Determined But Doomed
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/08/16; August 16, 2003.]
HOLLYWOOD'S glitziest are unlikely to be lining up in support of the people of Xinjiang. The Uighurs are everything Tibet and the Tibetans are not: obscure, tricky to pronounce, lacking in a charismatic leader and the practitioners of a religion that is rather out of favour in America these days. The Dalai Lama need have no worries.
This, though, is deeply unfair. Xinjiang is China's other vast subject province, home to a gulag of 250,000 and in danger of having its culture wholly eliminated by Chinese migrants. The Uighurs, Turkic-speaking Muslims who, like the Tibetans, have spent the last two millennia struggling against the Han Chinese, are already a minority in their own land.
Unlike the Tibetans, the Uighurs are in a state of insurrection, though their uprising is almost certainly doomed. Riots, bombings and protests, rumoured rather than known of for sure, have stalked China's wildest western province for the last 15 years. Even its namečwhich means ≥New Territory≤ in Chinesečis a sign of imperium. Its inhabitants prefer to call their land East Turkestan, stressing the fact that they look westwards to Central Asia, not east to Beijing. The Chinese have controlled the area for only about 500 of the last 2,000 years, and even in the 20th century there were two short-lived East Turkestan republics. But since the communists triumphed in 1949, the grip of the Han Chinese has tightened ever further.
Christian Tyler, a former journalist, performs a valuable service in bringing to a wider audience the story of a neglected area three times the size of France. Sadly, this is a thrilling tale somewhat boringly told, too academic and dry in execution really to grip the ordinary reader. But it is worth persevering. Although there is too much geology and ancient history at the start of the book, the tale picks up markedly as modern times are reached.
There is not much that poor Mr Tyler could have done about the book's main weakness, a near-total absence of reportage: travel in Xinjiang is difficult, and the Uighurs, like most repressed peoples, are wary of speaking to foreigners. Even so, nothing in his researches leads Mr Tyler to sound very optimistic about the Uighurs' future. Many of the brightest have been co-opted into the Chinese administration or local, Chinese-dominated, industry. Others have fled abroad. A few foolishly involved themselves with Osama bin Laden. This has led America to turn its back on the (little-known) East Turkestan Independence Movement. By association, the whole Uighur cause has been abandoned in the larger interests of geopolitics. While this makes sense for the Americans, it is desperately sad for the Uighurs.
Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang.
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