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The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor responds on “peacetime”

It occurred to me that I’ve been wasting my time grumbling on this blog (here and here) about journalists and politicians who describe the current age in Britain as “peacetime” when we are at war in Afghanistan. Not because I think it’s a non-issue, but because my mutterings here won’t make any difference.

So I sent an email (a polite one) to Chris Elliott, The Guardian’s Reader’s Editor. He agreed with me and wrote about it in his Open Door column on Monday. (The readers’ editor on … ‘peacetime’, and a new way of defining the current era)

Why do politicians and journalists in Britain like the word “peacetime” so much? For politicians, it’s mostly a rhetorical device. For journalists it’s often to save precious space - it’s shorter than “since the Second World War”. Strangely, Americans don’t use it very much in this context, perhaps because so many of their leaders and pundits like to say that they are at war to defend themselves against an existential threat. One of George W Bush’s favourite phrases was “I’m a wartime president”. His administration used the “War on Terror”, including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, to justify a massive expansion of military spending and an assault on civil liberties.

Britain has gone along with all of this, being a willing partner in violence against other countries, complicit in torture and increasing the power of the state over its citizens. But our politicians, and now many of our journalists, are able to compartmentalize this violence. The conflict is ‘over there’, while we go about our normal business ‘over here’. We have more important things to worry about: jobs are at risk, salaries and benefits are being frozen or cut, social spending is being axed. We worry about whether we can pay our mortgages, rent and bills.

The problem with this compartmentalization is that these two things are related. We have a massive budget deficit and we have squandered vast amounts of wealth on completely unnecessary wars. If we had not wasted so much of our money on increasing our ability to inflict violence against others, we would have been able to spend it on useful things - like hospitals, schools and pension funds. The economic crisis may have been caused by greedy bankers and their friends in government, but it was exacerbated by our propensity for war. The government tells us it has to “reduce Britain’s record peacetime budget deficit” with the “biggest cuts in peacetime”. But we are not at peace, and haven’t been for most of the last decade.

A significant majority of Britons are opposed to our military involvement in Afghanistan. The same is true of Americans and the citizens of almost all the other NATO countries who have sent troops there. The problem is we don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it. We just let our politicians ignore our opinions and carry on as normal.

At the general election in May, we were presented with virtually no choice at all. Unlike Scotland and Wales, all three of the main political parties in England supported the conflict in Afghanistan. In my constituency the only two parties that reflected British opinion on this issue were the far-right BNP and the left-leaning Green Party. I voted for the latter. Neither of these parties stood any chance of winning more than one seat in parliament (fortunately, the BNP failed to achieve even that).

So now our politicians get on with doing whatever they want, ignoring us or manipulating us with PR slogans, while we do nothing to stop them. This is not democracy.

We will never have democracy in Britain, America or anywhere else unless we take action. And that brings me back to my complaint about the word “peacetime”. This may seem like pedantry but, like an alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge his addiction, unless we call a thing by its proper name we will never do anything about it.

More war amnesia

Some very confused writing by Larry Elliott and Tom Clark in The Guardian today, implying that the British haven’t fought a war since 1945. Someone also has a strange understanding of the word “strong”.

First paragraph:

David Cameron’s first 100 days in Downing Street have seen the coalition win the key argument over the economy, with a Guardian/ICM poll today showing that voters back austerity measures to reduce Britain’s record peacetime budget deficit.

That deficit is being tackled by “the most sustained cut in public spending since the war.”

Which war? The ongoing war in Afghanistan (nearly nine years and counting)? The invasion and occupation of Iraq? The bombing of Yugoslavia? The 1991 Gulf War? The Falklands War? The Korean War? No.

Apparently we are only at war if we have conscription and bombs are falling on us here at home. If its our bombs being dropped on other people, it doesn’t seem to count.

The article’s sub-headline reads:

Guardian/ICM poll to mark 100 days of coalition shows strong support for government’s cuts-based recovery strategy

How strong?

… 44% of those polled said the coalition was doing a good job in securing economic recovery against 37% who said it was doing a bad job.

That really doesn’t seem very strong to me. Unlike another poll published this week:

Angus Reid Public Opinion reported only 33 percent of the 2009 adults surveyed in August said they support the use of British forces in Afghanistan, a drop of 5 percentage points since June. More than half, 57 percent, said they oppose the mission.

Americans are just as strong in their opposition to the war. Sixty two percent of them say they’re against it. And according to a ComRes poll last November, 71% of British voters wanted an end to combat missions in Afghanistan within 12 months.

But British and American voters are clearly confused. There hasn’t been a war for 65 years.

War is peace - government and media doublethink in Britain

Doublethink: “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…”

Britain is simultaneously at war in Afghanistan (we’ve now been there longer than the Soviet Union) and in a state of peace. The previous government said so. The new government says so. The media? Yes, they say so too. Doublethink is alive and well in Britain. War is peace.

Recent example: Prime Minister David Cameron proudly told parliament on May 25: “For the first time since the Korean war, the Government has changed hands while our troops are at war.” Eleven minutes later, in the same prepared speech, he berated the previous Labour government: “They promised us prudence, but they left us with the largest UK budget deficit in peacetime history.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander went one better last week, contradicting himself in the very next sentence when he told parliament:

We have approved funding for […] crucial equipment for military operations in Afghanistan. The House will be aware, however, that as a country today we have the biggest peacetime budget deficit in our country.

What about the media? Well, we could start with Jon Snow presenting Channel 4 News this week:

    Jon Snow on Monday: “So, another grim milestone in this long, long war is reached.”
    Jon Snow on Tuesday: “Tonight we’ll have the full details of one of the most draconian budgets outside war.”

I don’t mean to pick on Jon Snow since he’s hardly alone. Everyone’s at it. How does this happen? How have so many people, who have almost certainly read 1984 and probably even quote from it in all seriousness and sincerity, come to believe that war is peace, while also knowing that this cannot be true?

“… to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then draw it back into memory again at the moment it was needed, and then promptly forget it again…”

Here are just a few of the vast number of British media contradictions on this theme with only two quotes from each of a variety of newspapers and magazines across the political spectrum:

The Daily Telegraph:

We are burdened with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history…

The Daily Telegraph:

The Stop The War Coalition and CND will protest in Parliament Square to highlight the escalating death rate and cost of the war.

The Guardian:

Higher taxes, swingeing spending cuts and deep savings in welfare were announced by George Osborne today in a £40bn austerity package, designed to fast-track the elimination of Britain’s record peacetime budget deficit.

The Guardian:

Earlier today, the father of the 300th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan said he wanted a personal explanation from the prime minister as to why Britain was fighting the war.

The Independent:

Never before in peacetime has the public sector seen budgets reduced every year for six years.

The Independent:

It’s hard to see how General McChrystal, however important his role at this critical juncture in the Afghan war, can escape similar punishment.

The Times:

Mr Alexander, who is 38 and MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey, was well known to the Tories, because he was put in charge of building the first peacetime coalition since the 1930s.

The Times:

Britain’s top commander in Afghanistan today urges the public to “hold its nerve” during a critical year for the war as the British death toll reached the milestone of 300.

Daily Mail:

The Liberal Democrat leader is weighing up a chance to put his party in peacetime power for the first time in 90 years…

Daily Mail:

Britain’s envoy to Afghanistan has left his post for a period of ‘extended leave’ just as the war enters its ‘vital’ stage.

The Sun:

Labour BRAGS that yesterday’s pathetic growth figures for the British economy are a “hugely optimistic moment”, not mentioning that on their watch Britain has its biggest peacetime deficit EVER.

The Sun:

Over coming weeks the city will witness one of the biggest military operations of the Afghan war as the US-led forces try to smash the Taliban for good.

Daily Mirror:

Meanwhile, in the real world, we’re all being forced to tighten our belts. It’s about as dire as it can get in peacetime, yet, without any apparent forethought, the Queen’s advisors tell us she can no longer make ends meet.

Daily Mirror:

Now we are told that terrorism in Britain is held back because of our war in Afghanistan. That’s a lie, too.

Morning Star:

Millionaire Prime Minister David Cameron has launched one of the worst-ever peacetime assaults on the British people.

Morning Star:

The total British cost of the bloody war in Afghanistan and Iraq has passed a massive £20 billion, official figures show.


The next government will be faced with some of the most difficult problems in peacetime history.


Tory support for the Afghan war is based on the assumption that it is stabilising the benighted region, forcing jihadism to become nomadic and improving global security.

New Statesman:

The facts of this case are clear: the ex-banker tasked with cutting Britain’s biggest peacetime Budget deficit handed more than £40,000 of taxpayers’ money to his boyfriend…

New Statesman:

We know that Afghanistan is unsafe and war-torn, because it is a war that we are fighting.

The Economist:

From the outset Britain’s new coalition government has said that its main task is to tackle the yawning fiscal deficit, which hit a peacetime record of 11.1% of GDP in 2009-10.

The Economist:

To British critics of the war, this is the time to start withdrawing British forces after the loss of 290 men and women, and the maiming of hundreds more, for little obvious gain.

Goodbye Joan Hinton

I never thought I’d be grateful to George Bush and Tony Blair for anything. But there is just one thing I could thank them for. It was the struggle against their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 that brought me together with some of the extraordinary people who were my friends in Beijing, without whom my life would have been much poorer. One of these people was Joan Hinton, who died at the age of 88 earlier this week. She will be greatly missed.

I’ll leave it to others to write about Joan’s life as a nuclear physicist, revolutionary and farmer, and confine myself to one short anecdote from the book Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits that neatly illustrates her fearlessness and almost total lack of respect for authority:

Perhaps the person who appreciated her the least, even less so than Fengfeng, was the guy in charge of security in the village, Wang Yuwen, the chief of police. Standing obliviously on a hill with the family, explaining seriously that there were certain things that women just couldn’t do, he suddenly found himself grabbed by the ankles and thrown to the ground.

The enormity of the loss of face that Joan caused the chief of police with her Shady Hill style wrestling technique is difficult to measure. Suffice to say that some 20 years later, when Joan and Sid returned to Dazhai to visit old friends, Wang Yuwen was still completely stone faced when the story was recounted to the amusement of everyone else in the room.

Here’s one article, mostly in her own words, that gives a sense of her spirit:

joan-1.jpg joan-2.jpg
(click thumbnails to read)

Goodbye Joan.

Another political turd from the British media

It really shouldn’t surprise me by now, and yet it does every time: just how little respect British newspapers have for their readers.

Today’s front page “exclusive” in the Observer:


How serious are the revelations in this memo? Serious enough to potentially derail the Tories’ efforts to form a government. Or so the Observer would have us believe:

David Cameron’s hopes of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats were dramatically undermined last night by the leaking of a top-secret letter outlining the hardline Eurosceptic stance he and William Hague planned to adopt in government.

There’s just one problem with this letter’s Shock! Horror! revelations: the memo doesn’t reveal anything new at all because everything in it was clearly spelled out in the Tories’ election manifesto and repeated frequently on the campaign trail.

The Observer:

Exposing the massive gulf between Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Conservative leadership on Europe, Hague says he would demand the right to repatriate powers over criminal justice as well as social and employment policy during the first term of a Tory government – demands many EU leaders say they would resist.

Tory Manifesto:

The steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives has gone too far. A Conservative government will negotiate for three specific guarantees – on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, on criminal justice, and on social and employment legislation – with our European partners to return powers that we believe should reside with the UK, not the EU. We seek a mandate to negotiate the return of these powers from the EU to the UK.

The Observer:

Hague planned to tell his EU counterparts: “Rest assured that we seek engagement, not confrontation. But our aim is to achieve these commitments during this parliament.” He would also tell his first foreign ministers’ meeting “we will never join the euro” and conclude: “You will find us firm but fair, playing a leading role, fighting our corner, practical and straight-talking.”

Tory Manifesto:

A Conservative government would never take the UK into the Euro. Our amendment to the 1972 Act will prevent any future government from doing so without a referendum.

Several (equally unappealing) possibilities:

1) the reporters and editors at the Observer didn’t bother to read the Tory manifesto in the run-up to the election or listen to any of the campaign speeches;

2) the reporters and editors did both of these things, but assume that the Liberal Democrats didn’t;

3) the reporters and editors assume that their readers have the attention span of a gnat and can’t remember anything we read or heard last week.

Tweet not tweet - Hu Jintao’s non-microblog

A whole lot of people must have been smoking too many fireworks during the Spring Festival holidays. Newspapers and TV stations all over the place have been chattering with great excitement about President Hu Jintao’s supposedly genuine People’s Daily microblog. (A few examples in Chinese; and some more in English).

In his profile, “Hu Jintao” describes himself as “General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, President of the State and Chairman of the Central Military Commission”. But he couldn’t find a photograph of himself and so far he hasn’t been able to think of anything to say.

OK. Right. So, in order to believe that this really was (it already seems to be in the past tense) Hu Jintao’s microblog, let’s just think about what else we have to believe. A man whose public appearances and utterances are all carefully stage-managed to ensure that nothing whatsoever can go wrong and the correct impression is always given has now decided to use this default picture as his avatar:


Compare that with Barack Obama’s Twitter page and ask yourself: is it likely that the leader of China, a country that takes appearances very, very seriously, will deliberately embarrass that country by representing himself as nerdy lightbulb? If that’s true, I’ll eat my cat.

The People’s Daily supposedly verified that Hu Jintao’s account was genuine. They can’t have verified it very well. Oh, and by the way, the account appears to have been deleted. Maybe President Hu finally broke his silence, but his first tweet was so illegal they closed him down. Or maybe he gave up trying to come up with a 150-character statement and decided microblogging is just too hard. Not all that likely.

(If I’m wrong about the account being deleted, let me know. My cat doesn’t know that his life is at stake.)

Update: The cat will be relieved to know that he will not be eaten today. It turns out that the People’s Daily Online had automatically generated microblog accounts for all of its Strong Country forum VIP guests, which included Hu Jintao. Hu’s Strong Country forum account had been set up for his brief, and rather boring, interaction with netizens one day in June 2008 which consisted of five comments. So the microblog was “real”, but not. And now it’s gone.

Gladys Yang

I never knew Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi. I had their old sofa but that doesn’t really count, does it? They died ten years apart, almost to the day: November 18, 1999 and November 23, 2009.


Yang Xianyi died a month after I left China. Gladys died the year I arrived. Back then I was working for the Foreign Languages Press where, years earlier, they had translated so many of the books and stories from China that I had read as a student. When Gladys died, a colleague gave me an article about her clipped from the Beijing Evening News. I found it again in a dusty folder the night before I left Beijing. You find a lot of things you’d forgotten you had when you’re throwing out a decade of accumulated junk before you move.

“Keep it,” I thought. “You might want to translate it one day.” A month later, with the passing of her husband, now seemed a good enough time for that. But, as is often the case, other things got in the way so it’s been a bit delayed.

There have been a number of obituaries of Yang Xianyi (John Gittings’ one in the Guardian seems as good as any) and there were a number of obituaries of Gladys Yang when she died ten years ago. In the Chinese press, there are some things which cannot be printed, no matter how strongly they are felt. The most obvious is the Yangs’ angry and outspoken opposition to the coup d’etat and massacre of 1989. As a new, younger generation grows up in China with little knowledge of those events, it’s worth remembering that the Yangs’ position was the majority opinion at that time, no matter how much Deng Xiaoping’s successors might want us to believe otherwise.

It’s also worth heading over to Philip Cunningham’s account of dinner, drinks and political discussion with the Yangs during the student movement in May 1989. There’s a rather nice picture there of Gladys and Xianyi playfully insulting each other as they sat on the two burgundy armchairs that were once part of a set with my old sofa.

I’ve scanned the Beijing Evening News obituary of Gladys, written by Ji Hong, and posted it on Page Two if you want to read the original text in Chinese. If you do, you’ll notice on the right there is a poem written by Shao Yanxiang for Gladys and Xianyi’s golden wedding anniversary. As I’ve said before, translating poetry is way beyond my limited ability, so I’m not even going to try. Perhaps someone else, with more talent than me, would like to do it.

A golden heart can never change
Ji Hong
In memory of the translator Madame Gladys Yang

Midnight on November 17 was truly a moment when an old day gave way to the new. The renowned translator Madame Gladys Yang departed the world that she loved; and departed the countless readers who loved her. Within a few short hours this sad news spread rapidly around the world and, one after another, people phoned her husband Yang Xianyi to express their deep grief.

gladys-yang.jpgTwelve days earlier, on November 5, Huang Miaozi and his wife Yu Feng, Shao Yanxiang and his wife Xie Wenxiu, Li Huixiong and I arranged to go to the Friendship Hotel to visit Mr. Yang Xianyi. Gladys Yang’s illness had worsened that day and her fever had reached 39C. Mr. Yang, calm and considerate as ever, had prepared good wine and food, but we knew how troubled and heavy his heart must be. Usually, Gladys Yang would sit on one side and listen with a smile to friends chatting about anything and everything. Sometimes the atmosphere of the conversation would become especially dynamic because of her humorous interjections. Maybe it was because she was a translator that she could always choose the most appropriate and lively words to express her opinion. Once, when everyone was discussing the Great Leap Forward, Gladys Yang said, “the leaders at that time wanted me to double my production too.” [a pun: 翻一翻, do some translation; and 翻一番, increase twofold.] This clever wordplay caused a wave of laughter. But now Gladys was lying in hospital! Mr. Yang dug out a portrait of Gladys that Yu Feng had painted ten years earlier and placed it by the chair. His inability to express in words what he felt about Gladys infected everyone there. To lighten the atmosphere a little, Yu Feng said she couldn’t believe she had once painted such a vivid and lifelike image of Gladys. She said, and not without a little pride, “Look. Look at that hair. Hmm, it’s painted well! It’s painted well!” At the top of the painting, Yu Feng had written the title: “Golden hair has turned to white, but a golden heart can never change.” Everyone said these words were truly apt.

Together, Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi translated A Dream of Red Mansions, The Scholars, Selected Works of Lu Xun and other famous works of Chinese literature which have become established translation classics, attracting global acclaim for China’s translation work. Gladys Yang also translated many works by modern writers into English. With her great sense of responsibility and outstanding linguistic ability, she expanded the influence of Chinese literature in the world. On this point alone one can say without any exaggeration that she played an irreplaceable role. Like Mr. Yang Xianyi, she selflessly and untiringly labored to be a good intellectual performing her rightful duty for the people and the country. For her, when it came to work, there was never any question of bargaining over money — she devoted her whole life to China; what price could one put on that? But she herself was certainly priceless.

During the Cultural Revolution, Gladys Yang was labeled a “British spy” and imprisoned for four long years. Her beloved son was driven mad and later sadly died an unnatural death. These disasters inflicted heavy wounds on her heart. However, when someone had the affront to ask her, “If you really love China, why haven’t you renounced your British citizenship?” Gladys Yang replied angrily, “The fact that I love China does not mean I don’t love Britain. What kind of party member are you? You’ve no internationalism whatsoever!”

This word “internationalism” occupied an extremely important place in her mind, and others might find it hard to understand. At the beginning of October this year I saw Bai Xia (Pat) at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Oriental Studies. This Scottish lady was once an expert at the China Literature Press at the Waiwenju. In 1974, Bai Xia was a young girl of around 20. She was fretting over what she would end up doing for a job when she had the good fortune to meet Gladys Yang who had returned to Britain to visit her family. Gladys Yang had not long been released from prison and the Cultural Revolution was still not over. Surprisingly, however, Gladys Yang advised Bai Xia to come and work in China. She said China was still very poor but there was hope and the Cultural Revolution could not be sustained for long. She did not say a word about the persecution she had personally suffered from the Cultural Revolution “She did not utter a word of complaint,” maintaining full confidence in China’s prospects. She had foresight and the only way I can understand what the word “patriotism” (loving the country) means for her is that “country” can mean both China and Britain; it is synonymous with “the people” and synonymous with “internationalism.” Bai Xia said she was inspired by Gladys Yang’s moral strength and spirit of internationalism.

On January 19 this year, on Gladys Yang’s 80th birthday, all her colleagues at China Literature Press signed a letter to her written with deep affection: “Dear and respected Madame Gladys Yang, China is your second homeland. You have spent three quarters of your life in this ancient land, from a beautiful young girl of 20 to an elderly white-haired lady of 80. Many long years have been poured into the great number of works you have translated and your illustrious fame will remain stored in the memory of the Chinese people.” “You are a living, female Norman Bethune, working at the front line of culture.” Those who attended the birthday celebration still remember clearly Gladys Yang’s response. With a faint voice she simply said, “How can I be that good?” Everyone replied with enthusiastic applause.

During the Cultural Revolution Yu Feng was also put in prison. One day she discovered that Gladys Yang was locked up in the same place. No one told Yu Feng she was so close, nor did she see her with her own eyes. Sitting in front of the painting of Gladys Yang, Yu Feng recalled, “At that time, and in that particular environment, only Gladys Yang still insisted on saying ‘thank you.’ When I heard these two words, I knew: that’s definitely Gladys. And it was.”

Gladys Yang has peacefully departed. Now it is our turn to say our final words to this internationalist warrior: “Thank you!”

May she rest in peace.

November 18, 1999


A room with a view

As far as I know, no one is planning to build an office block two feet away from the windows of my new flat.


In my last brief blog note I mentioned that I was moving. What I didn’t say was that I was moving 5,000 miles away to the east coast of England. After 11 years in China, I am now back for the forseeable future. This means that my About page is now not only highly uninformative, it is also untrue. One day I’ll get around to changing it. And one day my gravestone will be carved with the words: “He didn’t.”

A proper explanation for this rather big change may or may not be forthcoming. What effect will it have on Black and White Cat? Will it stop being about China and become an England blog. I hope not, but to be honest, I have no idea.

One thing I really must do now is apologize (at some point I will probably revert to British spelling, but not yet) to those who keep coming back to see if I’ve written anything new, only to find the same damned picture of a window. Sorry. Something will be coming soon. Well, soon-ish. Some time before Christmas.

They built something outside my flat


Half of it seems to have ended up on my window. How close is that building that wasn’t there a few months ago? This close:


There isn’t much light in my living room anymore. Good job I’m moving, really.

Sorry, your ethnic group can’t use the internet

Translated from a blog post by 27-year-old Uighur photographer Kuerbanjiang Saimaiti during the National Day holiday:

The people of Xinjiang are “welcome” throughout the country
Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yesterday I arrived here in Shenyang for the first time, and for the first time experienced the “warm” hospitality of the people of Shenyang. Because of this “warmth” I nearly had to sleep by the side of the road last night.

I was exhausted after a day of hard work and started to look for a hotel. The result was more than three hours of unnecessary hassle with no hotel allowing me to stay. When I phoned to book a room, they all said they had vacancies, but when I got to the hotel service desk the clerks would tell me boldly, as if it was perfectly right to do so, “We don’t accept Uighurs here”! Even after I’d produced all my documents, they still refused. I asked them who had ordered this. They said the Public Security Bureau. That really is going too far! I went to many hotels and everyone’s attitude was just as firm, looking at me as if I was a criminal! There was absolutely no goodwill in their eyes. Originally, I thought this was a pretty good city but now I was really disappointed with it!!! In the end, I made them get someone from the local Public Security Bureau and they made multiple photocopies of all my documents. They seemed to suspect my papers were forged…. I tried everything I could to persuade them and finally managed to get them to let me stay. I used my mobile phone to record their conversation with the person from the PSB and originally planned to put the recording here for everyone to hear. But then I thought that really isn’t necessary. Maybe trying to understand their point of view was the only way I could console myself at the time. I can be understanding about this incident, but if other people were in my place would they? What on Earth kind of good can this kind of behavior do? How long will this kind of situation go on? At least I understand Han Chinese and I could communicate with them. If this happened to people who had just come out of Xinjiang on business, or to tourists, would they really have had to just sleep by the side of the road? Could the national government really make regulations like this? I think it’s just that the local government’s way of doing things and thinking is excessively shallow.

I lay on the bed for a while to calm down and calmly and carefully thought about it. Actually, the attitude of these staff during this period is understandable. But isn’t the Shenyang government’s extreme targeting like this worth reflecting on? Another funny thing happened to me this morning. I had to send an email back for work so I found an internet cafe near the hotel and went up to the service counter.

“I need to use the internet. How much is the deposit, please?”
“Ten yuan,” the clerk said straight away without looking up. “I need to see your ID card.”
I got out my ID and said, “Here you are.”
“Sorry, your ethnic group can’t use the internet.”
“Why not?”
“State regulations.”

There was nothing I could do but laugh about it and leave. I went to another internet cafe and the reply was the same….

The blogger soon deleted that post (for now, at least there’s a copy here) and wrote this follow up:

We will always be one family!
Monday, October 5, 2009

Several days ago, something funny happened to me when I went to Shenyang and I simply wrote down what I felt about it at the time. I never thought that in just one day the hit rate would soar to more than 2,000. I’m really grateful to all the friendly people who showed concern for me. You made me feel the warmth of our big family! What I really had never expected was that all those bored people overseas who earn fifty cents for a post would repost what I’d written over and over again on foreign websites stirring up a whole lot of unnecessary comments. I really am furious about this. At the time, I used gentle words to describe my feelings and I pointed out that after the incident I could completely understand the attitude of the clerks. This was just a fault in the work of the local government and it doesn’t represent the views of our whole country! We can’t narrow-mindedly look at one part and allow it to pollute the whole environment. My original intention was to stress that Uighurs are one of the 56 ethnic groups in our great Chinese nation. We will never split away! We can never be parted! At the end of the year, I’m going to put on a big photographic exhibition which will display Uighurs’ cultural history and beautiful scenery! What I want to express is that Xinjiang has been a part of China since ancient times! The reason I’ve put so much effort into this is because I want, through my own meager efforts, to reduce misunderstandings a little bit, and create a little understanding, using pictures and words to draw us closer together! Once again, I want to stress that we should fully oppose the actions of those bored people overseas and I hope you will not use an individual like me to stir up trouble. I am an individual who deeply loves his country, his ethnic group and his homeland. Whatever your political aims or political organization, you should have a good think about your actions. Finally, I want to say, as a Chinese person, we should be proud of how glorious our country is now!!! Whatever ethnic group in China you are from, we will always be one family! Whatever corner of the Earth you are in, please don’t forget that our mother is China!!!

It’s hard to tell how widespread Kuerbanjiang’s experience in Shenyang was during the National Day holidays. There were scattered allegations on the internet of hotels refusing Uighurs in other parts of China, one of them in Anhui, but they were quickly deleted.

A similar situation existed in Beijing last year in the run-up to the Olympics.

On May 9, 2008, several Han and Uighurs went to five hotels near Beijing West Station and the Minzu University of China (previously known in English as the Central University of Nationalities). In each of the hotels, Han were offered a choice of rooms. Uighurs were refused in all of them. Mostly, the excuse given was that there were no vacancies. In one case the Uighur was told he couldn’t stay in the hotel because the computer scanner was broken so they couldn’t process his ID card. This problem mysteriously resolved itself for the Han guest whose card was swiped immediately. When the Han customer asked the hotel staff how the machine had managed to fix itself, the reply was that it only applied to “that person” (the Uighur), “not to us” (Han).

The next day, the group went to 20 hotels and guest houses in Beijing’s Haidian, Shijingshan, Fengshan and Xuanwu districts to ask if they would accept Uighur guests. Only eight of the 20 said yes. Of those eight, only the Shangrila said yes without any hesitation. The other seven said yes only after careful consideration, and many of them also said that the Uighur guests would have to be prepared to be investigated.

The cause of this reticence was discovered after the Olympics. Police had told all hotels that any Uighur or Tibetan guests must immediately be reported. The New Dominion translated one such notice issued by the Public Security Bureau:

To all inns and bathhouses of the administrative district:

In compliance with a request from the local PSB substation, starting today, investigations will be carried out on the lodging circumstances of all individuals of “Tibetan” and “Uyghur” ethnicity residing at inns and bathhouses of the Haidian District. Reinforce inspection and verification of any lodger matching the description above and report all cases to the local dispatch station.

Furthermore: every inn and bathhouse, when registering travelers, must double-check and accurately fill out the registration form.

All who receive Tibetan or Uyghur individuals for lodging must immediately report to the local dispatch station.

Officer to Contact: Wu Hu Cell Phone: 13801093916

Huayuan Dispatch Station On-Call Phone Numbers: 62014692 62032656

So, it appeared that there was no ban on Uighurs or Tibetans staying in any of the hotels in Beijing, but accepting them as guests would result in a whole lot of hassle. It was much easier to just lie and say they were fully booked. This may have been what happened in Shenyang at the beginning of this month. However, in his original blog post Kuerbanjiang said he was told immediately and explicitly that they did not accept Uighurs, suggesting that the police really may have ordered a ban.

Security is one thing. But if you want to encourage resentment, give ammunition to your enemies and encourage separatism, this is a pretty good way to go about it. Not everyone is as understanding as Kuerbanjiang Saimaiti.

(See also, from The New Dominion: The Uyghur Civil Rights Movement: No Uyghurs in our Hotel and Uyghurs Speak Out on Hotel Restrictions. And also: A Day of Pain, describing a Tibetan’s experience in Beijing in April last year. This is the sort of thing that tips some people over the edge.)

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that China Digital Times has also translated the first of Kuerbanjiang’s posts, so you can compare our translations if you want. There are differences, but it’s funny to see how much is the same.