The Uyghur people are a relatively small people group located almost exclusively in the Northwest province of Xinjiang, China. There are only around 12 million in the world and 80% of them live in this region. Thought the Han Chinese have since taken over the land and took control of this province, The Uyghur still like to claim it as their own and let their culture endure. After all, they have inhabited this land for over 2,000 years.
China however, as with Taiwan and Hong Kong, refuses to give up there largest province and give the control of the land to the original people. I have been in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, for only a few days now, and I would hardly notice or understand this cultural riff. These two people groups seem to walk side by side down the street and peacefully intermingle. However, understanding the deeper history of riots that have gone on in the recent past, and taking a deeper look at the dispersion of the two groups, you may start to see the underlying root for tension.
The Uyghurs are of a Turkish descent and can be recognized by their more middle eastern, mediterranean appearance. And if that doesn’t give them away, all of the young men sport mustaches and the older men have long wispy beards. Walking through town you may see a few here and there, but a trip down to the Urumqi Bazaar and you will suddenly feel like you are in a different part of the world. Despite the few outbreaks of violence in the past riots, the Uyghurs are a very peaceful, islamic people. They really value their rich heritage and celebrate the culture that makes them unique. The bazaar is filled with new kinds of instruments and textiles. The restraints are offering new dishes and cooking up new pastries. The mosques are everywhere, the women modest, and the men wear little caps. After traveling through China for over a month, I finally feel like i am in a different part of the world.
However, amidst this beautiful, cultural bazaar, we are surrounded by police. The government is watching every action, metal detecting every door, and patrolling every street. Even in the back neighborhoods, we saw big police vans parked on the corner making sure everyone stays in line. Suddenly you see the tension between the races. You feel the overbalance of the Chinese government on these people just trying to live their lives. Then you realize your surroundings. These people are living in cramped, ancient brick homes that are falling apart. Across the street, however, the large boxy, modern skyscrapers intrude the atmosphere. The cultural pocket of the Uyghurs is slowly being bulldozed to make more room for skyscrapers. Here amidst this rubble we meet a small family, cooking their meager dinner over a small fire, on top of the rubble that once used to house their people. The difference on each side of the street is drastic. Is all of this industrialization a benefit to these people in the long run in the expense of their heritage? What would Urumqi look like under Uyghur control? How many of these homes will still be around in a few years?