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New Yorker: After 3/1: The Dangers of China's Ethnic Divide

Author: Evan L. Osnos
March 7, 2014


"For a generation of senior Community Party members, the attack is a sensational confirmation of what has become the most neuralgic issue of their time: the sense that the greatest threat to the country as they know it is the loss of territory."

Violence as savage and public as the massacre that took place at a Chinese train station on Saturday shocks the chemistry of a country in a way that years of more remote, simmering conflict do not. Acts of such spectacular violence exert unpredictable forces on the public and on the leaders who are charged with protecting it, transforming judgments of when and how to use force and decisions about what can be sacrificed in the name of security, as well as the definitions of citizenship, patriotism, and innocence. Rarely do they leave anyone better off than they were before.

When eight assailants armed with foot-long sabers set upon men and women in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing at least twenty-nine people and injuring a hundred and forty-three, they struck in a place and a manner that nobody in China had anticipated. For all its epic history of bloodshed, the People's Republic is unaccustomed to this kind of threat against citizens going about their daily lives, and, by day's end, the attack was seared into public consciousness in a way that, since 9/11, has become customary for these moments around the world: it is the 3/1 incident. A message in wide circulation declared, "We are all Kunmingers."

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