China's Uighur Muslims Say Feel Alienated - Reuters
- China's Uighur Muslims Say Feel Alienated
Fri September 26, 2003 08:03 AM ET
By Godwin Chellam
KASHGAR (Reuters) - The shops and cafes in front of
the centuries-old Id Kah mosque in the ancient Chinese
Silk Road city of Kashgar were once a gathering point
for many of the city's Muslim Uighurs.
Until three months ago that is. In their place now
stands a swathe of broken land the size of two
football fields that is dotted with piles of refuse
and designated as the future site of a vast square, a
shopping mall and a highway.
Progress? Not for some.
"Look! Look what they've done to our holy place. Every
day we are losing a bit of our culture, and people
wonder why there are tensions between Hans and
Uighurs," flatbread hawker Nizilghur, 29, shouted over
the din of a nearby bazaar.
His outburst captures the frustration of Uighurs in
China's westernmost Xinjiang region after five decades
of communist rule and resentment over what is seen as
discrimination by Han Chinese and a widening wealth
gap that sparked riots, bombings and assassinations in
The worst rioting left nine dead and more than 200
wounded in Yining near the border with Kazakhstan in
China has been hoping to allay mutual distrust by
pushing what it sees as the magic pill of economic
development, most recently with its "Go West"
masterplan to bring the fruits of economic progress to
the remote hinterland.
It is also working closely with Russia and its
neighbors in the former Soviet Muslim republics in
central Asia, with whom it held a meeting in Beijing
this week, to meet the challenge of radical Islam in
Money is indeed evident in Xinjiang, from glitzy new
high-rises in the capital, Urumqi, to motorways
clogged with Honda Accords and Volkswagen Passats.
The question is who, and how many, actually get their
hands on the wealth.
"The kind of industries set up there benefit either
Han Chinese coming in from the east or Uighurs who
have been educated in Chinese," said Michael Dillon,
director of the Center for Contemporary Chinese
Studies at Britain's University of Durham.
Xinjiang's highest-ranking official defended Beijing's
"Economic disparity stems from your abilities. Incomes
are ... not judged by ethnic groupings," Wang Lequan,
Xinjiang's party boss and a Han Chinese, told visiting
But even the Shandong native, who has lived in
Xinjiang for 13 years, conceded: "The central
government has invested in the West for three years,
but because conditions in the region are less than
favorable, there are many constraints."
In a white paper released last year, Beijing said
fixed asset investments in Xinjiang totaled 501.5
billion yuan ($60.6 billion) from 1950 to 2001, while
government subsidies rose to 18.38 billion yuan in
2001 from 11.9 billion in 2000.
But many Uighurs feel left out -- and not only
"How many Uighurs do you see in top business or
government posts? There may be a handful, but it's a
tiny percentage," said Manzana, a petite Uighur
teacher from Aksu.
"They talk about integration and development. They
talk about raising our standard of living. How come I
don't see it?"
Xinjiang separatists have been fighting for the last
150 years for an independent East Turkestan homeland,
claiming a region they have inhabited for more than
Formally incorporated as a province of China in 1884,
Xinjiang saw a brief period of virtual independence
from 1938 when it sought aid from the Soviet Union.
China regained control after the Communists swept to
power in 1949.
That began a tide of transmigration. That year, the
United Nations estimates that ethnic Han Chinese made
up just seven percent of Xinjiang's population. That
figure has now risen to 40 percent.
Today, Turkic-speaking Uighurs and Mandarin-speaking
Han live side-by-side in a sparsely populated region
rich with oil and minerals. Few dare to talk openly
about the tensions simmering only just below the
The crackdown on Uighur separatists has gained
momentum since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York
and Washington, although Washington has urged Beijing
not to use the war on terror as a pretext to crack
down on political dissent.
Indeed, the Han and Uighur cultures differ greatly.
Many Uighurs live by Xinjiang time -- two hours behind
the official Beijing time that is imposed China-wide.
"The Han and us Uighurs never mix. We are as different
as night and day. They don't understand our language,
our religion and our culture," said Abdeluky, a
sprightly 79-year-old. ($1=8.277 Yuan)
To know more about Muslims in CHina see:
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