It’s Monday night, local time, and more than a day has passed since Kunmingers and the rest of the world awoke to news of Saturday night’s terrorist attack at the Kunming Railway Station. In that time, local residents, concerned citizens, the media and the world at large have begun the process of digesting what happened and what it all means. In this short time, reports have gone from panicked messages on mobile chat apps to full articles in the international press and an ongoing discussion on Twitter and Weibo. A few narratives have emerged, each with their distinct angle on the attack and some focused solely on the reaction to them.
Many of the first stories that were published were strict accounts what happened, such as this report from the BBC. The BBC story is representative in describing only the scene at the train station and eyewitness accounts of the attack. Similar stories were found on the websites of most news outlets.
The Chinese press, like the international press, only reported accounts of the scene at first, but stressed the official response, with most articles carrying quotes from President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Today, much of the coverage focused around security measures, the efforts of medical teams in Kunming, and Chinese citizens’ response to the attacks.
Another narrative in the Chinese press was one of anger towards the foreign media for their treatment of the incident. One hotly discussed essay was this one from Xinhua News. Both the US Embassy and CNN drew Xinhua’s ire for downplaying the importance of the attacks. CNN put quotation marks around the word ‘terrorists’ in its first article on the incident while the US Embassy’s official statement failed to identify the attackers as terrorist. Xinhua was not the only one angry with the US Embassy, with thousands of Chinese criticizing the US online as well. In addition, this graphic from the People’s Daily online edition made for an intense discussion on both Twitter and Weibo.
A third strain of coverage of the incident centered around the bigger picture for China’s minority populations going forward. This article from Reuters looks at the possibility for increased tension between Uighurs and the majority Han population. A 2013 ChinaFile article by James Palmer, republished yesterday by Foreign Policy, was another article looking at ethnic tensions in Xinjiang that made the rounds on Twitter over the past 36 hours. The discussion around both articles has focused on whether or not the Kunming attacks are a harbinger for a new wave of crackdowns in Xinjiang and it’s a conversation that is sure to develop over the next days and weeks.
One line of discourse that has been missing from coverage is that of local Kunmingers. As often happens with events like these, the details and reactions of those most affected are discarded for larger implications and trends. Whether it be another short-lived skirmish over media bias towards China or the continuation of a long discussion on ethnic tensions in China, what locals think might be lost in the shuffle. Some interesting storylines that should be followed are: how Kunming as a city heals from the attacks; the language locals use to talk about the attack and what we can learn from that; how Kunming’s Uighur and Hui Muslim populations have been affected by the attacks; and how these attacks fit in the larger picture of ethnic relations in Yunnan. These are all critical questions and East by Southeast will do its best to find answers to them in the coming days. At the same time, we encourage our readers to reach out and tell us how they have been affected by the attacks what they see as important in the aftermath of such an event.