Chinese Freedom is an Illusion

by Patrick Nohrden

Note: Since this article was first published in 2004, world political and financial conditions have changed. Some things never change.

Three boys were dragged through the main entrance of Wen Feng, Nantong’s largest department store by two men in civilian clothes. Aged between 10 and 13 years old, any resistance the boys could have mustered would have been fruitless. They were dragged to the end of the porch area, still in full view of the many passers-by who were walking past on Nantong’s main shopping street, forming a crowd at the spectacle of the boys being beaten about their faces, shoved down to the ground, and kicked. They were made to crouch. The thirteen-year old tried to sit, but he was kicked in the head, chest, legs and arms until he resumed a crouching position. Each time one of the boys wavered, he was slapped on the side of the head. One boy was slapped for looking at one of the other boys.

I do not know what they did, but I was not about to watch any more of the unnecessary violence against these boys, as the scene had materialized within six or seven feet of me. A large crowd had gathered and the people were staring at the boys.

I was with somebody who could speak English, and I demanded that he immediately informed the two men “managing” the children that if they struck one of them again without good cause, I was going to kick his ass. Period. I did not care what the boys were accused of. The men were holding them pending the arrival of the police, who probably would have beaten them again at the police station.

I was visibly livid, and as I yelled my intentions at my escort, my finger was pointed directly in the face of the leader of the two men, the one inflicting the most abuse. He was looking at my finger. Within seconds, the two men corralled the boys and took the around the building out of my sight. I tried to follow, but I lost them in the crowd. I was not trying to be a hero, but I had seen enough. China or not China, sometimes you have to draw the line.

The boys looked a little different than the average Chinese. They were from Xinjiang in western China, an area that some people call East Turkistan, a predominately Muslim region that is dirt poor.

One of the Chinese people I was with tried to console me by explaining that the boys were probably accused of shoplifting. I asked how he knew that, and he answered because the boys were from Xinjiang. So? Apparently, the belief throughout most of China is that people from Xinjiang steal. They steal because they are poor and they do not hold jobs.

Interestingly, they are not allowed to hold jobs, except in Xinjiang, but there are no jobs in Xinjiang, so they move east hoping to find work. Because they are not where they are registered to live, they cannot have a job and their children cannot attend school. So they are still poor. The average working Xinjiang person sells barbecued mutton on the street. The others steal. They are not even considered Chinese, despite the fact that Xinjiang is in China. China does not like the fact that they are Muslim and refuse to renounce their religion, and the authorities have regular book burnings in Xinjiang when the number of copies of the Koran exceeds an acceptable limit.

In Xinjiang, there is an underground movement to separate from China. You may have heard of the “Free East Turkistan” movement, which raises much of the same clamor as the “Free Tibet” people, but does not get the same press. They have web sites, all of which are blocked in China. China will not let them leave, yet China does not want them to assimilate. They are not Chinese, and they are not treated as Chinese.

I am not trying to rationalize criminal conduct by anybody, children or otherwise. But I find it abhorrent that any country can treat its own citizens differently simply because of the way they look. China continues to criticize the United States’ record on civil rights and discrimination. Every year, immediately after the United States releases its report on human rights abuses in China, China publishes its own “report” on America, always citing our history and ignoring the present. The United States has taken a look at itself, admitted its problem, and has taken great steps to improve it. China cannot do that without losing face. China will continue to beat children in public spectacles because they are from Xinjiang.

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