Our favorite stories this week cover the gamut searching for Hui identity in Taiwan; the life of "Taobao Girls" in Beijing; the June 4 crack-down in Chengdu; and a trailer for an upcoming documentary about a Tibetan woman living in Beijing. China is nothing, if not complex!
The Hui: A Search for Identity (March 31, 2014, eRanlai Magazine)
The Hui are a Muslim people group in China. Although they are concentrated in the Ningxi Hui Autonomous Region, they can actually be found all over China. Including Taiwan. The author of this piece writes about finding a Hui cemetery in Taipei, and his subsequent quest to discover more about the Hui in Taiwan:
Stopping for some water at a temple on a bend in the road I saw a very familiar but incongruous sight, on black marble and in gold calligraphy:
And those who believed will be admitted to the Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein by permission of their Lord (Qur'an, 14:23)
Not since my time in the Middle East had I seen this phrase, the standard epitaph for a Muslim grave. Amongst the hundreds of shrines and the grand whitewashed red-roofed ossuary was this blast from the past. I asked the temple guardian why this was here and kept hearing the same reply: Huizu ()
Historically the term "Hui" referred to Chinese people who were Muslims; it was the Communists who designated them as an ethnic group. He contrasts this with the situation in Taiwan, where they are designated as a religious minority:
From the beginning the Communist authorities treated the Huizu as an ethnicity (minzu) rather than a religious minority. Whereas there was some of the feared political repression, the Huizu were given greater economic and cultural independence through the establishment of Hui autonomous zones and accorded privileges based on their minzu status. In Taiwan however, the Hui remain a religious, not ethnic minority, thus they are treated like any ordinary Taiwanese citizens. The result is that the Hui in China feel a stronger bond as they are tied by a sense of shared ethnicity, as well as religion.
For anyone interested in the Hui People, this is a must-read article.
Beijing X: Taobao Girls (April 15, 2014, Manya Koetse)
Manya Koetse writes about Beijing's "Taobao Girls," young women who spend their time buying and selling on Taobao, China's largest e-commerce platform:
She is holding the latest Samsung phone with her shoulder, briskly taps the iPad in her lap and dangles a cigarette in between her fingers. "Lily, here's your mojito," I say, as I put our colourful drinks on a small wooden table. She briefly smiles at me and continues to talk to the customer on the other side of the line. It's late Friday afternoon, and I have already returned to Beijing for some time. Lily has been one of my closest friends in the city for over six years, and over the past weeks we've spent almost every day together me writing on my laptop, she talking to customers and placing orders.
Here's how the Taobao girls work:
Six years down the road, Lily is now a successful Taobao retailer and makes her own clothes on the side. Taobao is China's most successful online marketplace; a platform for buying and selling practically everything from clothes or furniture to insurances and Bitcoins. Taobao is everything that Beijing is today- a world of opportunities, quick decisions and loads of ways to earn and spend money. Lily is not the only one amongst her friends selling things on Taobao; a lot of them, including those who are still in college, do so too. Over the weekends they go to one of the many markets around the Beijing Zoo and buy up the latest dresses, purses, jeans or shoes. They buy their stock on Saturday, do a photo shoot on Sunday, and sell the goods on Monday. On the streets of Beijing you actually see many youngsters setting up their own fashion photo shoots for Taobao businesses. They ask friends to pose as models and take pictures with their Canon cameras.
But more than just a look at the life of Taobao girls, this article is a helpful examination on the contradictions of Beijing life.
After 25 Years Of Amnesia, Remembering A Forgotten Tiananmen (April 15, 2014, NPR)
April 15 marked the 25th anniversary of the death of former Party Boss Hu Yaobang, which triggered the events that led to the June 4 Tiananmen Square crack down. Much has been written about the "Tiananmen Square Incident," but less is known about the violent clash between protesters and security forces in Chengdu at the same time. No longer. Louisa Lim has just published a book about the events:
Lim's forthcoming book, The People's Republic of Amnesia, relates how 1989 changed China and how China rewrote what happened in 1989 in its official version of events. Her story includes an investigation into a forgotten crackdown in the southwestern city of Chengdu which, to this day, has never been reported.
In this report, aired on NPR, Lim describes the scene in Chengdu leading up to June 4:
Protests in Chengdu mirrored those in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, with students mourning the sudden death from a heart attack of reformist party leader Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989. This soon morphed into mass protests, followed by a hunger strike beginning in mid-May.
Students occupied Chengdu's Tianfu Square, camping at the base of its 100-foot-tall Chairman Mao statue and proudly proclaiming it to be a "Little Tiananmen." The initial move by police to clear protesters from Tianfu Square on the morning of June 4 went ahead relatively peacefully.
But on hearing the news that troops had opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, the citizens of Chengdu took to the streets once more. This time they knew the risk; they carried banners denouncing the "June 4th massacre" and mourning wreaths with the message: "We Are Not Afraid To Die."