Location: Kashgar Sunday Bazaar, Xinjiang, China (39° 45' 26 N 78° 24' 18 E)
Date: 3 October 2008; 11.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5
A couple of days ago, Xinjiang had its first anniversary of the deadly racial riots that rocked the province and China. An unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of the riots, in a country such as China, is a heavy clampdown on freedom and restrictions on movements of both foreigners and the ethnic population (Uighurs). By some accounts, internet access to many websites is heavily censored in the province- this is on top of the so-called “Great Firewall” restrictions on internet access generally in China. Activities and movements of the population are monitored around-the-clock by the installation of 40,000 CCTV cameras around Urumqi- reminiscent of the measures already in place around another troubled city, Lhasa. The Chinese government is pouring ever more money into the province for modernization in the hope that this will bring the whole province and population’s economic well-being to a notch closer to the rest of the country. To me, all these action are really missing the point. Xinjiang is already a wealthy province by all measures- it has the majority of China’s oil and gas as well as the land of “white gold” i.e. cotton. The problem is that all these wealth does not filter down to the masses and worst still, it is the Han Chinese who are enjoying the fruits. It is the same situation as in Tibet, with the ethnic people facing decimation vis-a-vis the migrant Hans. Top be fair, a lot of such difficulties faced by the Uighurs is not purposely perpetrated eg. it is not unnatural behaviour for Hans to employ someone from their own province instead of a Uighur. Furthermore some of the disadvantages faced by Uighurs is self-inflict eg. many of the Uighurs refused to learn Chinese and so could not get government jobs or employment by Han enterprises. That said, it is the prerogative of the Chinese government to address these very real issues head-on; sadly, they conveniently overlooked them and march on blindly with their prescriptions, hoping that money will resolve everything. This is just one dimension- there is also the complain that Uighur culture is being swamped by Chinese (the same complaint as in Tibet). The twin consequence of so-called accelerated economic development and the accompanied Chinese migration will definitely see the accelerated demise of century-old traditions in the province. Already Kashgar’s Old Quarters had all but gone; the Sunday Bazaar is just a shadow of its glorious past and may not survive much longer.