Exploring China’s Wild West

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The Jakarta Globe

silk road hotan There is a smell of goats, fresh bread and melons. A cacophony of bleating animals rises, mixed with conversations full of hard-edged Turkic gutturals. A small boy clambers deftly onto the back of an unbroken, barrel-bellied pony, and reining it back sharply he somehow stays in place as it gallops wildly over the stony ground. Horse-trading elders with beards and skull caps look on with approval and begin to count wads of tattered money. Above everything arches a vast Central Asian sky.

I am in China, but here, at the Sunday livestock bazaar on the outskirts of Kashgar, an ancient city in the southwest corner of Xinjiang, I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Xinjiang is China’s Wild West, a state of deserts and mountains peopled by Muslim Uighurs, and leaning more to Bokhara than Beijing. It has long had a troubled relationship with the rest of the country, slipping in and out of effective Chinese control as imperial power waxed and waned over the centuries. Today the tensions continue. In July, protests by Uighurs in Urumqi, the state capital, turned violent and a government crackdown followed. But unlike in neighboring Tibet, the government has kept Xinjiang open to tourists. When I arrive in Kashgar on a long-distance train, rolling though vineyards and pomegranate orchards, there has been a state-wide telecommunications shutdown for over four months and army trucks bearing antiseparatist slogans were rolling down the streets. But I am free to go wherever I like, and the first place I head is Kashgar’s famous Sunday Market.

Kashgar stands astride the ancient Silk Road, the much-mythologized trade route that once linked China with Europe. From here trails led east along the fringes of the desert, and west over mountain passes. For centuries, people, religions and ideas passed along the caravan routes. The Uighurs’ Turkic ancestors dropped out of the mountains in the sixth century. Before them, Buddhism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity had traveled west. A few centuries later, Islam arrived.

Today a hint of this old romance survives — the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan lie within 150 kilometers of Kashgar, and trade goes on in weekly markets across the region. In the Kashgar Sunday Market I see carpets, fruits and embroidered cloth, mixed in with everyday metals and plastics. Women in sparkling headscarves jostle with old men in embroidered pillbox hats.

But the Chinese government is determinedly dragging Xinjiang into the mainstream. The market has now been corralled into a modern complex, and beyond it new high-rises tower over the remnants of the old mud-walled city. In recent years, swathes of the Uighur old town have been bulldozed, and immigration from other parts of China has been encouraged. These moves — and the dominance of immigrant Han Chinese in the job market — have only increased tensions. English-speaking Uighurs I meet on my journey whisper their disquiet in hushed, paranoid tones. A man at the Sunday Market explains the resentment at the destruction of old Kashgar.

“There is no privacy in a Chinese apartment,” he says. “Our traditional houses are built around a courtyard so we all live together, but with privacy. We don’t want to live in apartments.”

Looking for something a little more authentic, I head to the livestock bazaar. It is a glorious chaos of goats, donkeys, horses and sheep and haggling men in fabulous hats. I am hoping to see a camel or two — real evidence that I am on the Silk Road — but to my disappointment there are none. I console myself with a plate of greasy kebabs and plot my onward journey.

From Kashgar I head east. Human habitation in Xinjiang has long been squeezed into the narrow margin between the mountains and the desert. A string of oases runs along what was once the southern branch of the Silk Road. My first stop is Yarkand — a place once as fabled as Samarkand or Xanadu. During Xinjiang’s periods of independence from Chinese rule, Yarkand was usually the capital city. It was also the terminus of skeleton-strewn caravan trails over the mountains from India.

Today, it is a backwater. A Uighur old town of mud alleyways remains, and a dusty graveyard of royal tombs studded with the faded flags of mystic Sufi cults sprawls behind a medieval mosque with a vine-shaded courtyard. A modern Chinese town of arrow-straight boulevards dominates, but away to the south I can pick out the faint white line of the Kun Lun mountains, the back wall of the entire Himalayan range.

From the next oasis, Karghilik, I take a taxi into those hills along a road that leads, eventually, to Tibet. An army check-point by the chilly banks of the Tiznaf River is as far as I can go, but I scramble up a steep brown slope to take in the view. A mass of brown mountains, ribbed and scored with dark shadow, spreads east and west. Behind them, rising in a glittering white line, is the backbone of the Kun Lun. This was the barrier that Silk Road traders from India once had to cross en route to Kashgar, Yarkand, and my own final destination — Hotan.

The road to Hotan blazes across the stony desert, the mountains floating to the south. The vast void that surrounds it makes arrival in Hotan a strange experience, for here, at the very limit of China’s vastness, is another large, modern town. As a Uighur heartland, the Chinese government has been particularly keen to integrate Hotan with the rest of the country. Roads from the north now plough straight across the Taklamakan Desert, and from next year a railway line will link it to Kashgar. A Uighur man I meet at a kebab stall hisses, “When the railway is ready we will be finished — Hotan will be all Chinese.”

But something remains here: a week has passed and it is time for Hotan’s own Sunday Market. Nothing has been regimented here; the bazaar sprawls over a vast area, filling all the lanes and alleys of the old quarter with a mass of color and commerce. There are sections given over to cloth and carpets, to the jade mined from the banks of nearby rivers, to animals and even tractors. Donkey carts clatter through the crowds, the drivers calling out “ Bosh! Bosh! ” (“Coming through!”). When I am tired of wandering I feast on laghman (Uighur noodles) and slices of fresh watermelon.

And as I leave the market I spot something — what I had hoped to see in Kashgar. A boy is leading a pair of shaggy, twin-humped Bactrian camels through the crowd. They are enormous beasts and they pass through the chaos unperturbed and disappear among the trucks. I stare after them as they go, now sure, despite the political tensions and the heavy-handed Chinese modernization, that I am in Central Asia, and on the Silk Road.

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Uyghurs & Chinese Can Live Together in Peace in East Turkestan

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harun Yahya

www.harunyahya.com
www.eastturkestan.net

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Ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese Muslims pray together during Friday prayers at Yang Hang mosque in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 17, 2009.       

REUTERS/David Gray

The efforts being made today to stir up ethnic conflict in East Turkestan are extremely dangerous. Our Muslim brothers in East Turkestan have been subjected to various difficulties for the last 60 years or so, but have never turned to violence and conflict. The Uyghur Turks are a noble people, known for their good manners, honesty, fortitude, reconciliatory natures, obedience to the state, loyalty and devotion. These fine people possess excellent virtues, such as forgiveness, loving peace, lovableness, respect for different ideas and beliefs and judging people according to their moral values rather than their race. There has therefore never been any conflict based on ethnicity with the other peoples living in the region, especially the Han Chinese, and neither will there be any in the future. The Uyghur Turks want a climate in which everyone can live together in peace and security, respecting the right to life of everyone in East Turkestan, no matter what their religion or ethnic origin. Some of the main ways in which this can be brought about are as follows:

1. It is obvious that the Uyghur Turks favor peace and security. But peace in the region can only be ensured if the security of our Uyghur brothers is guaranteed. The international community has important responsibilities in that respect. The support of international societies and organizations is essential if it is to be possible for our Uyghur Turk and Chinese brothers are to be able to live in peace. Democratic pressure from these organizations, especially the UN, on the Chinese government, will ensure that the administration follows a line that is more peaceable toward the problems and legitimate demands of our Uyghur brothers and respects their human rights.  When the necessary encouragement and direction is provided, when the international community acts as a guarantor, it will be easier to establish peace in the region.

2. It is natural for China to be keen to protect its national and economic interests. But this cannot be established through oppression and aggression. The path that will make China prosperous and strengthen its economic and social regeneration lies in a conception that respects human rights, is democratic and loving, and that defends freedom of ideas and belief. The only solution that can calm Chinese fears, such as lack of access to energy resources, economic losses, loss of territory or fragmentation is the foundation of the Turkish-Islamic Union. The Turkish-Islamic Union will establish an environment in which borders are lifted, there is freedom of trade and investment and in which all communities have equal access to energy resources. In this way, China will be able to spread its investments over a wide area from Tanzania to Indonesia and sell its good across a wide territory, and Muslims will be able to invest in China on a large scale. China will regenerate rapidly with the establishment of the Turkish-Islamic Union, will be spared from having to use its citizens as a cheap labor force and will enjoy abundance and plenty all over. 

3. Islam is a religion of peace. All forms of violence are sinful in Islam. In the Qur’an, Allah commands Muslims to be forgiving. A Muslim who abides by the Qur’an and follows our Prophet (s) has a duty to be peace-loving, affectionate, loving, compassionate, patient and moderate. The moral values of the Qur’an oblige Muslims to control their anger, to respond to evil with good, to always speak and behave in a pleasant manner, to forgive under even the most difficult circumstances and to behave justly, even if that conflicts with their own interests. The spread of and learning about Islamic moral values is a great benefit for China. If the Chinese government is concerned about the Han Chinese taking in action in terror attacks and wishes to avoid anarchy and violence, then it must encourage the teaching and dissemination of Islamic moral values. In a China inhabited by people who live by the moral values of the Qur’an there will be no need for military occupation and security measures. The unrest and unease will come to a complete stop. The result will be a society made up of individuals who trust and respect one another, treat one another with understanding, are respectful of and loyal to the state and who all live in peace, that spends its money on the wealth of its own citizens instead of military investment, without investing millions of dollars in armaments and employing thousands of security personnel. And the order and equilibrium sought by China will be established naturally.

4. Our Uyghur brothers’ demands for humane conditions, to live freely according to their religion, to be able to worship as they wish, to protect their own culture and maintain their own existence are all justified and human ones. The most effective way of bringing these about is for the Uyghur people to make a cultural leap forward, to improve themselves with an anti-materialist and anti-Darwinist education, to increase their economic strength, and strengthen themselves both materially and spiritually. The Turkic Uyghur people must not forget that they are the most important representatives of Muslims and Islam in China. They must act as models to the Chinese people with their good manners, nobility, modesty, balance and moderation. An Uyghur people who are culturally advanced and materially stronger will clearly have wide opportunities to defend their own rights and also to describe and spread the moral values of Islam. By Allah’s leave, the future of an Uyghur society that loves Allah, protects its own national culture, is anti-Darwinist and anti-materialist, whose members love one another, which perfectly implements Qur’anic moral values and supports peace, love, tolerance and compassion, will be a very bright and excellent one.

The time we are living in is a very holy one, in which Hazrat Mahdi (as) will appear and in which the Prophet Jesus (as) will return to Earth. The time has now come when war and conflict will come to an end, when armament will come to an end, when people will love and embrace one another as brothers, when they will trust one another and when moral virtues will reign. This is the destiny of Allah. That destiny will also manifest itself in China, and this will be a time when Chinese and Uyghurs live together in friendship, when they all attain wealth, and when they build a bright civilization with joy and enthusiasm.

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CHINA: Uighur Uprising

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Riot in Urumqi: At least three people were killed and more than 20 injured after an ethnic minority clashed with police in China’s far north-western province of Xinjiang. The disturbances come after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uighur ethnic minority. The clashes in Urumqi on Sunday night between police and a 3,000-strong crowd from the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority left burned-out cars and buses and several smashed shop-fronts. — Peter Foster in Beijing

Travellers in today’s China are often surprised to discover that the country has a sizeable Muslim population. According to the Chinese government, there are more than 20 million Muslims who live in all parts of the country. Others say the number may even be higher. Many Chinese towns have mosques. The call to prayer can be heard on Fridays from Beijing to Yunnan in the south, and especially in the oases of arid Xinjiang in the far northwest. But there are subtle differences among the communities that follow Islam in China — cultural, linguistic and nationalist nuances that formed over centuries of an often-troubled history. Muslims have lived in the Middle Kingdom from just after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. – Backgrounder, CBC News

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China’s Rodney King Riots

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Vivian Po, New America Media

New America Media Editor’s Note: Tensions between Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese escalated July 5 when a peaceful protest over the deaths of two Uighur workers in Southern China turned into riots, leaving at least 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured. China expert Dru C. Gladney, Ph.D., says the riots reflect longtime ethnic tensions caused by unequal resource distribution and employment. Gladney is president of the Pacific Basin Institute and professor of anthropology at Pomona College. His most recent book is “Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects” (2004). He was interviewed by NAM reporter Vivian Po.

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What was your first reaction when you learned about the riots in Xin Jiang?

I think it is quite remarkable. Mostly, incidents have taken place in the south of the province, so this is quite extraordinary to have such a high number of people involved in this many casualties, in the downtown district of Urumqi. This place has really a small Uighur population, about 11 to12 percent of the entire city population. Urumqi has never been a Uighur city. It is just one small district. I understand there is a sympathy riot in support of them in Kashgar, so it is interesting to see whether it will spread to the rest of the region.

What really caused the riot?

Clearly, there is a lot of tension underneath the surface. Though a lot of people make references to the uprising in Tibet, I think a better analogy is what happened in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. There was a terrible beating of Rodney King, but there were so many other tensions in the city, racial tensions that were ignited by this incident. I think the Tibetan situation is different. It was much more internationally focused, monks were involved, and religion was a factor.

Is religion playing a part in this riot?

It is not. In the past, the problems of the region have been attributed to Islam and to complaints about religious freedom, independence, separatism and even jihad. But none of them seems to be an issue here. There are many complaints from the Uighurs about wanting more roles in government, and more freedom to practice religion, but that is not what prompted this riot.

The Uighurs organized the protest as a response to a fight that took place at a factory in Guangdong, after a Han Chinese man who used to work there accused Uighur men of raping two Han Chinese girls. How did relations between the Han and the Uighurs in China’s labor market contribute to this riot?

Labor is a very important issue in this whole situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Han Chinese man who accused the Uighurs of rape did it because he was angry over losing his job. Uighurs from Xin Jiang had jobs but he couldn’t get a job, so he made these allegations about rape that are totally unsubstantiated.

And Uighurs in Xin Jiang have complained that they get squeezed from both ends of the labor market, as both the skilled jobs go to the Han and then the unskilled and low-wage jobs go to the Han migrants, so Uighurs are really stuck in the middle. And when they go outside of the region to look for work, they are discriminated against and are not protected by the government. That was what a lot of the protests in Urumqi were about.

What is the Chinese government’s approach to ethnic minorities in China?

The policy and constitution in China are extremely enlightened and have some very positive policies for minorities, but the reality is that there is discontent. It is clear that these people have some legitimate concerns. You do not get that many people out on the streets if they are satisfied with their situations. So there are real problems.

How did technology play a role in the riot?

The role of the Internet in fostering Uighur national consciousness is very important. Now, Twitter and cell phones, YouTube and Youku, all this technology has made the region much more accessible. In the past, the region was very cut off and in some ways less accessible than Tibet because Tibet was a place people were interested in and people knew the history. Uighurs have always been isolated, and nobody really knew or cared about them. Now through technology, international organizations of exiled Uighur groups, as well as the media attention that the Uighur detainees in Guantanamo Bay have gotten, it has become a global issue.

The Chinese government claims political activist Rebiya Kadeer masterminded the riots. What do you think?

I think it is true that several international organizations, not just Rebiya’s, were engaged in this issue, but to suggest that any one of them has masterminded the event in Xin Jiang is very difficult to prove. I think the Chinese government is taking a cue from the Iranian situation, where they blamed the Americans for inciting people to go into the streets.

How would you compare the ethnic conflicts in China and those in the United States?

The Rodney King riots were an example of these extraordinary racial tensions. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for a Uighur to become president or premier of China before racial tensions improve. They run very deep. We also have the issue of the indigenous people here, like the Native Americans and their concerns, and many have similar problems such as joblessness and high mobility.

Is there any solution to the ethnic conflicts?

Uighurs are demanding a greater voice in their own affairs and greater representation. There are Uighurs in the government but they are handpicked by the party, so their real concerns aren’t being addressed. There are some policy issues the government could address, such as limiting Han migration, ensuring that Uighurs are given equal opportunities or even greater compensation for the mineral wealth that is extracted from their province. Residents of Xin Jiang should get some special privileges. Also, the Chinese have the “hukou” (household) residential privilege system where residents get certain benefits, such as education, and Uighurs do not feel they are getting those benefits in their autonomous region.

What do you think about the way China’s state-sanctioned media has approached covering the riots?

I find it quite striking that they immediately reported the uprising in the region. I think they’ve recognized the fact that they can’t keep a lid on the news anymore because of cell phones and easy access to media outlets. But you also see their bias. It is really extraordinary that the level of animosity between the Uighur and the Han population exhibits itself so clearly, so you can actually see Uighur men kicking a Han Chinese girl on TV. I am concerned that the reason this was shown on Chinese television, as opposed to a policeman beating protesters, was deliberate and can be very counterproductive.

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