Too Late to Talk About Xinjiang?

Wei Yifan – Southern Weekend

Copyright Southern Weekend
I’ve wanted to write about Xinjiang and the aftermath of events because I lived there for several years. Despite trying several times, I have not written anything for a month. Many people have asked me over the past few weeks what I think really happened. They obviously have their doubts about the official version of events. So do I.
The issue of terrorism is an important one to address. The government maintains that the violence on July 5 was the result of an organized effort. Frankly, this seems dubious to me. Whether it is factual or not, the question of why would Uyghurs would want to do this remains. What conditions would lead to such violence?
I can only speak from my experience living and working there for several years. I only have stories to tell, some of which are based on hearsay. But they will give a sense of the frustrations in Xinjiang.
The day I arrived to teach at Xinjiang University, I noticed that none of the minorities wore traditional hats or veils. A student explained to me that it is not allowed. Nor are mustaches. He said if students are caught praying they face punishment, even expulsion. A fellow teacher confirmed this later.
One day a supervisor who was Han Chinese told me that Uyghurs have it very good because of preferential policies. They can have two children and it is easier to get into college. Later that week a Uyghur friend told me of a protest by Uyghur college graduates. He said none of them could find jobs and that the rate of unemployment is much higher than for Han Chinese.
One day I was teaching a group of seniors in college who were looking for jobs. One young man was frustrated because he said he encountered signs at a job fair that said: “Minorities need not apply.”
One day a Uyghur friend invited me to a traditional muslim banquet. I was the only non-Uyghur among several hundred. Drinking alcohol is not permitted in Islam but there was plenty of baijiu. Near the end of the night, one guest leaned over and said to me unconvincingly, “We are not supposed to do this but the Han make us [get drunk].”
One day I was teaching a class and asked, “What will Xinjiang be like in 50 years?” A Han Chinese girl raised her hand and answered, “All Uyghurs will finally be able to speak Chinese.” The government had just begun implementing a policy of Chinese only in all schools.
I answered: “It is very important for the development of Xinjiang for minorities to speak Chinese. It’s the only way to find good jobs. But what do you think will happen to the culture? Many of my Uyghur friends are worried that they will lose it. According to the research I am familiar with, there are better ways to implement this kind of language policy.” A Uyghur student behind her looked up at me with an expression of gratitude and awe. No one is allowed to point out weaknesses in government policy and get away with it except in a situation like this. I’m sure he had never heard that before.
For the past month I have censored myself because I did not want to criticize or even seem to criticize government actions in Xinjiang. I fear for my friends and my job. I’m also waiting for Southern Weekly to print more articles on the situation with interviews of people who can explain the situation more clearly and authoritatively than I can.
The only salient point I can make at this point is that while terrorism is a real danger, it tends to obscure the core issues. And as long as these issues go unresolved, the threat of violence will continue. Public discussion would help resolve these issues.
Perhaps my words are too late now that Xinjiang is largely out of the news cycle. But for my own peace of mind I need to write this. I have censored myself for the past month, contributing nothing to my column but editorial translations. This is because there is a culture of fear regarding Xinjiang which has caused me to keep quiet. This too is a kind of violence.

3 thoughts on “Too Late to Talk About Xinjiang?”

  1. The book “Xinjiang: China’s Muslim borderland” by S. Frederick Starr gives detailed information and statistics about the education system in Xinjiang. There are both Uighur and Chinese language schools. People can choose which ones to go to, though usually learning Mandarin is more beneficial for finding good jobs. The chapter also shows the efforts made by the government to improve education in XinJiang, the results and comparison, tables, numbers… It shows that it is false to claim that the Chinese government is destroying the Uighur language. This is the link to Google books.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=FHq7lb1Pb8UC&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=xinj

  2. The Han Chinese do not wear their traditional costume in daily life either. They wear shirts, jackets, pants, T-shirts, etc. which are not traditionally Chinese. So are the Han Chinese destroying their own culture too? Lots of fuss about nothing.

  3. In China, no one gets jailed for wearing their own ethnic clothing or speak their own language at home or in streets. People do have this level of freedom in China. Claiming that China is out to destroy minority cultures is simply exaggeration out of some exiles’ own political agenda.

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