Letter from Kashgar

New Dominion

Copyright New Dominion
The following is a letter from an anonymous foreign traveler currently in Kashgar, Xinjiang. The New Dominion presents this letter for the consideration and edification of its readers. There has been little news out of Kashgar since Sunday, and this may shed some light on Monday’s demonstrations and the events that followed.
Two days before rioting broke out over Xinjiang, I hopped a plane bound for Kashgar. I got stuck a little in Urumqi, but made it to Kashgar eventually. The events below record my adventure as you can call it, being stuck in the middle of the chaos in what basically became a police state for three days (and remains so today).
When I arrived in Kashgar, it was “business as usual”: Uyghurs being Uyghurs, i.e. speaking their Turkic language, praying five times a day, and living in and around the Old City. Of course, I was disappointed by the Chinese-built shopping malls, massive highways, and blatant destruction of Uyghur cultural sites (including tombs) and discrimination against the Uyghurs. There are signs everywhere in Chinese reading: “Follow the Communist Party for 10000 years.” “Give up superstition, embrace science, embrace modernity.” “The many peoples of China are one: Hate Separatism from the Motherland.” It’s not a good feeling entering the city.
But a cab drive away (one cab drive too long) and I was basically back in the Middle East. It felt like home. Kebabs everywhere. Hummus, tabouli, green tea with mint. The Old City was “heartening” if tragic… bulldozers, bulldozers, bulldozers. I saw a few mosques come down, probably a few hundred years old each.
Kashgar of course was magical… what was left. I went to centuries-old mosques with sublime Central Asian architecture. I went to “state approved official” tombs and got an “official” tour of the “official Old City.” (This is the 15% of the Old City that the government has decided not to destroy. What’s the catch: No one lives there. They hire actors to dress up as “traditional” Uyghurs for six hours a day.) They smile and proudly display pictures of the Chinese flag. This is the only part of the Old City that Western journalists are allowed to photograph. I got some pictures of the “unofficial” Old City, which was absolutely marvelous. I also went to the Sunday Market and the Livestock Market. I was offered a few camels for a good price, but very sadly I was unable to accept.
I met some reporters in the Old City from the West, but most of them were being followed and having their cameras taken away from them. What I saw was a Uyghur population in Kashgar feeling that they faced the immediate destruction of their cultural and historical heritage. Families were being evacuated from their homes. I honestly have no idea why they would even let Westerners in the city to see this. I still have no idea why they didn’t make me leave.
Waking up the second morning, I heard on the Chinese news that “terrorists” had struck the capital in Urumqi and that their goal was to divide the Motherland. I thought nothing of it honestly, until I went outside. Within about two hours, the city of Kashgar was filled with soldiers and riot police pouring into the “Uyghur” part of town. The internet had been completely cut, along with my phone. I was unable to have any contact with the outside world. But it seemed OK. I again just thought it was policy. When I went out for dinner that night, I saw the authorities arresting people, including old men.
The next day martial law came. The Uyghurs gathered in the Id Kah Mosque to protest the arrests, as well as the destruction of their city, etc. I was pretty close to the Id Kah Mosque. I heard the loud sounds, the screams, and honestly, the screams of people in great physical suffering. There was a stampede, and I knocked over a bunch of watermelons but got back to the hotel (the merchant didn’t hold it against me). The army marched in and all the Uyghur shops in the city were told that they would close for three days (the Chinese of the city were either leaving or behind locked doors). All the mosques were closed and the Uyghurs were clearly scared. Trucks with loudspeakers circled around the Old City, proclaiming: “Always listen to the Communist Party. Hate separation.” The Chinese news interviewed Uyghur women who happily said things like “Xinjiang has always been part of China for 2000 years. Uyghurs are Chinese, one of 55 minority groups. We hate independence and love the motherland.”
The police were just kind of amazed I was there, which is probably why they didn’t make me leave. One happily asked me if I had been to Shanghai yet. God. I asked a police officer what he thought of the situation, and he was optimistic, said that everything was going to be fine. He concluded by saying, “You know, in the next ten years, we’ll just send more Han here and that’ll just end the problem once and for all.”
Kashgar was amazing, and I’m glad I went. I wouldn’t tell anyone else to go to Kashgar in the future though, because I know that the Old City is going to be gone before next Christmas. Uyghur culture and Uyghur language are beautiful to hear and study, as all things become as they slowly disappear.
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