China’s leaders are creating what they seek to avoid—a coordinated resistanceby Mark Kitto / August 25, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Mark Kitto and his family camp in Moyu County, Xinjiang. (© Mark Kitto)
After prayers on Friday 28th June, in the village of Hanerik , Hetian Prefecture, in the southern half of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China, there was a civil disturbance. Due to the absence of independent witnesses, it is difficult to know what caused the disturbance and how it developed, but as it happened immediately after prayers it is likely that resentment of official interference in local religious affairs caused a number of young men to express their anger in public.
The native ethnic population of Xinjiang, who make up 40 per cent of the total, are Uighurs; a Turkic, Muslim people. They live mostly in the Tarim Basin, in the southern half of the region, and in the capital, Ürümqi. Since the 19th century, but particularly over recent decades, the Chinese government has encouraged mass migration to Xinjiang of ethnic Han Chinese from the northeast of the country. Han migrants are given free housing, incentives to start businesses, jobs in lucrative industries such as oil and energy, and access to good schools, among other benefits.
The influx of Han, and the perceived smothering of Uighur traditional society, has caused resentment among the Uighurs, which sometimes manifests itself in violence and attracts international attention. The worst case to date was in July 2009, when Uighurs went on the rampage in Ürümqi and killed approximately 200 Han Chinese residents. This year there were incidents in Bachu on 24th April, Turfan on 26th June and Hetian on 28th June.
Uighur mud-walled towns have been replaced with tower blocks. Every urban centre has a Han zone on its edge, many of which are growing so fast they dominate the original. Han Chinese refuse to enter Ürümqi’s “Uighur Quarter” after dark. Here, at all hours, you find phalanxes of young Han Chinese soldiers, armed with batons and shields, protecting a couple more with automatic weapons in the middle. They look like Roman Legionaries in an Asterix comic, and appear just as nervous. As with Tibet, the party line is that it is making life better for the locals. Besides, the propaganda says, all the Uighurs like to do is sing and dance.