The Xinjiang Perspective: Part III
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The Xinjiang Perspective: Part III


Graham Adams shares his personal observations, experiences, and conversations from around Xinjiang. For Part I and Part II see here and here respectively.

Omnipresent state propaganda exhorts Uyghurs and other local ethnic groups to love and protect the Chinese state, which even in Xinjiang is ironically dubbed the "motherland." However, despite public campaigns as well as patriotic education in schools, it is clear that bright youth are questioning official political, historical, and religious narratives. Based upon interactions with students from all over Xinjiang (East Turkestan), it is clear that they are not passively absorbing and accepting official propaganda. On the contrary, they are thinking critically about their identity, their history, the role of the Chinese state in their lives, and most importantly, their collective future.

A common fear among Uyghur students is that the government is weakening and eroding the bilingual language policy currently in place. Although the government is eager to showcase its policy as evidence that it respects minority rights, in fact the bilingual schools are anything but bilingual. A Xinjiang high school teacher stated that although her students attend nine class periods per day, the only class conducted in Uyghur is the actual Uyghur language class. Teachers are not supposed to instruct students in other classes in Uyghur, even if the teacher and students are all native speakers and feel more comfortable speaking in Uyghur. Students revealed to me their concern that the ultimate goal of the government is assimilation. "They don't want us to be Uyghur," they complained, "they want us to be Chinese."

Students and teachers in Xinjiang are prohibited from attending any religious activities. They are not allowed to pray at a mosque or fast during Ramadan. One teacher noted that in Kashgar, students are kept on campus during the early afternoon so that they cannot attend midday prayers. College students also lose college credit if they are caught attending religious activities on campus. Moreover, if teachers or students in Xinjiang fill out any official government form that asks for a religious identification, they must write "none." They are explicitly told that they can believe in nothing more than Marxism, despite China's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

The political situation in Urumqi is particularly tense now that the Party Congress is taking place. During noontime prayers on Friday, a Uyghur teacher must stand by the outer gate of an assigned mosque and make sure that none of his students attempts to enter the premises. If one does, he will receive a demerit from his school. A Chinese teacher accompanies the Uyghur teacher to ensure that the latter does not turn a blind eye to student rule-breaking. In addition, there are cameras inside and outside the mosque, as well as public security officers in the streets, to ensure that students do not enter. If students are caught, the teachers who failed to stop them are reprimanded as well.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government also forbids students and teachers from wearing headscarves or traditional hats on school campuses. One Uyghur professor with whom I spoke argued that these head coverings are a cultural marker, rather than strictly a religious marker. In fact, many Uyghurs have remarked that the July 2009 riots acted as a major turning point in their society. Since that time, the number of Uyghur women wearing headscarves has increased dramatically. They argue that they wear them to stand in solidarity with other Uyghurs as well as identify themselves as Muslim.

One day, I encountered a handful of students on a college campus wearing traditional hats and headscarves. I asked one of the young women why she chose to cover her head in spite of the ban. "It's part of our culture," she responded. When I subsequently inquired what might happen if she continued to defy the ban, the student said that the school could choose to expel her. Such acts of resistance, albeit on a small scale, seemingly indicate the desire of Uyghurs and other Central Asian ethnic groups to assert their own identity as well as their rights.

Uyghur teachers are increasingly unemployed as more teaching jobs go to Chinese. I asked a teacher why it is difficult for young Uyghur college graduates with strong Chinese language skills to find employment in schools. She said that Uyghurs are asking the same question. Upon receiving applications from potential teachers with similar backgrounds, she has noticed that schools tend to give preference to Chinese applicants. The government has also imposed a new requirement that Uyghur teachers, even those who only teach Uyghur language classes, must have a certain level of proficiency in Chinese or they lose their jobs. This stipulation has proven challenging for many older Uyghur teachers.

One student to whom I spoke began to discuss Xinjiang's Central Asian neighbor, Uzbekistan. "Our neighbors," he mused, "share with us a similar language, a similar culture, and a similar history. Why is it that Uzbekistan is a nation, and we are not?" The overwhelming message I receive from Uyghur and other ethnically Central Asian students is that they must unify. They must unify if they wish to protect the future of their culture, their religion, and their people.

Graham Adams specializes in the study of ethnic minority policy in the People's Republic of China. His name has been changed to protect his identity.

April 17, 2013 at 22:10

I disagree with your disagreement. For one thing, much of the American SOuthwest used to belong to Mexico. More importantly, it doesnt matter what the provenance of modern political boundaries are, because there will always be detractors on both sides. It is more important to combat petty, self-absorbed self-determination, which falsely assumes the "ethnic group" or "nation" as the focus of social mobilization. Such primitive thinking has led to ethnic cleansing and world wars, and is something that I ferevently oppose. It is better, though of course not perfect, that China should implement its "zhonghua minzu" concept which seeks to create an overarching, supra-national indentity.


Also there is basically littel profit to be gained from studying Uighur. Unfortunately for speakers of Uighur, they are not nearly as numerous as Spanish speakers in the US. Linguistic connections with Central Asian Turkic speakers are also economically dubious, as the language of inter-communal communication througout Central Asia is Russian. There is little future for monoligual Uighur-speakers, and it is better for the Uighur people to adopt a portion of Chinese-ness which will at least enable them to compete in the modern economy, which in turn will enable future generations of Uighurs to invest in their culture. As it stands, Uighur culture is known basically for opposition to China and mideval literature – not a promising competitive portfolio

February 19, 2013 at 00:57

no, its not lies,its 100% true

maybe you are a chines govt agent- like those zionist Israeli hasbara fools who are on almost every interent forum, spewing out their lies & deception.


Louisa Greve
November 18, 2012 at 23:44

On traditional headscarves.
Extremely timely observations.  One point of interest is the phrase "traditional hats and headscarves."  It would be of great value to analyze, even anecdotally, the style of headscarves young women are increasingly wearing in today's urban Xinjiang.  In various cultures around the world Muslim women who choose to cover their hair do so in many different ways, from full face coverings, to black scarves tightly drawn over the hair around to the chin, to loosely draped scarves in a light color or multi-colored, traditional prints.  What are the styles considered by today's Uyghurs as "traditional" styles in their own culture — and are young women choosing these, or are some of them choosing black ,and more completely covered styles?  If they choose unmistakably local, Uyghur fabrics — is this a statement about Uyghur ethnic identity, and if they choose black,  is this a statement about religious identity that is more oriented to Mecca and the traditions cultivated by the Saudi conservators of Islamic tradition? It's worth noting also that Uyghur women, not just men, traditionally have worn the distinctive "dopa" hat. In short, can you show us photos in your next article? 

November 18, 2012 at 21:42

I am commenting from the perspective of someone who disagrees with Xinjiang independence and believe that historically the Xinjiang region was more or less conquered/subjugated by the Chinese empire throughout several hundred years.
I also agree that teaching in Chinese for the majority of the classes, as well as assimilation, is not in itself bad, and in many ways very practical.
HOWEVER, what China is doing to eliminate the cultural and religious identity of the Uighurs is not only counterproductive, but inherently racist and deserve the protests of the brave students and teachers, government workers and policemen who defy these bans in their own small ways. I support this Uighur citizens.

November 13, 2012 at 23:11

Hilarious… author’s name has been changed to protect his / her identity: why? And why use a pseudonym of a western name? Maybe I am over-exaggerating. More so than this so-called author. The fact is: China is home to over 40 distinct ethnicities, the majority of which have remained in the same regions for hundreds, and even thousands of years. They were part of China for the most part of the nation’s existence. They weren’t plundered and invaded by foreign forces as part of a colonization or imperialistic expansion. The Native Americans were visited by the Chinese explorers well before the Europeans set foot on either the north or South American continents. Evidence of this is prevalent within the regional and tribal cultures. When the Europeans arrived, the natives were oppressed and fooled into giving up their land, and those who resisted were met with military brutality. This let to the eventual “struggle” of the pioneers who were promoted to settle on native lands in the west.
This so-called author is foolish to even cast doubt on the unity of the Chinese nation. Comparing the province of Xingjiang to Uzbekistan?? Even in Uzbekistan there are various ethnicities. Perhaps those are thinking of separatist movements as well? In the case of China, there will always be discontent, the exact same as any other nation. But the majority live in unity, and form part of the oldest examples of multiculturalism. Immigrants to the new world expect to be accepted, and are required to accept the ways of their host countries. Different ethnicities in China understand their place in a nation with so much diversity. The majority do not ask the question of having their own nation. It is those who want China to fail, that are asking those questions for them. Divide and conquer isn’t as simple in the MIDDLE KINGDOM.

November 11, 2012 at 07:44

Bias is inevitable whenever there are two differnt groups of people and one of those groups is in control. It happens  everywhere, not only in China. It has happened with the African Americans for hundreds of years in the USA, and although the situation has greatly improved, it undoubtably still exists. Turning a blind eye to every other nation other than China achieves nothing. It just shows that China's rising power is evidently intimidating some North Americans.

November 10, 2012 at 00:17

So we seem to have a staunch defense of Chinese/Han nationalism here. It is perfectly correct to have a bilingual program in Xinjiang for all the Uyghurs in a world experiencing rapid globaiization, yet the problem goes deeper, if we take the question of cultural and political indentity seriously. CCP is particularly obsessive with minorities's political identity, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet where independent governments existed even shortly before the "Liberation". That there are probelms of mistreating minorities in US or any other countries does not give Chinese state inmunity to abuse minorities politcally, culturally and religiously, particularly when lack of democratic rights is a constant in the Chinese "Unique" socalist system for all the citizens whether they belong to majority or minority. We are likely to see some peoples in China choosing a scottish or Catalonian path if all the citizens are granted democratic rights. 

jeremy jeffery
November 9, 2012 at 19:33

The only parallel you can draw between the US and China is how the US treated the NATIVE Americans. The reason that the predicament of the hispanics in the US is different from the Uighurs in China is that the Chinese are encroaching on Uighur land. In fact, China has not been in control of Xinjiang for much more than 500 of the last 2000 years, and those periods in which they have been in control have been broken up by long periods of independence. The accurate parallel scenario would be hispanics migrating into the US and forcing the whole of the US to speak Spanish. 

November 9, 2012 at 06:05

Keep brain washing…even if you kept your name undisclosed. This article is full of bias and lies. I wish the author did not cut & paste this series from some brain-washing websites in Turkey or Germany…

November 9, 2012 at 05:37

I'm afraid I would disagree. Regarding the first part of your comment, about Spanish and English in America, that's not an exact analogy. There's this first difference. Those Latin Americans went to America of their own free will. In China's case, the Uyghur were assimilated. They did not go to CHina. China came to them. Regarding Spanish, you might not be aware that initiatives had been launched for businesses and governments to be bilingual. One thing Americans understand is profit, and there's a lot of profit to be made in adjusting to Spanish speakers within the US. Of course, this applies to large organizations so far, but knowledge of Spanish is spreading to English speakers. It's not dying out, nor is it being stamped out. I await objections.

November 8, 2012 at 07:32

klee makes a point commonly seen in Chinese media – 'you're doing it too, so it's not a problem.'
This is not an article about racial politics in the United States.  There are other, more appropriate venues to discuss that issue. Perhaps klee and those who think similarly would get more credibility if they focused on the issue at hand, rather than trying to divert the world's attention through fallacious logic.

November 8, 2012 at 05:15

This author admitted that he is not using his real name. He is probably living in Xinjiang, China.  So, he may not know that most of these things happen in the U.S. as well. Case and point,
The introduction language in the US is English, not Spanish, even most of the students in class are Hispanic who came from South American countries. Because, American government wants them to learn English, not Spanish. If those Hispanic from South American countries want to find jobs in American society, but they cannot speak or write English, or know very little English, can they find jobs. If they don't find jobs, they complain they are discriminated the the US. But, in US, the official language is English, not Spanish. Do you agree that those Hispanic can claim discrimination in job places in the US and protest about that. The US government is trying to treat them Americans, and tell them they are Americans, not Spanish. Is this racial suppression. In American schools, all the subjects are taught in English, except Spanish classes in Spanish. It looks like what this author describe what is happening in China today. In a lot of, but not all, respect, what happen to Uyghurs is similar to those Hispanic in this country.
See, in this country, a lot of Ameicans want China to divide in pieces in the name of human rights. They pray everyday to see China to collapse, because they worry about China will be stronger than America and challenge US's dominance of world one day.
But, the fact is that the US today is still the superpower (my definition of superpower is the nation with strong military and economy). However, in 10 to 15 year, US will become a handcapped superpower with half of strength because its economy is in decline, very gradually though. Well, I believe US still can hold on to strong military for another 50 years before declining. So, those right-winged Americans don't need to worry about that.
US also at one time, 70 years ago or so, Blacks could not vote. They were not served by some restaurants, and public places. When they protested, they were bitten by police dogs and put in jails without good reasons. They could not attend universities. Before that, women also couldn't be able to vote either. The progression took a long time to change. You can draw parallel to what happen in China today to what happened in US in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

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