Ethnic unity, Language and Discos.

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.

Students at Tongxin Middle School

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.

Not a story about violent ethnic conflict

Girl in Kashgar, 2000

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.

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