One year on, Xinjiang still remembers, recovering Source: Global Times [02:34 July 05 2010] Comments
By Lin Meilian in Urumqi
One year after the July 5 riot that left nearly 200 people dead and 1,700 injured in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, some have moved on and put the nightmare behind them, while others would rather not discuss the events at all.
Gong Huachao, 22, of Han ethnicity, dressed in a traditional Uyghur outfit - white clothes, black boots and a hat - danced on stage Saturday to "Five Colors of Shoes," a song about a Uyghur love story.
Gong is among a group of 51 students of various ethnic backgrounds, including Uyghur, Kazak, Hui and Mongolian, at the Urumqi Vocational University, who were rehearsing for their annual performances during a two-week trip to Dabancheng, southeast of Urumqi, that started over the weekend.
"It is our university's tradition to perform ethnic dances and work as volunteer teachers in some remote areas," Gong told the Global Times.
Last year's performance, however, was canceled due to the riot.
Gong and his peers, instead, signed up for a one-month volunteer program to assist regional government officials in Xinjiang to help in the aftermath of the deadly unrest.
The team included 235 teachers and 61 students. They helped more than 1,000 family members of the dead identify bodies of those killed, and they assisted with handling compensation to families and victims.
"That experience made me feel like I had grown up overnight," he said.
The person who he assisted was a 10-year-old girl who lost her parents and grandparents.
"We ran to almost every funeral home to help her relatives identify the bodies," he said.
"It was heartbreaking, yet I told myself I had to be strong to help them through their grief."
Deng Fei, a university teacher who participated on the volunteer team, said some teachers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We had to arrange for them to talk with psychological consultants," he said. "Time itself can cure. We are getting better."
Living offline
"As long as I'm always counting (blocked websites), I will never consider Xinjiang's Internet access truly restored," Josh Summers, a US national who lived in Xinjiang, posted on his blog at in February when 27 websites were restored after a 10-month shutdown.
He is still counting, even though Xinjiang announced it had "turned on the Internet" in May, three months after he returned to Texas.
"It's a step in the right direction that we are now counting how many sites are blocked rather than how many sites are available," he told the Global Times by e-mail.
He said his blog is his attempt to share the passion he has for Xinjiang, and he hopes to help bridge the gap in understanding that exists between Xinjiang and the rest of the world.
Summers lived in the region with his wife for about four years as English teachers.
When he first arrived in China, he couldn't even point out Xinjiang on a map. But he grew to love it.
He said months of living without Internet was like "living in the stone age," yet he learned "to live isolated and globally uninformed."
"Eventually I was able to check news on major Chinese sites or book flights, but updating my website or communicating with family was almost impossible," he said.
Wang Ning, an economist with the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said she agreed that the Internet blackout had a negative effect on the local economy.
"Blocking Internet access means blocking its way toward globalization, as the Internet provides the highly efficient, low-cost, free flow of information," she told the Global Times.
She said some private enterprises withdrew their investments in the region due to the blackout.
A year after the riot, grief seems to linger in the hearts of some people, both Han and Uyghurs.
Dai Xiaoli, 47, who lives on Dawannan Road, a Uyghur community where some Han taxi drivers are reluctant to go, said she would close her store today to mourn on the anniversary of her sister's death.
"We don't talk about that day any more, but it doesn't mean we forgot," she told the Global Times.
Turhonjiang Tursun, the manager of Wuyuehua restaurant, which is famous for Xinjiang cuisine, told the Global Times that customers have been more scarce in the past year.
"We used to have more than 1,000 customers a day to dine at our restaurant in 2007 and 2008, but the number dropped to 500 after last year's bloody unrest," he said.
Zhu Jijun, director of the department of publicity at Urumqi Vocational University, told the Global Times that, "The July 5 riot was like a great volcanic explosion."
"But it will bring a long term of peace," Zhu added.