About a month ago we strolled carefree down the streets of Kashgar, in China’s Xinjiang province, as happy-go-lucky tourists where this week the blood of dozens might have been spilled. We wandered the poplar-lined walkways of Idgah Mosque, China’s largest, where today Chinese authorities forcibly prohibited Muslims from worshiping.
Calla Wiemer of the Far Eastern Economic Review writes an interesting, if abruptly clipped, essay on the bigger picture of the Uighurs’ discontent in Xinjiang. Ethnic unrest is nothing new in China. Tibet is perhaps the best publicized victim of systemic ethnic repression in China but by no means are the Tibetans the only oppressed ethnic minority within the People’s Republic of China. Weimer writes in her essay that “Uighurs have a hard time getting visas and licenses,” something we heard our own Uighur guides say, flatly stating that Uighurs couldn’t get visas. This is the same story we heard from our Tibetan tour guide in Lhasa who was extremely hesitant to speak about politics but did tell us that it was nearly impossible for ethnic Tibetans to get papers to leave the country.
While these recent “ethnic uprisings” have been the “bloodiest in decades” for China, they are hardly new. Similar riots erupted in the province in 1996 and the Han Chinese government has responded with similarly harsh crackdowns. Looking back at my personal journal, I noted that while we sat in Urumuqi for an hour layover en route to Kashgar I observed several military attack helicopters perched at the end of the runway, waiting.
The above picture is from our trip to Muztagh Ata at a check point where our Uighur guides were scrutinized far more than we “wai guo ren” (“foreigners”). The photo shows the Han Chinese security forces changing the guard.