In the aftermath of the attack on the Kunming train station, in which official sources say at least 29 people lost their lives and 143 were injured, I went to sniff around the city for stories and reactions. People were stoic, supportive of their fellow citizens and seem to steer clear of any racial violence.
In general, the city felt ridiculously normal for the day after the attack . The people manning the gate at my compound greeted me as cheerily as I scooted down the hill and the only armed police I saw were hanging around a major interchange. Most people ambled lazily around Green Lake park, gazing at the flocks of sea gulls on their way back to Siberia as if nothing had happened. Not a SWAT team to be seen, even though this would be a potential spot for carnage. Kunming’s 1st People’s Hospital also had only a few law enforcers stationed outside, a shrill contrast to the mob of police inside that was trying to keep nosy journalists at bay.
Even the train station felt relatively normal. On the left side of the square, a large part was sectioned off with police line and a dozen or so armed SWAT policemen were swarming around. In the middle of the square, under the large gilded bull, people were taking pictures of flowery memorials, one of which had already fallen down and torn. The ticket hall, the goriest place from Saturday’s attack, had been properly cleaned and was again filled to the brim with people queuing to buy tickets.
A young man cheekily ran behind me to measure himself against my height, so I used that as a pretext to ask him some questions. Whether he was afraid? “If I were afraid I wouldn’t be here”. Any other questions resulted in him uneasily shooting his eyes around so I left it at that.
The cigarette lady was more helpful. She had already closed the shop and gone home for the night when the killings happened, but she was dead afraid to come to work on Sunday. She had wanted to stay home, but her boss and the need for a salary made her show up. She added that the extra security made her feel safer, though. A Bai minority woman in traditional dress was waiting for her daughter to pick her up. When I asked her if she was worried about coming here, given yesterday’s events, she replied: “which events?” Apparently the news had not reached rural Dali.
I also visit one of the mobile blood donation centers that the government had set up at twelve different locations all over the city. They must have rushed them in, as the containers still sported a sign for a previous blood-donating event at New Year’s day and make no mention of the stabbings the day before. That didn’t seem to stop people from flocking to the cabin. I am told that at least 150 people had already donated blood at this point and another 60 people were waiting to give.
I met Miss Wu (25) and her two friends at the mobile blood bank. She herself is not able to donate, but her two male companions are. While the two men were inside, I struck up a conversation. ”We’re here to help our fellow citizens after yesterday’s massacre,” she beams. Solidarity and stoicism obviously go hand in hand in Yunnan. “I don’t think this will affect how I see Muslims,” she explains, “and I don’t think it will the view of most other Chinese, either. The attackers were a violent group who had nothing to do with other Muslims. There have even been a lot of Muslims coming in to donate blood. Wherever you have people, you have bad ones.”
A Chinese journalist asked me my opinion and added that he had not been able to interview any Uighur people. “Perhaps they’re afraid for retaliation [from Han majority people], but they really needn’t be, there doesn’t seem to be a strong anti-Muslim sentiment among the people.”
At the nearby mosque at Jinbi square, too, everything seemed to be business as usual. No signs of Islamophobic rioting, just people cooking all kinds of Halal cuisine for visitors. I talked to Ma Jun, a Hui (ethnic Han Muslim) woman from Inner Mongolia. While roasting some Erkuai pancakes, a local Yunnan delicacy, she told me she had seen some Uighur people coming in today for food and prayer, like on any other day. She made a plea for stronger feeling of unity among the Chinese people and says all will always be welcome under the roof of the mosque.
Questions remain, though, which no one currently has an answer to. One such question is: why Kunming? Of all places of importance to the government, was Kunming just the one with the weakest security? Were the attackers simply locals? Were they after tourists or after a particular train (the train to Shanghai was about to leave)? Kunming has almost no history of violence in the contemporary era, with the only notable event being the bombing of a bus in 2008. Then, too, Uighurs were initially blamed until it was later revealed that the lone bomber belonged to theHui minority.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Kunming transplant Sander Van de Moortel and originally published on his blog A World of Nonging, on March 2.