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ZGBriefs The Week's Top Picks, February 14 Issue

There were a lot of great articles in this weeks' ZGBriefs, but the ones that particularly caught my eye were on the topics of human rights and law, ethnic tensions, and American-style Chinese food.

Human Rights Lawyer Xiao Guozhen On Faith and Law (February 6, 2014, China Digital Times)

A number of China's most prominent human rights lawyers and activists these days are Christians. One of them is Ms. Xiao Guozhen. Last week a China Digital Times wrote about a conversation she had with Ms. Xiao, which touched on a variety of topics, including the significance of her faith:

Xiao is also one many Chinese rights lawyers who have converted to Christianity. In December of 2002, Xiao left Hunan Province for Beijing, where she said other Christians influenced her ideas about religion. She related the "spirit of law" with values she sees in Christianity including justice, love, charity, and goodness explaining that: "If we really hope for the people to be ruled by the law we should pursue the path of Christ." She joined Congress and President Obama at the 61st National Prayer breakfast in 2013, hosted by the U.S. Congressional Committee and alleged that there are strong ties between American democracy and Christianity: "Human rights come from God. They are not authorized by others. Democracy means governed by God. This is why the government is afraid."

Are Ethnic Tensions on the Rise in China? (February 13, 2014, China File)

China File has produced another excellent post on the topic of ethnic tensions in China, gathering different viewpoints and perspectives together to explore an extremely complicated topic. The post opens with a general statement of the current conditions:

On December 31, President Xi Jinping appeared on CCTV and extended his "New Year's wishes to Chinese of all ethnic groups." On January 15, Beijing officials detained Ilham Tohti, a leading Uighur economist and subsequently accused him of "separtist offenses"; a fresh report shows arrests of Uighurs for "endangering state security" in Xinjiang rose sharply last year; and the number of Tibetans who have taken their own lives in public protest against Chinese rule has recently surpassed 120 since February 2009. The Editors

Following that introduction, five different scholars respond.

Enze Han, of the University of London writes:

Keep in mind that the Tibetans and Uighurs are only two of fifty-five ethnic minority groups in China. Even though they are internationally renowned, they are nonetheless not the most numerous. That means that there is a "silent majority" of ethnic minorities in China who do not employ confrontational strategies towards the Chinese state. In fact, one can argue that assimilation/sinification is perhaps the dominant trend throughout the nation.

Author James Palmer writes that the tensions are primarily 'anti-colonial,' not 'ethnic.'

It's not ethnic violence, but anti-colonial violence. Unlike the other "minority peoples," who have a long history within the Chinese state (whether as ordinary citizens, like the Hui, or as marginalized peoples, like the Miao), the Tibetans and Uighur have their own long-standing sense of national identity. (So do the Mongolians, but they also have a nation of their ownwhich China did all it could to prevent happening, but which bleeds off most of the anger.) For the Tibetans and Uighurs, the Chinese are invaders and colonizers, and always will be.

Robert Barnett, of Columbia University, reminds us that the question itself, is complicated:

Asking about ethnicity and tension in China is one of those questions that mirrors the problems it tries to describe: it uses terms and categories that blur what those problems are and replicate the stresses that underlie them.

Nicholas Bequelin, of Human Rights Watch, points out that the state's "assimilative policies" are the main driver of tensions between different ethnic groups, and between ethnic groups and the state.

Finally, James Millward, of Georgetown University, gives the classic professorial response: "It depends on what you mean by 'ethnic' and 'tension.'

For anyone working with minority groups in China, particularly Tibetans or Uighurs, this post is a must-read. Print it out. Read it. Take notes. And pray.

Photo Essay: In Restive Remote China, Uighurs' Piety and Peace (February 13, 2014, The New York Times)

On a related note, the Lens blog at the New York Times has a fantastic photo essay on Uighur life:

Photographed over a span of seven years, the series shows the daily experiences and rituals of several ancient Uighur villages near Turpan, the desert oasis that was once a flourishing trade center on the historic Silk Road.

The photographs are stunning!

Shanghai Warms Up To A New Cuisine: Chinese Food, American-Style (February 12, 2014, NPR)

And who can resist a piece about an American-style Chinese restaurant in Shanghai?

Imagine living in China and missing Chinese food. It happens. American expatriates who grew up with popular takeout dishes like General Tso's chicken can't find it in China because it essentially doesn't exist here. Much of the Chinese food we grew up with isn't really Chinese. It's an American version of Chinese food. Chinese immigrants created it over time, adapting recipes with U.S. ingredients to appeal to American palates. Now, Americans living in Shanghai can get a fix of their beloved Chinatown cuisine at a new restaurant.

The best part of the article is the local reaction to fortune cookies!



Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio