The chorus of smiling Muslims and Han Chinese wore matching yellow polo shirts and appeared on television singing: “We are all part of the same family.”
The TV spot on Wednesday was the latest effort in a relentless propaganda campaign by the Chinese government to end the worst ethnic rioting in the far western Xinjiang region in decades.
However, the message was falling flat on the streets of the dusty jade-trading oasis city of Hotan, where many Muslims were still seething with resentment over the Han, the dominant ethnic group in China. The residents spoke about the long-standing tensions in hushed voices in the Silk Road town’s bustling bazaar, where donkeys pulled carts piled high with melons and women in colorful head scarves sold wheels of flat bread that looked like pizza crust.
One Muslim shopkeeper picked up a hatchet, raised it over his head and lowered it with one quick stroke, before saying: “That’s the best way to deal with the Han Chinese.”
The store owner, who only identified himself as Abdul, scoffed at the TV shows featuring members of his own Turkic minority ethnic group, the Uighurs, gushing about how harmonious and happy most of the people were in the sprawling oil-rich Xinjiang region, three times the size of Texas.
“I don’t believe these people,” the businessman said with a whisper, as he scouted the street for police. “They get paid to say these things. Ninety percent of the Uighurs don’t believe that stuff.”
The media campaign began after July 5 when ethnic rioting killed at least 192 people in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. In the first days after the rioting, state-run media provided extensive reports about Uighurs savagely attacking Han Chinese, while playing down the subsequent Han-led violence. The government was quick to frame the Uighur attacks as an act of terrorism by a tiny minority of violent miscreants, led by the US-based Uighur dissident Rebiya Kadeer.
Kadeer has repeatedly denied the allegations and has condemned the violence.
As thousands of security forces restored order in Urumqi, the government’s propaganda campaign kicked in with TV shows, loudspeaker trucks and red banners. Many slogans warned against the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. The campaign targeted all of Xinjiang, even Hotan on the edge of the Taklamakan desert — a two-hour flight south of Urumqi.
Hotan is predominantly Uighur. The city is famous for its carpets and a statue of late Communist leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) shaking hands with a Uighur worker.
On Wednesday, the propaganda continued with local TV showing the Uighur and Han singers swaying together as they sang: “We are all part of the same family.”
There were also several personal profiles of Uighurs who acted heroically during the riots.
One elderly Uighur couple reportedly gave refuge to a Han teenager, allowing him to spend the night in their apartment until his father could pick him up in the morning.
Another Uighur man was an ambulance driver who continued to rescue the wounded, even though he was injured and the windows of his vehicle were smashed.
“I’m a Communist Party member,” the man said. “I should be doing more than the average citizen.”