Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A massacre between the lines

In the Portsmouth Evening News of 18 January 1878, and surrounded by advertisements for mahogany staircases, drapery sales and breath fresheners, departure times for mail ships, a letter to the editor about the disgraceful standard of singing by the choir in a local church and another on crimping (touts for low-class pubs who board ships and lure sailors into their clutches) is this brief report on a massacre in China.
The Russian newspapers announce that immense numbers of fugitives have arrived at Kulja from Kashgaria. At one point on the frontier alone the outpost officers report that 1,500 Dongans have sought refuge there from Toorfan, and at the Russian boundary nearest Aksu there are at least twice that number. The people of Manas were less fortunate in their endeavours to escape, the majority being cut down while on their way to seek refuge on Russian territory. According to their reports, the Chinese have massacred all the Mussulmen peasants they have come in contact with, while in the towns they have conquered, a reign of terror exists. Coincident with the arrival of Kashgarian refugees at Kulja, the Golos announces also the presence of Chinese commissariat agents there, who are buying up provisions for Tso Tsonn Tsan's army. The latter has left the encampment at Aksu and is marching forward with the intention of attacking Kashgar. Rumours are current that Bek Kuli Beg has retired to Yarkund.

With the exception of Kashgar, none of the place names or individuals meant much to me, so research beckoned. Obviously names have changed much since 1878 and here is how this same article reads using current accepted spellings:
The Russian newspapers announce that immense numbers of fugitives have arrived at Yining from Kashi.  At one point on the frontier alone the outpost officers report that 1,500 Hui people have sought refuge there from Turpan, and at the Russian boundary nearest Aksu there are at least twice that number. The people of Manass in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were less fortunate in their endeavours to escape, the majority being cut down while on their way to seek refuge on Russian territory. According to their reports, the Chinese have massacred all the Moslem peasants they have come in contact with, while in the towns they have conquered, a reign of terror exists. Coincident with the arrival of Kashi refugees at Yining, liberal sources announce also the presence of Chinese commissariat agents there, who are buying up provisions for Zuo Zontang's army. The latter has left the encampment at Aksu and is marching forward with the intention of attacking Kashi. Rumours are current that Yaqub Beg has retired to Yarkant.

Things haven't changed all that much in the 21st Century. Advertising still keeps newspapers going. There are still individuals who waste time and column space writing letters to editors on matters that seem trivial compared to reigns of terror being waged against minorities elsewhere on the planet. Read this BBC report about the Uighurs today.

Yaqub Beg is clearly not a popular figure in Xinjiang and heads up this most wanted list that also includes the woman who is probably the most famous living and exiled Uighur, human rights campaigner, Rebiya Kadeer.