Nothing worthwhile ever happens quickly and easily. You achieve only as you are determined to achieve … and you keep at it until you have achieved ☼ Robert H. Lauer

The Problem with Xinjiang

Xinjiang is the Uyghur Autonomous Region that makes up most of Northwestern China. It’s received a lot of attention over the years, as tension continues to spur violent protests and ethnic clashes. Just a few days ago, on March 7, four new casualties were added to the death toll when violence broke out in the city of Korla outside a video game arcade.

The region is of special importance to me as I was fortunate enough to see much of it over the summer of 2011. I did a three week backpacking trip, traveling from my Peace Corps site in Gansu Province through Xinjiang – Urumqi to Kashgar, and then along the southern corridor – taking the route less traveled by back through Qinghai. (Read more about my travels through Xinjiang here).

The Uyghurs are a culturally fascinating people, with Muslim roots, and who speak a Turkic dialect. They don’t share any cultural ties with China, yet the Chinese claim to have always ruled Xinjiang (and continue to use this as their justification for including the territory in their national jurisdiction.) The Uyghurs have more ethnically and culturally in common with Central Asians, and in many cases, strongly resent their Chinese compatriots.

China has taken steps to diminish their cultural autonomy over the years, weakening the strength of Uyghur language by discontinuing any degrees of higher education in the language (so any Uyghur wishing to become college educated must do so in Mandarin), and most recently, infiltrating the region with Han Chinese. Advertising campaigns can be noted all throughout Eastern hubs, such as large billboards in Shanghai advertising the beautiful sand dunes of Xinjiang, in their efforts of encouraging mass migration of Han Chinese.

Some speculators have even pondered whether or not Xinjiang will emulate Tibet in terms of government restrictions and limitations in accessing the area (Tibet currently requires a special permit for non-Chinese citizens to enter, and special permission for citizens as well).

Why can’t we all just get along?☼

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Categorised in: Event☼, Political☼, Travel☼

3 Responses »

  1. China does have a history in that region, but it wasn’t always part of China. China’s map has expanded and contracted more than once over the centuries. During the Tang Dynasty, for one example, China moved its armies into this region—while ruled by China’s only female emperor—to drive back the nomads that kept raiding into China’s heartland inside the Great Wall. The political thinking of the time was to send armies north of the Great Wall and occupy/rule the lands where the nomads lived with the goal to stop the raids into China.

    The Qinq Dynasty also ruled over this region and also fought wars in Burma to expand the empire. But the Qing were not Han Chinese. They were the Manchu minority who took China away from the Han in the 17th century.

    In fact, at one time, China ruled a large part of Southeast Asia and the Vietnamese fought for a thousand years before driving the Chinese out.

    What China did in that northwest region isn’t that much different from what the US did in Hawaii and other regions in the US as it expanded west to rule over the North American natives who lived here for more than ten thousand years before Columbus arrived and introduced Europe’s brutal form of slavery to the Americas.

  2. Thank you @Lloyd! The region is so fascinating based on the conflicting historical claims surrounding it. While I’m sure not evey Chinese persons agrees, much sentiment remains that Xinjiang is an unquestioned permanent part of China’s borders based on historical notions passed down through the ages (whether factually based or not). Thank you for calling attention to this!

    • With 56 identified minorities in China still holding on to their separate ethnic identities including different spoken languages, I think that China will always have separatist movements.

      In fact, the United States has more separatist movements than China does. We just don’t hear much about them but they exist. For one example there is the Lakota Sioux movement that wants to create the Republic of Lakotah covering thousands of square miles in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana.

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