China Government: A Deadly Fireball in Tiananmen Is No Big Deal

It's just terror attack, says Beijing, pretend it never happened

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Ed Jones / AFP / Getty Images

Armed police stand guard at Tiananamen Square in Beijing on Oct. 31, 2013

Downplay the story. That’s the Central Propaganda Department’s directive for Chinese journalists covering Monday’s deadly attack in the heart of Beijing. In censorship instructions that were leaked online, authorities make clear that there is no room for debate about the fiery auto wreck that killed 5 and injured 40. “Downplay the story; do not speculate on it; do not exaggerate it; do not put the story on the front page or website homepage,” they said, according to a translation by China Digital Times.

Days later, it feels like the whole city got that memo. Security officials were silent for more than 48 hours before declaring that the incident — in which an SUV plowed through crowds in Tiananmen Square before bursting in flames — was a ‘terrorist’ attack orchestrated by religious extremists from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Since then, they’ve said little else, and have not replied to interview requests. Eyewitness accounts keep disappearing from the web. An ethnic Uighur expert declined to comment, citing instructions from her superiors.

The chill seems to have reached many Uighurs living in Beijing.  With ongoing tension between the central government and Xinjiang’s Turkic-speaking Muslim population, Uighur migrants are often viewed with suspicion in Han China. They have trouble finding jobs and renting homes. Many report being stopped and questioned by police, or having security officials come by their houses at night. The worry is that the attack will deepen distrust on both sides, fueling the community’s marginalization.

(MORE: Beijing’s Tiananmen Square: Centuries of Chinese History and Protest)

That may already be happening. On Thursday, Uighur shopkeepers at Beijing’s Panjiayuan market were too frightened to talk to TIME. When they did, they replied using nearly identical language, as if reading from a script:

“Are you from Xinjiang,” we’d ask.

“Yes, I am,” they’d reply in Chinese.

“Have you had any trouble since the incident on Monday?”

“I don’t speak Chinese.”

“We are speaking in Chinese.”

“I don’t know anything about this situation.”

A half-dozen men said nearly the same thing, give or take a word. One vendor, who said he was from Kashgar, agreed to chat, but said he could not give his name. We chatted for a few minutes about what life was like for Uighurs in Beijing. He said he migrated to the capital because it “had law” and he could live with relative freedom. Police came to his house once or twice a month, but otherwise, life was good. When Monday’s attack was raised, he stood, smiled, and said he didn’t know anything about the situation.

The information lockdown is tighter in Xinjiang itself. A reporter for the Wall Street Journal who traveled to Lukqun, the hometown of one of the alleged perpetrators, wrote that police armed with assault rifles are patrolling the streets and manning regular checkpoints on the dusty roads.  Reporters from Japan’s Asahi Shimbun were stopped at checkpoints outside the township and turned away.

The lack of transparency raises questions about China’s handling of whole affair. Many wonder about the accuracy of state media reports, the processing of the evidence, and the chances of a fair trial for those who’ve been detained. “I have the information that everyone else has, which is what is in the Chinese media,” said Henryk Szadziewsky, of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, in a phone interview.  “We can’t be entirely sure that this information is entirely trustworthy.”

He called for an independent investigation, but that won’t happen. The case is too sensitive, especially heading into this month’s meeting of top party leaders.  A crash in Tiananmen Square, just meters from the south gate to the Forbidden City, under a portrait of Chairman Mao, is a nightmare for them. This is the symbolic heart of the city, an icon of Chinese Communist Power, but also of resistance to their rule. As eyewitness accounts of the chaotic scene are ripped from the web, a new, more controlled, narrative will be crafted — one that focuses on the government’s swift and competent response.

“Rampant as the terrorist forces are, they have limited capabilities,” read an editorial in the state-backed Global Times. “China’s overall security and order won’t be shaken by terrorist forces.”

In other words: nothing to see here folks, move along.

— With reporting from Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

MORE: Photos Disappear After Car Strikes Crowd at Tiananmen Square, Killing 5

39 comments
FrankTan
FrankTan

when I saw the headline,  I am speechless and no interesting to read on any more.

tom2013cat
tom2013cat

As I know, things are not the text said.

not be fooled by foreign media,China media also say a little!

what we konw,just a segmentary.  Be sure that :what we see also not the turth lying!

Alejandro79
Alejandro79

Sadly the Ujghurs are not the only 2nd class people, don't forget about the Tibetans. The Chinese invasion of Tibet has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and the imprisonment and torture of thousands more. We should resist and save Tibet's unique culture, fight for the Tibetans' human rights to be respected.. Sadly most locals have no idea because of the state controlled propaganda, and are willing to turn a blind eye as long as they get richer. Materialism will eventually not be enough though, fight for freedom

gcrzrw
gcrzrw

why don't you talk about the dead and the wounded?Don't you forget about the 911? I am  chinese,i respect the Uighur very much,but why they threatened me when i didn't buy their nut cake?I know the chinese government has some fault,  but he is growing up day after day,i can forgive his mistake,because i am chinese.there is none of your business.please give more respect to my country!thank you! 

BodhiDharma
BodhiDharma

There are 55 officially recognized minority groups in China, almost all of which are living peacefully in China. There are no reasons Uigher minorities are treated differently from the other 54, unless the Uigher extremists engage in illegal activities such as terrorism.

BodhiDharma
BodhiDharma

They don't want western media to spread lies and innuendos.

luisdyding
luisdyding

as always american media lie. american is lead by many evils people.

Gary Vandiver
Gary Vandiver

maybe the real people have decided to overthrow the government ...i hope so

lambda
lambda

I can't understand why American media always report news like this with a deep bias.

5 innocent people has been killed in this accident, how can u said that is a fighting of freedom, if this happen in front of white house, what will u say.

Liberty_Bell
Liberty_Bell

Letter from Uyghur living in America to Hans in China

All the nonsense which were put by Han nationalist or their Islamophobic western sympathizers appalls me . Situation in Xinjiang has nothing to with Islam or religion. I know, Governments in the west are beholden to China with debts , But I am so surprised how many people are sold on Chinese State Propaganda and Praising China for oppressing uygurs and calling for more racial profiling on Uyghurs. A lot of you, who have never been to Xinjiang, nor talked to Uyghurs. So, you don't know the situation, please don't naively comment on it. Xinjiang is Uyghurland which was invaded by Han Chinese in 1949. Now most Uyghurs accept to live under Chinese Rule. but that was not enough for the Chinese. The region was flooded by Hans to change the demography of the region, so they can have a firm hand. To do so, they gave so many preferential treatments to Hans to come, at the result, they discriminated local uyghurs to access Jobs and resources. Uyghurs are treated as second class. Every jobs and government position goes to only Hans, discriminating Uyghurs on Jobs, denying hotel or extra monitoring common place in China. Uyghur culture and Language is also treated as state enemy. At the result, Uyghurs become so marginalized, jobless, powerless and frustrated. As long as Han Racism and Nationalism will not be stopped, it is hard to avert this vicious cycle of hatred and Revenge.

Uyghur have same struggles as Black people in the American south,or in South Africa, remember there were many church bombings and violence at that time which were committed by all sides, Uyghurs want the same racial equality and Justice. I wish Uyghurs have more decent way to express themselves, but it is not the case in Totalitarian China. I condemn all the foolish acts of violence committed by crazies, even though i deeply sympathize with many Uyghurs frustration toward racism and injustice.

Let me quote Martin Luther King, Uyghur people will never be satisfied until they are treated as Hans in Jobs, Education. Denying jobs, housing, hotel rooms, just because they are Uyghur will never satisfy them. Stopping them at anywhere, airports, bus station for racial profiling will never satisfy them. Indiscriminately killing and arrest them for their speech will never satisfy them.Banning their language at school will not satisfy them.

As Uyghur myself, I wish one day all Chinese, regardless of their ethnicity, could have equal standing in education and economic opportunities. So let freedom ring from Beijing to Urumqi and Kashgar ! So all we can say free at last !

I pray for every Han Chinese whose hearts are darkened with Han racism and ethnic chauvinism to realize that we are all children of God,there for we should be treated equally. Dear God, May fill hearts of Hans with love and compassion towards Uyghur and Tibetans, so we can live in peace and harmony.

Luke Chan
Luke Chan

China, a country of old Taoism, Confusious, corruption and communitism. That God will put em on first place of further punishment. God great!

Janibek Shamelkhanov
Janibek Shamelkhanov

Why not just give Uighurs their freedom? The age of empires is over, colonization these days is done economically

Enri Que
Enri Que

there finally it is...can't bear that biased reporting of you anymore...TIME to say good bye!

rorywong654
rorywong654

When you ask an American,are you American? What answer should I get,smart Time journalist.Wake up you D head Chinese,American never be your  friend.Stop buying or have anything to do with US.

Dan Kummer
Dan Kummer

In fairness, China has a lot of people to spare

Chris Banbury
Chris Banbury

I'm in beijing now posting on Facebook through VPN. A high percentage of Chinese also have VPN's too. Flow of info isn't much of a problem

Dennis Heaton
Dennis Heaton

Our administration wishes they could control the media like this, Most of the time they can get a free pass or have them in lock step (example "it was the video!"), but sometimes the major media just can't regurgitate everything because it would go to far in questioning their sanity.

Paul Ledesma
Paul Ledesma

But while China downplays a terrorist attack, here in America, armageddon is declared because Twinkies goes out of business. I am sure there is some sort of middle ground somewhere.

duduong
duduong

The Chinese government discourages coverage exactly because Western media like Time inevitably goes China bashing with extreme bias or even outright falsehood.

Take this latest incident for example, CNN has called the perpetrators freedom fighters. Apparently, those who bomb America are terrorists; those who bomb China are freedom fighters.

Last week, BBC questioned the jailing of a reporter as an attempt to suppress freedom of speech. Over the past few days, details have emerged showing that this reporter was indeed bought by one corporation's PR department to defame its competitor. Of course, BBC did not bother to print a follow-up.

The week before, both BBC and Washington Post claimed that a Prof. Xia Yeliang was fired from Beijing University for speaking against the government. In neither reports was it mentioned that Prof. Xia had published exactly zero papers during his tenure, was rated the worst teachers by students three years in a row and was given notice of losing his job a year ago if he did not produce a paper in 2013. He did not produce one, and all these facts were then offered by Beijing University in rebuttal. None of this mattered, however, to WSJ, which proceeded to print a commentary by Prof. Xia himself, again without any mention of his failure as a researcher and teacher.

And you complain that China gets defensive?

bo.of.miller1
bo.of.miller1

This is an honest appraisal of the current situation--there is one matter which should also be stated which occurred last night on CCTV 9's  Dialogue commentary. The subject matter was" can the recent terrorist attack in Beijing be compared to the 9/11 attack in 2001. Both guests agreed strongly there is a definite comparison.

To hear this broadcast immediately took me back to the day in Tsq where the official comment was  " this was an OLD MAN who got lost and was trying to hail a bus" .

Yes, there is one slight and small similarity -- Internationally identified by location and name. there the similarities end.

Just when you think there is a real change happening one is jerked back by the leash to remind each one who is in control. The carrot is back out in front but don't try and take a bite less you choose to choke again.

dunreallycare
dunreallycare

@Alejandro79  and the Hui, and the Mongolians.  There are many second class citizens.  The Manchu used to be seen, and are still seen as second class by some even though no to the same degree as Uighurs.   Pro-Han people point to minorities being able to have two children and going to university with lower scores as evidence that their groups are being promoted before the majority...but when your land is being taken and flooded by foreigners who also have no interest in hiring you and are killing your culture...what great advantage do you get trading your way of life and your independence for an easier entry into the foreigners' universities?

rodshere
rodshere

@Alejandro79 Your so called Freedom is based on destruction and other people'slives? 

ysprefer
ysprefer

@lambda such kinds of report actually do good to Chinese Government, it let its middle class people more tolerate current problems, and more cautious of foreign powers. American Indian were wiped out, so that no people complain that, why they were wiped out, because they are lazy, stupid, do not have human right, do not have democracy, that is why in the same logic, the German Nazi wipe out he Jews, the only different is one success and hypocratic about democracy, one failed and critized by the world all the time.

duduong
duduong

@Liberty_Bell 

What you say is simply not true. Chinese first took Xinjian in the 2nd century BC and re-took it most recently in 1860's by General Tso (yes, the chicken dish was named after him), not in 1949.

Chinese do not take land from Uyghur; they either buy it if it is already developed or develop it from desert by building new irrigation.

There is absolutely no discrimination against Uyghur in hiring; quite the contrary, Uyghurs, like all other minorities, enjoy protective quota in government jobs AND college entrance. Outside of the quota, however, both the government hiring and college entrance require passing tests, which are in Chinese. If you cannot speak or write Chinese, how do you expect the government to employ you? Even the Europeans and Americans are learning Chinese. You being too lazy to do so is really not Chinese government's fault.

Uyghur are unhappy because, despite all the preferential treatment and affirmative actions, they still see Hans as richer. But, remember, Hans did not enslave the Uyghur like the Americans did to blacks. The Hans are richer because they are better educated and harder working; still, all recent conflicts were started by Uyghur gangs attacking innocent Han civilians. So, stop playing the victims. How about work hard to build better lives for yourselves? The strategy works pretty well for the Hans.


driftor
driftor

@Luke Chan Same God as in "God bless America (only)"?

MaseWehrle
MaseWehrle

@duduong True, China seems to never do anything wrong to its own people.

ysprefer
ysprefer

@rodshere @Alejandro79 Nonsense, if you can you try, I 100% support Chinese government to safeguard the safety and unity of our country and there is enough reason to be cautious to the western powers. "I have waited for dozens of years waiting the invasion of western power and am preparing for war up to now, and my hair is white in waiting", said General Chen Yi in 1960s.

New China is founded in 1949, surrounding by hostile western powers and hostile Russia, and was preparing for any potential war all the time. By now, some people may say, we misjudged the good intention of western countries, but how shall we know for sure about that. Especially China had just experienced a war with Japanese then. The thing that China shall do, is not judge or misjudge the intention of other countries, but building up of its national defense, improving the living standard of its people, creating a society of integrity and honesty, and trying to be peace with outside powers. During this process, China shall never be fooled by western medium, China's security based on it own power, and must have capacity of secondary nuclear strike, capable of retaliation in case of nuclear bomb.

driftor
driftor

@duduong I can confirm the low bar for minorities in college entrance. Also, one child policy don't apply to them.

duduong
duduong

@MaseWehrle @duduong 

It lifted 600+ millions of its people out of poverty and had not killed in foreign land for the past 30 years. The US has exacerbated the misery of its poor and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent overseas. As we speak, US drones are still killing innocent civilians in Pakistan. And you have the guts to point fingers at China? Oh, I forgot; shameless hypocrisy is an American tradition.

dunreallycare
dunreallycare

@ysprefer @rodshere @Alejandro79  China has been lucky to be in the most uneventful region in Asia.  The only nuclear threat was from the USSR when China stole its island in 1969 and it was the US who protected China there because China didn't have any way of successfully counter striking through USSR air defenses.