What sort of ethnic alliances and divisions (both within ethnic groups and between them) can we identify in Xinjiang? How do we explain these alliances and divisions?
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Xinjiang in the border area of northwest China covers about 1.66 million square km, accounting for one sixth of the Chinese territory. The region has a population of about 21 million, among whom 60 percent are ethnic minorities. There are 47 ethnic groups in Xinjiang, mainly the Uygur, Han, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Ozbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar and Russian. The region has five autonomous prefectures for four ethnic groups; Kazak, Hui, Kirgiz and Mongolian; six autonomous counties and 43 ethnic townships. While Xinjiang enjoys between 2,500 to 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, the amount of annual precipitation for the entire region averages a mere 150 milliliters (ml), and thus the air is quite dry. The GDP of Xinjiang exceeded 400 billion Yuan ($58.9 billion) in 2008. The major religions in Xinjiang are Islam, Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Protestantism, Catholicism and Taoism. Shamanism still has considerable influence among some ethnic groups. Since the Han Dynasty established the Western Regions Frontier Command in Xinjiang in 60 B.C., the Chinese central governments of all historical periods exercised military and administrative jurisdiction over the region.
In the older days, Xinjiang’s geographic positioning made it a crucial passageway for the Silk Road. At the turn of the century it also had a stake in the Great Fame between the Russian, British and Chinese empires (Nicolas, 2000: 65). The Chinese government realized that the land of Xinjiang will serve as a bridge to all the countries that are situated on the border of Xinjiang and therefore they wanted to increase stability and put an end to ethnic unrest and disputes in Xinjiang. It is also decided by the Chinese government that the discovery of large oil deposits in the Tarim Basin has also made Xinjiang crucially important (Arienne, 2005). This is a direct indication that the province of Xinjiang will become a major supplier for China’s ever growing need for energy.
There have been many counts of ethnic unrest taking place along the Chinese country borders however the out breaks in Xinjiang have been especially noticed by the Chinese government. Only after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 did the world witness the beginning of the immigration of the ethnic Han population into the province of Xinjiang. Given the positional importance of the province of Xinjiang, the Chinese government wanted to bag this area to gain an increased influence in the Central Asian region which was previously unreachable to them (Bovingdon, 2002: 42-43). To reach its target, the Chinese government launched a number of ambitious policies towards these Central Asian states in order to both strengthen status and increase access to key energy resources including cheap raw materials.
Included amongst the policies that the Chinese government has pushed out towards the state of Xinjiang were policies that were aimed at making Xinjiang into a regional powerhouse. This is to be achieved by large amounts of investments in several industries such as the turning it into China’s main cotton producing area, which simultaneously increase the standard of living of all the people within the area. All of these policies have only one goal in mind and that is the Chinese government wants to bind Xinjiang more closely to the rest of the People’s Republic of China (Nicolas, 2000: 67). To ensure that this goal is reached the Chinese government has also developed communication links between Xinjiang and the rest of the country, reinforced military and paramilitary forces (more so within the Southern parts of Xinjiang) and lastly trying to speed up the ethnic Han population migrating into the region to increase “their numbers”.
The province of Xinjiang is separated into two parts, the northern part and the southern part, by the Tianshan Mountains spanning from East to West. Due to the fact that there is only one road connecting these two parts of the province, the influence of the Chinese government only reached part of the southern part of Xinjiang. This is different for the northern part of Xinjiang where there were extensive highways and railway lines. There the dissatisfaction of the ethnic population of the southern part of Xinjiang was reflected in a growing number of small scale isolated “sudden incidents”.
One of the most brilliant strategies that the Chinese government used to settle unrest within the province of Xinjiang is the establishment of the Group of Five which included the following countries: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia. The discussion of this compact took place in Shanghai, Moscow, Almaty and Bishkek to show how serious this was taken by the countries involved. The main idea behind this compact was to obtain assurance that its neighbours would not support the movements by the province of Xinjiang threatening the internal stability of this province. The efforts of the Chinese government were finally rewarded as the risk of displeasing the Chinese is taken very seriously by the newborn republics. Due to the fact that the other countries were closely located to Xinjiang, therefore the relationship between these countries with Xinjiang could benefit these countries in terms of economic trade and such. However the countries supported the out breaks of the Uyghur people, their relationship with China will be destroyed. This relationship with the whole country is thought of as bring much more important than the relationship with a singly province of this country.
The agreement reached between the five countries greatly hindered the Uyghur’s political organizations and therefore this organization has not been successful in achieving any form of affect abroad. This is also due to the fact that they did not have a legitimate leader and that the communication of ideas and plans were ineffective as they language used between their own people were different. To strengthen the tie between the province of Xinjiang and the rest of China, the Chinese government also admitted to developing what is called the “youhui zhengce”, which are also known as preferential policies. Economic zones were set up. There was also the decision to overhaul fiscal arrangements with the Chinese government, which included benefits by Xinjiang such as fiscal transfers from the central government.
By looking at the alliances being created by the Chinese government with the province of Xinjiang and the Uyghur people, it is seemingly friendly and aimed at helping these people increase the living standards. However the government’s strategy has kept much of Xinjiang’s economy closely under the control of the national state. This is portrayed by the fact that much of Xinjiang’s industries remain under the ownership of the state, unlike the rest of China who have already gone under serious privitasation.
Most of the ethnic Hans immigration from the rest of the Chinese community started with the improvement of transportation routes; this process is called mixing sands. The influx of these immigrants into both urban and rural parts of Xinjiang is the result of a series of carefully planned measures. As anyone would have guessed, no matter which country, if there is a large number of so called outsiders immigrating into your land there is bound to be conflict. Although the increased amount of Han immigrants were kept low within the Chinese media, to an observer in Xinjiang, it is obvious that fresh and large waves of Han migrants have been pouring into Urumqi and every other city. The jobs that most attracted Han immigrants into the province of Xinjiang included construction work, restaurant employment, hawking and a wide array of petty jobs. Most of the migrants came into Xinjiang from neighbouring provinces such as Qinghai, Henan and Sichuan, some come from even further away from Xinjiang. This influx of migrants increased the urban population from 306 million in 1990 to 5.12 million in 1997. As the population and size of Xinjiang’s cities increased, their administrative functions also expanded to take increased weight and therefore there will also be increased tension between the ethnics.
Being the largest province of China, Xinjiang has some of the most desirable natural resources. Also due to the fact that the altitude of Xinjiang is relatively high and that there is no day light savings, the amount of sunlight that Xinjiang enjoys on a yearly basis is a lot longer than other parts of China and therefore Xinjiang is also a very good place for farming. However for such as big province, Xinjiang only receives 150 millimetres of rain every year. Due to this lack of rainfall in Xinjiang, a lot of ethnic resentments are created.
Especially in rural townships in Xinjiang, many people complain bitterly about increased scarcity of water. This is no doubt created by the increased influx of the ethnic Han farmers. They complain that the Hans take their limited resources and it is due to this that the allocation of water resources very often lead to conflicts between the two communities. In some villages, elderly Chinese farmers are complaining that the arrival of the new migrants have destroyed the modus Vivendi that they had developed with Uyghurs and heightened competition competition for the already limited supply of water, fertilizers and seeds. The harshest resentment came from the fact that rural workers who have spent a harsh life of self sacrifice resent newcomers who are granted free individual plots of land.
The education system is also a very important part to the whole system of resentment between the Uyghur people and the ethnic Hans. The education system had to accommodate a growing number of newcomers’ offspring. These newcomers take up the positions of kids that are the offspring of local Uyghur people. Funding for schools for the children of local ethnicities has been falling while schools offering regular education in Mandarin are also on the rise. In the Xinjiang society, especially in this modern day and age, if one does not have a proper education; it is very hard to find employment. This, in combination with the fact that there is increased political pressure on teacher and students and fewer job prospects make the Uyghur people and other minority groups feel very discriminated against.
Due to the fact that Xinjiang is well known to be made up of over 40 minority ethnicities all of which detest the interaction of the Chinese government and the ethnic Hans, they could be considered to be one group of people in this resentment issue. However the ethnic minority officialdom is also internally divided. This is how the internal division of ethnicities is portrayed. It is not uncommon for people of one ethnicity (within this large group of ethnicities being oppressed) to be suspicious of other ethnics of being collaborators of the Chinese government. There is the existence of minority nationalities which is bound to create disturbances between the ethnic groups due to the fact that there are occupational niches distributed at every layer of the society. This is as simple as treating people differently just because they are different merely by what ethnicity they are and therefore some people are bound to feel victimised.
In the heart of the Chinese people; that is mainly referring to the ethnic Hans; they believe that they are better than the rest of the minority groups and that is why they could flourish in modern day China. Although most of the Hans that have migrated into the province of Xinjiang are also poor people that have left their home town to seek for a higher paying job or even to start their own business, they still regard themselves as being higher ranked socially than the Uyghur people. It is not uncommon for the ethnic minority people to often hear the ethnic Han people talking to one another speaking of how if it were not for them, the province of Xinjiang would still be in a state of poverty and under development. Maybe if this only happened on a rare occasion, then people could brush it off and pretend that things didn’t were not as bad as they thought. However after days of hearing the same offensive statements, there is bound to be turmoil between these different groups of people.
Another factor that lead to the creation of conflict between Xinjiang and the Chinese government is the conflict between religion and belief. When there is so many different ethnicities all believing in different religions, there is bound to be different ideologies and way of life that people practice during their day to day living. As most people might remember with regards to “Falungong” in China, whenever the number of people practicing one particular religion reaches a certain number and level of influence, the Chinese government tends to become rather cautious to their development.
In such a diverse land with so many religions, the possibility of any one religion growing to numbers that threaten the authority of the Chinese government is possible. For example, the number of registered mosques in the province of Xinjiang rose from 2000 in 1978 to an astonishing 23000 recently. The increase in the number of people practicing and believing in the religion has also lead to the revival of many of the Islamic traditions such as the meshrep, which is a traditional gathering of religious people within the community to communicate their concerns and issues in a public manner. This is a practice which is frowned upon by officials of the Chinese government.
As most people might remember from the time when Chairman Mao was still in power, there is no freedom of speech. Although a lot of time has passed since then, there are still a number of people that tend to be under this belief. This is also true to some extent that if one was heard saying some even remotely against the Chinese government, then that person will be in great trouble. Many Uyghurs have been interviewed to form one conclusion which is relatively tame remarks would be twisted by the government into criminal complaints. For example, one person muttered that the government ought to give a proportion of the tax revenue collected from oil proceeds to the province to increase standard of living. However this statement was later altered into him saying that “all the oil belonged to the Uyghurs”. This is referred to as the cost of speaking out.
All of the above mentioned differences in way of living have created the division between the ethnic minorities and the ethnic Hans. Albeit there are some alliances that have been made between these two groups, it is by no means enough to outweigh these divisions ultimately leading to the violent outbreaks which have been taking place on a regular level. Some believe that the Chinese government have failed with regards to inducing the Uyghurs to imagine themselves as an integral member of the Chinese nation. In a piece of writing by a well known Uyghur intellectual named Abduqadie Jalalidin, he tried to convey an idea to his readers. “If I construct hell of my own devising, no matter how terrifying its flames, I will call it heaven. But a heaven built by others will cause my trees to wither.” What he is trying to say is that no matter how bad the state of Xinjiang used to be, at least the consequences that they had to deal with were those that they chose to and not ones that were dished out by some government that did not know what was going on. Now that the Chinese government has come to intervene with the way of life and many other aspects of their land, the so called heaven they tried to create has destroyed what it means to be a Uyghur.
Taking into consideration that people tend to gather in groups that are similar to themselves, although there is a mix of ethnicities in Xinjiang, it is virtually impossible for these ethnicities to interact extensively between each other. For example, the ethnic Hans tend to go for similar jobs and stay in similar parts of the city. This creates the phenomenon where the different ethnicities do not have a general understanding of each other. This misunderstanding therefore is the ultimate reason as to why there is social and ethnical unrest in this multi-ethnical province.
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