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Strangers in Xinjiang


Over the weekend there was another deadly attack in Xinjiang Province, in which 16 people were killed.

The BBC reports:

Sixteen people have been killed in violence in China's western region of Xinjiang, a state news portal says.

The incident took place late on Sunday in a village near the city of Kashgar.

The government-run regional news portal said police trying to make arrests were attacked by people armed with explosive devices and knives. Police shot dead 14 people, with two policemen also killed.

In light of this attack, now is a good time to read (or re-read) the excellent article "Strangers: Blood and Fear in Xinjiang", by James Palmer, published on the site Sinophile on September 25, 2013.

Writing of the gulf between the Uighur and Han communities in Xinjiang, he says,

Today, Uighur-Han ethnic relations are the most bitter in China. On the Uighur side, the reasons are obvious; as they see it, the Han are occupiers, invaders, and despoilers. Uighur conversation, particularly among men, is full of casually derogatory references to the Chinese. The state and the locals in Xinjiang literally keep different timeState institutions, and most Han, go by Beijing time, universal across the country, but Uighur keep time by the geographical reality of their time zone, a difference of two hours, while local businesses oscillate between the two. In practice, Uighur switch easily between "Xinjiang time" and "Beijing time" and confusion is rare. But many Han, segregated in communities under Beijing's watch, stick only to one clock, preferring a government-approved rhythm of the day over a more natural one. Uighur asked the time by unthinking Han will give Beijing hours if they want to help, but local time if they feel mischievous.

The bitterness grew sharply in the 1980s, following China's economic liberalization. The chief cause was the influx of Han to Xinjiang, going from a fraction of the population to numbers equal to the Uighur. (Xinjiang demographics are as contested as everything else, unsurprisingly.)

As mining and oil development opened up Xinjiang's wealth, Han arrived to take, in the Uighurs' view, the lion's share. "We should be as rich as Saudi Arabia," one Uighur day laborer told me as we shared beers on a construction site in Beijing this summer. And as Han poured in, Uighur poured out. Like everybody else in China, the Uighur move for work. With the Han arrival, too, jobs for Uighur became scarcer, and the diaspora spilled across the country.

If you're at all interested in the people of Xinjiang Province, this article is a "must-read."

Image credit: Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio