The Western media have turned the world's attention on the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. But some "facts" are missing from the flood of reports they have been filed after the July 5 Urumqi riots to "facilitate the West's understanding about the region".
These missing materials will misguide people who are not familiar with the history of China. For instance, the "Facts about China's Xinjiang region" filed by a news agency says Xinjiang has a population of 20 million, "8 million of them Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim ethnic group".
What the report does not say is that there are 47 ethnic groups in Xinjiang, many of whom don't speak Uygur but have lived in the region for as long as, if not longer than, the Uygurs.
The White Paper on the History and Development of Xinjiang, issued by the State Council Information Office on May 26, 2003, puts the facts in proper perspective: "Since ancient times, Xinjiang has been inhabited by many ethnic groups who believe in a number of religions," and "it has been a multi-ethnic region since ancient times."
The word Uygur in the name of the region does not mean it is exclusively for one ethnic group. The region belongs not only to members of all ethnic groups living in Xinjiang, but also to all Chinese people. This is as true as the fact that China does not belong only to Han Chinese. It is the motherland of all the 56 ethic groups that make up the Chinese nation.
Some history books say Xinjiang "became a formal part of China under the last imperial dynasty in the 19th century". Such sources neglect the historical fact that the Chinese central government began exercising political and military control over the region more than 2,000 years ago -- in 60 BC, to be precise, during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). Since then succeeding governments of the numerous dynasties maintained their administration over the region in one form or other.
The fact is that the region was never granted autonomy in the name of any ethnic minority until the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was established in 1955, and it comprised a number of autonomous prefectures and counties for other ethnic minorities, including Hui, Kazakh, Mongolian, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Xibo.
The "facts" some Western media provide don't fail to mention the short-lived "East Turkestan Republic" that the "Uygurs" set up in 1933 that was never recognized by any government in the world. But they never say that the futile attempt did not enjoy popular support because it was not only against the will of the majority of the ethnic groups living in Xinjiang, but also ran contrary to the whishes of most of the Uygurs.
The Western media's "facts" make it seem as if "hopes for a separate Uygur homeland" have remained constant in the past few decades, but were "largely suppressed". But they deliberately withhold the fact that the majority of people in Xinjiang, including Uygurs, have identified themselves with the Chinese nation and share their fate with the other 55 ethnic groups in the country.
An evidence of this integration is the statue of Kurban Tulum, better known as Uncle Kurban, and Chairman Mao Zedong in Unity Square in the county seat of Yutian in southern Xinjiang.
Uncle Kurban was a poor farmer, and could hardly make ends meet. Before liberation, more than 90 percent of farmers were slaves of landlords, who controlled 80 percent of Xinjiang's land. After Xinjiang was liberated in 1949, the central government's land reforms policy saw it distributing land to the farmers. This is how Uncle Kurban got his first plot of land and housing. Several bumper harvests increased his desire to meet Chairman Mao and express his gratitude to the helmsman. He became so desperate to meet Mao that despite being in his 70s he set off for Beijing on his donkey in 1955. When the county officials told him that Beijing was too far and he could not reach there on a donkey, he tried to hitch a ride, but no driver could drive that far.
But by that time his wish had become well known, and touched people's hearts. Mao himself learned about the story and sent Uncle Kurban four letters. Finally, in 1958, Uncle Kurban was invited to Beijing as a model farmer. His wish of meeting Chairman Mao was fulfilled. And he also became the only person in China to share a statue with Chairman Mao. Obviously, such stories of ethnic unity and national integrity are not included in any Western media's "fact sheets" on Xinjiang. What was played up is nothing but ethnic conflict, primarily those between Uygurs and Hans.
All Chinese, irrespective of their ethnic identity, have been saddened by the incidents in Urumqi. We can reflect on the internal and external causes of the riots. But no matter what the causes are, ethnic conflict is not one of them.
All the 56 ethnic groups want to see the country prosper and have been living without disputes. But the "facts" on Xinjiang offered by some Western media are aimed at sowing the seeds of feud among China's ethnic groups. Their covert plan is to split China, as the old colonialists tried to do a century ago.
But times have changed and China is no longer a weak country. And if some people's designs to divide it did not succeed then, it is not going to succeed now.
The author is a guest professor of journalism at the Beijing Foreign Studies University
(China Daily July 17, 2009)