Dong Yuanyuan should be on honeymoon, sightseeing in Shanghai with her husband. But late on July 5, their bus stopped when a set of traffic lights in Urumqi turned red.
A few seconds earlier and the newlyweds might have escaped the ethnic riot sweeping the city. Instead, the hail of rocks and sticks that crashed down on them began an ordeal that would leave the 24-year-old teacher with injuries to her head, neck, arms and legs — and without her husband.
“I really hope to find him, no matter whether he’s dead or alive. At least I would know something. Now I know nothing. We had just got married and our new life was about to start. Now everything is ...” She did not finish her sentence.
As the capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region appears to be settling into an uneasy calm, policed by a security force of about 20,000 paramilitary, riot and regular officers, Dong is one of thousands counting the cost of the past week’s vicious inter-ethnic violence.
After scouring hospitals, her parents have found one body and one unconscious patient who they believe could be Liang He, 29. They cannot be sure until Dong is well enough to be discharged from Urumqi’s People’s Hospital and to look herself.
On Saturday, the government raised the death toll of the riots to 184 and offered the first ethnic breakdown of the dead: 137 Han Chinese — the dominant ethnic group — and 46 Uighurs, who make up almost half of Xinjiang’s population of 21.3 million. One Hui Muslim also died. More than 1,000 people were injured.
Officials earlier said that 156 people had died on July 5 when peaceful protests over Han killings of two Uighur workers in Guangdong Province, in the south, turned into a mass riot and apparently indiscriminate attacks on mostly Han Chinese.
The state news agency, Xinhua, did not say whether any of the deaths happened last Tuesday, when vengeful Han mobs took to the streets armed with shovels, iron bars and cleavers and savagely assaulted Uighurs. Paramilitaries eventually dispersed them with tear gas.
Some Uighurs in the city voiced disbelief at how few alleged deaths they had suffered. Independent evidence to back claims by exiled Uighurs that the authorities beat to death and shot dead peaceful protesters has not come to light, despite the presence of foreign journalists. But Uighur witnesses told one reporter they had seen police shoot dead two Uighurs.
Many Uighurs reported gunfire and the People’s Hospital said it treated people for gunshot wounds. The government has said rioters were armed.
Human Rights Watch yesterday called for an independent investigation, saying China had presented “a skewed and incomplete picture of the unrest” that had not included attacks on Uighurs or fully accounted for the role of security forces. The authorities accuse Uighur exiles of orchestrating the violence. They deny the claims.
Dong was caught by a group of young Uighur men as she fled the bus with other passengers, losing sight of her husband in the crush.
“They thought I looked like a Han, not a Uighur. The people came and started to beat me. I ran away but they dragged me back. I fell to the ground. Some people punched me as they didn’t have rocks,” she said.
She came around hours later in the darkness, covered in blood; shaken awake by a Hui Muslim woman who hid the newlywed in her home.