Yining sits to the very far west of China. Carry on a little bit and you’ll hit Kazakhstan. To its east are wonderful grasslands. Life there though is a tinderbox with fear and loathing visible on the streets.
Yining, or Ghulja as the Uighurs call it, was the site of a massive 1997 Uighur rising that saw thousands protest and a very bloody response from the authorities with many human rights organisations suggesting the number of violent deaths that followed hit four figures.
When I went there nearly a year ago I came across greater repression than I had experienced anywhere, and that includes North Korea. Police, army and local militia roamed the streets armed to the teeth looking for trouble. We were stopped every second block, our papers looked at, our bags checked and our digital pictures scrutinized. 11 years after this massacre and the city was still a powder keg.
Urumqi (pictured with riot police), the capital of the province, is an 11-hour bus ride east. As far as I can make out the authorities there reacted violently to a peaceful demonstration Sunday and massacred indiscriminately. We will never know the full death toll, but believe me when I say you can add a zero to the official 140 toll. The Uighurs have never received the same international attention that Tibet does for its harsh treatment by Beijing. Urumqi will now suffer the same long, drawn out tortured fate as Yining. There are times when I hate China.