Monday, 26 March 2012

A Han from Xinjiang: An Alternate Voice

Xinjiang Source recently spoke to L*, a Han Chinese academic born and raised in Xinjiang, about his take on the political and security issues which dominate discussions of Xinjiang.

* Such are the political circumstances in Xinjiang and in China generally, he asked that he remain anonymous, a request that Xinjiang Source was happy to grant.

Xinjiang Source: Do you think that mass Han migration has had a positive or negative effect on Xinjiang?

L: It depends on who those Han Chinese are. The mass migration started in the Mao era, when tens of thousands of intellectuals and "educated youth" were mobilized to relocate to Xinjiang. Those people were highly educated and properly trained with various skills. They were keenly aware of local culture and traditions and many of them learnt minority languages, such as Uyghur and Kazak. Ethnic relations were relatively harmonious at that time. There was a period when Han and various minorities lived together like a family. But things have changed since the economic reforms, especially the "great development of the west" initiated in the 1990s. Landless farmers and business people dominated this phase of Han migration to Xinjiang. Unlike those intellectuals, these people are basically gold-diggers who only care about financial gains and never bother to learn and respect local culture. Consequently, suspicions and misgivings arise.

XS: You mention that recent Han migrants don't bother to learn or respect the local culture. Do you think, then, that Uyghurs may be entitled to feel as though they, and their culture, are under threat from the policies of the Chinese government? After all, they may argue, it is the government who has encouraged these people to move to Xinjiang.

L: Your observation is not accurate. The first phase of migration was indeed organized and sponsored by the government, but the second round was mostly based on economic motivations. Inland farmers migrate to Xinjiang for money instead of ideology. The government didn't organize farmers in any form to permanently settle down in Xinjiang. There are several exceptions though. The government moved tens of thousands of Hans, dislocated by the Three Gorges Dam construction, to Kuqa in southern Xinjiang. Every year, local governments in inland China organize trains of cotton pickers to Xinjiang for seasonal labor, and they leave when their work is done. Uyghurs certainly would feel threatened with such a influx of Han migrants, who understand little about Xinjiang and indigenous cultures. But those new migrants are not government sponsored.

XS: Some Uyghurs claim that some of the government's policies in Xinjiang are, indeed, designed specifically to limit their freedoms and to destroy their culture. What do you think of these claims?

L: These claims are overarching and very general. We need to look at those claims in a more specific way. I believe the Chinese government's policies on Uyghurs are based on its security concerns. For example, Meshrep (a traditional male Uyghur gathering involving poetry, dance and music) has been restricted in Ghulja since the mid-1990s after various sources pointed out that some Uyghurs took advantage of this cultural event for anti-government activities. Then the government cancelled it which triggered the "Ghulja Incident" of 1997 (in which Uyghur protesters were confronted by PLA troops. The official death toll was nine, but unofficial reports place it as high as 100 or more). The government seems to fear all kinds of mass gatherings that might facilitate mobilization and are difficult to control. On the other hand, more and more Uyghur women in Urumqi these days are wearing Wahhabi-style niqabs (covering all of the face except the eyes) and appear to be able to freely walk the streets without being stopped or harassed by the authorities.

XS: You say that the government's policies in Xinjiang are based on security concerns. Many Uyghurs, and indeed non-Uyghurs, believe that these concerns are hugely over-exaggerated by the Chinese state. To what extent do you think these security concerns are justified?

L: That depends on the information one has. Overseas exiles' accounts are difficult to verify and Chinese media are under an information black out when reporting Xinjiang. Foreign journalists are having a hard time covering the issue. But the threat of Islamic fundamentalism is real and tangible in Xinjiang. The question is how to differentiate the security threat from Uyghurs' real and legitimate grievances. We all hope that the government has a clear strategy balancing combating extremism and guaranteeing people's basic rights and needs. Then the question is if the government truly understands the nature of the problem and is on the right track for a solution. To put it simply, I don't know.

XS: Do you think that ethnic relations in Xinjiang have got worse or better in the past 10 or 20 years? Specifically, have you noticed any difference since the riots of 2009?

L: Ethnic relations, in my memory, were fine all the way to 2009. We locals used to say that ethnic unity, built up over thirty years, has been badly damaged, if not completely destroyed, by the violence of 2009.

XS: What do you think is the best way to bring about peace and prosperity in Xinjiang in the future? Assimilation? Increased autonomy? Or something else?

L: I think peace and prosperity will come neither from assimilation nor autonomy, but from a form of constitutional democracy. Assimilation would never happen given the Uyghurs' resistance to everything Han Chinese. Autonomy is impossible because the Chinese government considers Xinjiang as an autonomous region already. The future peace and prosperity of Xinjiang depends upon structural changes occurring within Chinese society, especially its political system.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Does it mean that the Urumqi violence in 2009 has successfully promoted ethnic cleavage? We come to ask whether separatist movement or independence movement, whatever they name it, ought to have a minimum ethic standard? Using violence to create social cleavage is defintely against what human rights some separatist groups claim to uphold. If Muslims women in Xinjiang are wearing Wahhabist style of clothes, they embrace what generally suggests as fundamentalism. What is the importance is whether they voluntarily wear this or obliged or indoctrinated to do this? Throughout the whole world, the non-violent Muslims are complaining that terrorism is tarnishing Islam as a (their) religion. Islam means beauty, peace and submissive (to Allah). How come some Muslims sacrify their religion for violence?

  3. The problem of Xinjiang is that everyone has been trying to deny official information released and they do not actually go an see it by themselves. More stupidity, they believe what the opposition groups, mainly those who fled to the West. If the Chinese government is so powerful and oppressive, lack of transparency, blocking access to internet, how come these people received so many "correct" information from Xinjiang? If the heavily armed police, PLA and paramilitary troops are everywhere in Xinjiang, how come there is no one to block the Urumqi violence in July 2009? If the government is so powerful and spying on everyone and limiting freedom of everyone, how come they do not know any information? We are in an information and communication era. In view of the rapid economic growth and the growing business activities in Xinjiang, can Xinjiang still be an isolated region of China? Already we can see that the world's largest commodity market have been developed between Xinjiang and Kazakhstan, how come there is no freedom and liberty? We outsiders of Xinjiang better view all sources of information from both the government and the separatist groups based in the West more carefully. If we follows good new of the West, now in the UK, a number of ex-prime ministers According to Tony Blair and Gordan Brown, John Major are giving their evidence during a hearing on a case of media ethic. We can see how the US media Kingdom of Rupert Murdoch has been controlling not only the media but the policy of the UK. Prime Minister were ousted not because of their government efficiency but whether they follow the command of King Rupert Murdoch. I am recently doing a research on the separatist movement in Xinjiang. I discover also that many scholars are just copying information for they claim that the Chinese government is blocking research in Xinjiang. Is this a responsible attitude as scholar? I am a student,I have no resources to go to do the research in Xinjiang, I am relying heavily on academic resources for my thesis. If they are just copying each other, if I am not a serious student, I would be helping to disseminate the same message as an instrument of separatists. Most ridiculously is that the US Congress research center and some other research center claimed to carry out indepth research are also repeating the same thing. When things repeated a million times, people tend to be brainwashed. This is troubling me because all these books just said that the Chinese government is lying and everything they disclosed are inaccurate, without offering evidential support. Can we just simply say that all Communists are lying and only the America and the Western liberal democracies are not lying? If we follow the hearing in the UK, we can see how badly we have been brainwashed and and how our government elected by the British people have become puppet of the US Empire.

  4. Why I have so many queries? It is because I have look into the whole history of a single event of this East Turkistan Independence Movement including the issue of pan-Islamism, the pan-Turkicism, and I trace also back to thousands of years for the sources of the Uighurs and the Ottoman Kingdom and the theoretical assumption on the socioeconomic grievances, social movements and mobilization. The issue of Xinjiang cannot just be viewed in socioeconomic term because its ups and downs just reflecting the geopolitical strength of China and how other great powers perceived China as a threat or not. The independence movement has been relying on foreign strength to grow and wither. This is the same experience in Central Asia,Africa and the Middle East, previously in the Balkan penisular (where two devastating world wars were ignited). Why these poor countries cannot achieve socioeconomic development? Why they cannot grow into more peaceful modern nations? It is because they exist only to sustain the dominance of the West. However, it is the reality that peoples are greedy. Whether liberal democracy and authoritarian, they are all made up of greedy peoples and politicians. A balance of power is needed to give some constraint to powers, however, power goes unrestrained will only lead to a third world war. How can we come out from this vicious cycle of human history?

  5. These two scholars have the opportunities to do research in Xinjiang. They are telling us a different picture by suggesting that the Hans in Urumqi are not necessarily the more privleged groups. There are many young Uyghurs who are well educated and earning more than the Hans migrants. This new generation of Uyghurs who are enjoying the fruit of their professional qualifications with their own efforts. Equally, Ribeya Kadeer the current treasure of the American Empire climbed up the social leader due to her own effort. However, without a relatively free and equal society, how come she claim up the social ladder as a billionnaire from a very humble strata? In this ICT, we are all risked to be brainwashed!

    Howell, Anthony and C. Cindy Fan, Migration and Inequality in Xinjiang: A Survey of Han and Uyghur Migrants in Urumqi,, retrieved on 26/5/2012.

  6. The following articles appeared to be reflecting a fair judgment of the two authors, is another article which I retrieved from the web:

    Peter Morrison, Islam in Xinjiang

    It should be written around the 1980s. The author went to Kashgar and asked a local Muslim whether the Red Guard had destroyed any mosque during the Cultural Revolution (around 1967). The Muslim laughed and said "They didn't dare!"

    If the Red Guards at the climax of the Maoist campaign era didn't dare to do anything on the mosque/in Kashgar, we ask, how come an more open China dare to carry out policy more aggressive than Mao Zedong?

    Another article equally written in the same 1980s probably:

    Peter Humphrey, Islam in China Today,

    Why more opening can lead to such rising violent atmosphere? We cannot understand it without look at the successful mobilization of the activists from overseas. These people migrated relying on foreign government funding to disrupt Xinjiang's peace and development. They enjoy a comfortable living and fame outside. It is the people in Xinjiang who bear the cost. Equally, people of the US suffer also because many of them are unemployed and lost their home during the financial crisis. Many of them are just camping at the park. My friend, a teach in San Francisco, told me that she had a student who carried everything at his back to the school because he had no home. His family is camping at a park. It seems that the chinese people and the Uyghur migrants are more highly valued by the US government than their own people who have no home and children are also suffering!

  7. Francis Fukuyama is totally correct to suggest that it is the end of history, the end of the evolution of ideology and the triumph of liberal democracy. When an ideology or anything stop evolving, it starts to decay and decline! Are we not witnessing such the decay of liberal democracy that the media is controlling popular elected political leaders? Can we see how scholars are just copying ideas and information circulating rather than using the Enlightenment spirit to carry out scientific research? Can liberal democracy not heading towards to decline with such problems?