November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
I recently came across this excellent Blog on Xinjiang’s history, which has made me painfully aware of how much of a non-expert I am on this subject (not to mention…). There’s a great deal of thoughtful analysis on a wide variety of topics, from the deaths of the leaders of the East Turkestan Republic, to UFO sightings in the region. I’d particularly recommend the posts on the Photos of J. Hall Paxton, who was U.S. Consul-General in Urumqi from 1946 through 1949. The captions on the photos below particularly caught my eye.
November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Some small restaurants in Shaoyang, the town in Hunan where I first taught. Probably my favourite places to eat in the world.
November 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
Whilst reading Javier Marias’s Poison, Shadow and Farewell, I came across this poem from Stevenson, written near the end of his life, whilst far from Edinburgh. This is the first stanza of To My Old Familiars.
After a day of ‘missile rain’ and ‘belching winter wind’ (such as was today) one could be forgiven for wanting to not only forget, but also to flee. Is there anyone who lives here that doesn’t curse the weather?
November 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
From Zadie Smith’s excellent piece on The Social Network in the latest NYRB.
World makers, social network makers, ask one question first: How can I do it? Zuckerberg solved that one in about three weeks. The other question, the ethical question, he came to later: Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses the word “connect” as believers use the word “Jesus,” as if it were sacred in and of itself: “So the idea is really that, um, the site helps everyone connect with people and share information with the people they want to stay connected with….” Connection is the goal. The quality of that connection, the quality of the information that passes through it, the quality of the relationship that connection permits—none of this is important. That a lot of social networking software explicitly encourages people to make weak, superficial connections with each other (as Malcolm Gladwell has recently argued1), and that this might not be an entirely positive thing, seem to never have occurred to him.
I couldn’t agree more with the following.
Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this? Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?
Yes, we should struggle against it. Yes, our lives are ridiculous. Not what happens, not what we think and feel, but certainly how we try to present ourselves to others. I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve gotten to know any better by being their ‘friend’ on Facebook. I know more about them, that’s all. But knowing which bands or films (or more rarely, books) other people like doesn’t bring us any closer. It does not make for a ‘connection’. It is just a way for us to spy on each other without the risk, or trouble, of actual interaction.
But I will not be quitting Facebook anytime soon. I do things that I want to tell people about, and I use Facebook for that, and it seems only fair that my Facebook ‘friends’ should get to tell me what they’re doing in return. It’s an exchange, a social transaction. But really nothing more.
November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Some photos I took in Urumqi this spring are up at Flickr now.
November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
I have a new piece on the London Review of Books Blog about the plans to stimulate Xinjiang’s economy, and my doubts that the gains will be shared equally.
November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
A few good recent Xinjiang pieces, the first from Kashgar about the different responses to the massive social and cultural changes in the city caused by the destruction of the old town. The video is well-worth watching, and gives a sense of the scale of the demolition.
In the wake of the Tibetan language protests in Qinghai and elsewhere, minority education as a whole is getting more attention. The Uighur Human Rights Project has a very good piece on the issues of so-called ‘bilingual education’, and the obvious political dimensions. The article focuses on a report that appeared in the Chinese press about a visit to a school in Tongxin, in the Kizilsu Kirghiz autonomous area of Xinjiang. The article notes that Tongxin Middle School’s facilities are almost the same as those of schools in eastern China, except for that
“in every classroom, next to the teacher’s podium there is a poster proclaiming an “ethnic unity” pledge, with the second line stating that “every teacher and student should, in thinking and behavior, be fully conscious that the biggest danger to Xinjiang derives from “ethnic splittism” and “illegal religious activities”.
Finally, there’s a review of an interesting new book on the region by Gardner Bovingdon. My grasp of Uighur was, at best, pretty tenuous, so I always had to rely on what people could tell me in English. As a result, I’m particularly interested in the part of the book that deals with
the number of daily public and private ways the Uyghur people defy the Chinese regime. From jokes to songs to stories, Uyghurs invoke the symbols of opposition to Chinese authorities. These varieties of resistance either circulate in trusted private conversations or in allegorical form at public performances.
November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
Having just posted that fairly bleak piece about the likelihood of further violence in Xinjiang, here’s a slightly more optimistic one from Radio Free Asia. It doesn’t seem to have been picked up by other news outlets, for reasons that emphasise what constitutes ‘news’.
On October 15th around 100 farmers began protesting in Kashgar against the high fees they have to pay the government to use land. They stayed outside the prefectural government building in Kashgar for 3 days, when the protest came to an end, but not in the manner in which such protests usually do in Xinjiang.
“We had expected armed to police to come take us away, but actually, top officials including the county secretary and village party chief came. Most importantly, they treated us very nicely,” Yusupjan [the leader of the protest] said.
Officials pointed out to the protesters that they would have faced harsher treatment a year ago, after ethnic unrest broke between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi, the regional capital. Uyghur men faced widespread arrests in the ensuing crackdown.
“The official said, ‘As you know, if this were last year, you could have seen yourselves surrounded by armed police and your destiny would have been the detention center. But that time is over and such a thing will not happen again. Please listen to us, follow us to return home and we can discuss anything you want with you.’”
The officials are said to have done so, and to be considering the request. Whether or not the land fees get adjusted, this is a unusual story because there seems to be a) agreement from both sides about what happened and b) the protest ended peacefully. I also find it remarkable how candid the officers were about what would usually happen- let’s hope this is due to some general edict about the need for more sensitive policing in the region.