TrueXinjiang.com is a Web site that appeals instantly to the western eye. The site, designed specifically to disseminate a Han-Chinese version of life in the remote autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, is free of many of the displeasing characteristics, such as clutter and endless pop-up ads, found on Chinese Web sites. This English-only site, a subsidiary of Global Times, which is in turn a subsidiary of the Communist Party-sponsored People’s daily, lacks even a Chinese Language version, leading Western viewers to the conclusion that the site is exclusively maintained for them.
TrueXinjiang.com, launched Jul. 13, 2009, less than a week after unrest left 197 dead in the region’s capital Urumqi, features articles about the recent unrest and ensuing judicial aftermath, as well as opinion pieces by unnamed Han residents, glorifying their homeland.
Creators of the Web site describe it in the “about us” feature on the True Xinjiang homepage:
The site is the largest portal on Xinjiang in English language and aims to present everyone a true picture of this autonomous region in Northwest China. Through this portal, aspects of Xinjiang rarely known to the outside world have a chance to highlight their charms. It covers culture, religion, travel and latest developments in Xinjiang with voices from both authorities and individuals.
Information on the “July 5th incident”, in which Xinjiang’s most populace minority, the Uighur, killed 197 Urumqi residents, is in abundance. A column dedicated to news on the unrest sits at the top of the homepage. There’s no lack of information on Rebiya Kadeer either. Kadeer, chairwoman of both the World Uighur Congress and the Uighur American Association, is accused by the Chinese government of orchestrating the violence on Jul. 5 via her home in the Washington, D.C. area. Kadeer denies the charges.
Keeping in line with all other Chinese media, debate as to the nature of Kadeer’s intentions is non-existent in articles at True Xinjiang:
[Kadeer] was colluding with leaders of terrorist, secessionist, extremist, and criminal organizations. She was organizing and plotting activities that aim to split China.
In response to Kadeer’s claim that the Uighur’s situation resembled that of African-Americans before 1955, an article titled “Piercing Through Rabiya’s Veil” seeks to paint a picture of harmony among ethnic minorities:
…in no way have the Uygurs experienced these kinds of things, or any similar discrimination. Anyone who does not believe this can just go around China and will see the Hans and the Uygurs rubbing shoulders with each other, especially in Xinjiang.
Many of the articles at truexinjiang.com, all of which give no credit of authorship, give the reader the sense that Xinjiang is not the region of ethnic tension that Western media have made it out to be. The term ‘Han’ refers to Chinese largest ethnic group. The Han, who make up 92% of the population, dominate most aspects of Chinese society. Often compared to the situation in Tibet, ethnic tension in Xinjiang is commonly attributed to the influx of Han into the region since its formal incorporation into the People’s Republic of China in 1955. Han now compose 40% of the population in Xinjiang, up from less than 10% before 1949.
A shuffling photo display on the True Xinjiang homepage shows China premier Wen Jiabao embracing an elderly Uighur farmer who lost family in an earthquake in 2003. Another photo demonstrates the leisurely demeanor of weekends in Urumqi: two Uighur women pedal a buggy down a park lane.
One columns featured on the site sheds the formal drape of newsworthy information and gives readers a sense of what life in Xinjiang is really like—for Han Chinese, that is. Xinjiang: My Hometown provides a few quick opinion pieces about Han residents’ sense of home in the region—again lacking authorship:
I come from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. But when I told it to my new friends, most of them was very surprising, ‘what? You are from Xinjiang. But you didn't look like a girl who comes from Xinjiang.’ Yes, it is true. Of course, I'm a Han nationality. However, I cannot understand why I must look like a Xinjiang's girl?
Another column, Xinjiang in My Eyes, depicts the region as a safe destination for travel and business in the eyes of foreigners. In this article titled “Japanese Bar Owner: Bar example of Ethnic Unity”, a Japanese bar owners explains how his kitchen is a kettle of inter-ethnic harmony:
‘Our kitchen is a good example of unity. Our Han chefs are learning from Uygur colleagues how to make Uygur dishes while the Han chef is teaching our Uygur staff how to cook Sichuan food. We call that very beneficial,’ said [the bar owner], who said he was attracted by the mixed culture in Urumqi and he is learning the Uygur language.
One feature not to be taken as blatant propaganda is the addressing some hot issues on the minds of Xinjiang residents. The Internet blackout, enacted by the government since the unrest in July, has taken heavy tolls on business in the region. Truexinjiang.com gives voice to the issue, and not necessarily at the behest of the government. Two businessmen describe the inconveniences of running a business without internet access in an article titled “Missing Link”:
‘To carry on my business, I had no choice but to set up a new office in Dunhuang, which is the closest town to Urumqi in Gansu province and has added to my costs. No Internet means no income for me,’ said Li Nan, who sells dried fruit online. ‘Dunhuang has become a holy place for businessmen like me, although it takes 14 hours to get here from Urumqi by train.’
“‘Xinjiang needs the Internet. The region is already less developed (than other parts of the country) and cutting off the Net only make things worse. Imagine how many businesses could be lost because of the ban,’ said Jurat Hamiti, a 30-year-old businessman. ‘The region's economic development is just as important as stopping terrorists.’
An interview with Jiang Zhaoyong, a current affairs commentator based in Beijing, sheds some light on Han-Uighur ethnic tensions:
Undoubtedly, tensions and grudges exist between the two ethnic groups. Each has its own internal identity, and there is an division between the two ethnic groups… In recent decades, the sense of frustration, deprivation and hatred among Uygur is actually caused by China’s development mode, characterized by an overly rapid modernization process and pace of social change.
Yet for a site that claims to represent the reality of the autonomous region, one would expect some editorializing from the native ethnicities’ perspective. Unfortunately truexinjiang.com hasn’t given a voice to the Uighur population, or any other of the 13 native ethnic groups who call the province home. These voices are inseparable from a clear representation of the region.