在线
2008-5-15

Friends of all ethnic groups,

Hello everyone! It is with extremely heavy hearts that we hereby notify you that due to those reasons that everyone knows, Uighur Online has been closed.

Thank you everyone for your constant support, care and help for Uighur Online, and even more thanks to the members of the management team, the BBS webmasters, the editors, columnists, experts and the academics who have put so much into Uighur Online. In the two short years that Uighur Online has been around and with the efforts of a multi-ethnic management team, the site receives on average around one million pageviews per day, with tens of thousands of registered users. With all the people we've come to know and friends we've made from many different ethnic groups, our understanding of each other has both broadened and deepened. Uighur Online provided grassroots communication channels between different ethnic groups, allowing for conversations and discussions which, we firmly believe, were quite meaningful.

E-mail contacts for written contributions to the site: uighurtor@126.com uighuronline@gmail.com

Uighur Online
May 15, 2008

The well-known Uighur Biz blogger on Sina.com adds that the “Harmonization Department” which “cares for” these things was responsible for the closure; one reader there speculates on the reasons for Uighur Online's closure writes:

政府出于对言论的管制而关闭维吾尔在线是非常不明智的,因为不管维吾尔在线有多少杂音,可他们毕竟代表着的,是主张开放,主张对话,主张沟通,主张学习西方的维吾尔人(哈萨克人….),维吾尔在线的关闭将是一个重大的分水岭,主张沟通对话的渠道被关闭,意味着将有更多的人选择自我封闭,拒绝对话,或者选择地下活动,内地人失去了一个直接了解维吾尔大众思想的窗口,将不得不通过那些在象牙塔里学者的研究报告了解民情.

The government's closing of Uighur Online as a way to restrict speech is extremely unwise, because regardless of how much noise was being made on Uighur Online, they are after all still representative, and [the site] advocated for openness, for discussion, for communication, and for learning from Uyghurs in the West (Kazakhs…). Uighur Online's closure stands to be a major watershed; the shutting down of channels that stood for communication and discussion just means that all the more people now will choose to cut themselves off, refuse to communicate, or even choose underground activities. People inland have lost the window which led straight to understanding what Uyghur people are thinking, and now will have no choice but to turn to research papers from those academics in the ivory towers to better understand the public sentiment there.

From Baidu to Bullog to small local BBS forums, the response has been strong, but it too is being silenced. On May 19 this post already had six pages of comments; on May 20 it is somehow now down to just four pages.

What surprises many Uighur Online users is that the website was even properly licensed, the excuse most often used by authorities to shut blogs and BBS websites down. Indeed, the ‘Crowd of Spectators Out of Control’ blogger, who writes about Xinjiang culture, mentions in a post late last month a conversation s/he had with the Uighur Online webmasters, retelling the absurdities the staff there went through recently in trying to report one UO user for inflaming racial hatred within the forums, and being kicked around like a football from police department to police department in Beijing and then back to the local internet supervision office, with none of them willing to address the situation.

Not to be mistaken as a sign of authorities’ unwillingness to punish people for alleged hate speech. Uighur Online's attraction was in that it tolerated occasionally offensive and hateful opinions as valid parts of discussion; its closure, aside from being illegal, now only demonstrates the short-sightedness of those responsible. As with any influential blog or BBS forum in China, Uighur Online's administrators were already in theory forced to censor any language which might alarm authorities. Now, all talks are off.

Well-known novelist Yao Xinyong, who writes on ethnic themes, in an essay published last fall, reprinted now on Gsoms Dong‘s Sohu blog, describes Uighur Online as such:

在这个论坛参与发帖讨论的人,有来自全国各地的维吾尔族、汉族、藏族、哈萨克、回族、朝鲜族等等;所涉及的论题涵盖面相当广,文化、政治、习俗、经济、文学等一应俱全;其视野所向,既立足于新疆本土,又放眼中国乃至世界。文章或发言,大都坦诚、直率、甚至激烈,但又相当理性,大都具有增进了解,促进不同族群之间团结的用心,网站的氛围非常好。这与网站主持者所秉持的观点有直接的关系――“我们可以斥责政府的过失,批判国家的弊端,揭露民族的弱点,但在发表的言语里请尊重自己的民族和祖国,这是最起码的”。正是本着这样的方针,他们一方面充分尊重网络发言的自由性,另一方面,又不断地删除非理性、破坏民族团结的帖子,屏蔽一再发表这类言词者的帐户。

The people who participate in this BBS and post messages are Uyghurs, Hans, Zangs, Kazakhs, Huis, Chaoxians and others, who come from all corners of the country; the wide variety of topics touched upon there include culture, politics, traditional customs, the economy, literature, anything you'd hope to find; its focus is primarily on Xinjiang, but it also looks to China and the world. In articles and speech, people are candid, free-speaking, even intense, but still relatively sensible, with everyone promoting understanding, earnestly seeking unity between different ethnic groups, and so the website has an exceptionally good vibe to it. This is directly related to the views held by its owners: “we can denounce the government for its faults, criticize the state for its abuses, and expose ethnic groups’ weak points, but in the things you publish here, please respect both your own ethnic group and the motherland, this is the most essential.” Such are the guidelines they have adopted: on one hand amply respecting online freedom of speech, and on the other, continuously deleting senseless threads which damage ethnic unity as well as locking down accounts which repeatedly post these kinds of words.

14 comments

  • Sonagi

    “On May 15, Uighur Online, the main online forum serving to bridge the huge communication gap between China’s Muslim population, other minority ethnic groups, and Han Chinese, was shut down. “

    This sentence implies that Uighurs are the only Muslim minority ethnic group, which, of course, is not true.

  • Therese

    Sonagi: Funny, I didn’t read it that way at all.

  • Sonagi

    It is an interesting story, BTW. Were comments posted in Chinese only or other languages, too, like Uighur or Kazahk?

  • Good question, Sonagi. Can anybody confirm this? From what I read in preparation for this post, it definitely appears to have supported other languages.

    Here’s more on the founder and CEO of the website, who sounds like a really amazing guy. I just got a response today from the contact e-mail address provided on the site, the person who responded sounds optimistic that the site will be able to resume operation shortly.

  • Eric hu

    The topic like this is truely pointless… how can you conclude by the temporalily closure of a website, thousands of people just suddenly shut up? man, we are living in 21st century. People in china are communicating with each other by qq, msn, mobile phone, skype,bloger besides tradisonal way of talking. Forum is only one of them and this website is one of countless in china. And some people claimed as you quote:

    “Uighur Online’s closure stands to be a major watershed; the shutting down of channels that stood for communication and discussion just means that all the more people now will choose to cut themselves off, refuse to communicate, or even choose underground activities. People inland have lost the window which led straight to understanding what Uyghur people are thinking, and now will have no choice but to turn to research papers from those academics in the ivory towers to better understand the public sentiment there.”

    This is nothing but freak.

    Following this kind of logic, I’d like to recommend another piece of news several days ago which was report by 凤凰网(http://news.ifeng.com/). It was reported the closure a populare publication named 旅游新报 (tourist guide). Is this may become a sign of ongoing chinese anti-tourism policy which chinese government soon would apply or another great evidence that people in chinese have no freedom of press to some people?

    The answer is simply not. The newspaper was closed because they reported the chinese earthquake by some bikini girls. I’m not quite sure whether people from different culture may be glad to see hot girls right next to a dying child lie in the ruin of his former home. This was complained by their readers as well as mostly of chinese people.
    They support this kind of closure too.
    http://news.ifeng.com/society/2/200805/0521_344_552598.shtml

    Hopefully we will see the misunderstanding from this piece of news.

  • Not long ago we saw daily TV pictures of mountain-like fires raging across Greece’s finest forests, threatening the lives of many (non-Muslim) people. Before that we saw here in Morocco fellow (Muslim) Moroccans bewailing the death of their loved ones who died in the Earthquakein the Al Hoceima region in the north of the country. Disaster does not strike the people of just one faith. It’s the same pains, the same feelings, but attitudes sometimes vary. I had once heard on the radio the story of a girl from Rwanda who had lost all her family in the genocide. I sympathized with her (through my ears), but that wasn’t as much as I felt when I saw with my own eyes on Moroccan TV a Moroccan man lying in hospital bed and thanking God, he who had lost 16 members of his family in the Al Hoceima earthquake. What would I then say of my own hardships compared to the lot of such a poor man? How could I dare to say that what happened to that man was because of his sins? Would I have the same amount of patience were I to undergo a similar hardship? I experienced the death of (only) my grand-mother nine years ago and then the death of (only) my father a little more than three months ago and felt how painful it was; what about losing all one’s family at once, overnight?

    Moralization is best when it comes out like a gentle breeze from within one’s soul, rather than when inflicted by a safe-and-sound preacher.

    Read more at

    http://kalamoha.blogspot.com/

  • Knights

    People like JK et al love stirring controversy. Well that’s what get the debate going right?

    People in China are NOT blind nor deaf, they always find ways to go around websites that are NOT available.

  • HC

    I don’t know this website before and I’m sure most of people around are just ignorant like me. Websites got mentioned massively by media and bloggers AFTER shutdown. Why didn’t they promote these websites BEFORE? Do they really care about what people say on the website or rather than the shuttingdown itself?

  • Rook

    HC: The reason they get publicity afterward is that beforehand it may have been an amazing website, but the shut down is what causes one of the biggest effects. The shutting down of this website is a big deal.

  • Zictor

    Eric,

    Your logic is faulty. No government has an anti-tourism policy. Some governments have isolationist policies, but that’s another thing.

    But many countries have censorship, especially dictatorships (such as, let’s say, China). They try to control the flow of information and ideas, and I even think most Chinese people support that.

    So, yes, even the temporary closure could be a wake up call on the webmasters to censor more or face permanent closure.

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