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    AN IDENTITY SUBDUED
    XINJIANG, CHINA   





Camels and sheep, horses and goats seem like spectators, observing the spectacle-like commotion surrounding them. However, they themselves play the lead role in the Kashgar Livestock Market. Heated exchanges of money and words between those who buy and those who sell are most of what may seem to be taking place. Nevertheless, this weekly gathering of inhabitants from all surrounding areas, from which most are Uyghur, is an ode to century-old rituals of the region and their reflection in the current political climate.

The Muslim Uyghur are mainly found in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China, and make up a little less than 50% of its population. In their home, although barely any more, they are the majority, in the context of China, they make up less than one per cent, with the Han making up 90%. Entering Xinjiang from the direction of Eastern China it is not just the contrasting landscapes that strike you with awe, the differing cultural backgrounds between the Han and Uyghur are impossible to ignore. This shows the scale and diversity of China, as the 2400 km between Beijing and Urumqi, Xinjiang's regional capital, historically gave enough space to mould these divergent ethnic groups as we know them today. Even when this one per cent might seem insignificant to the ruling Han majority, the Uyghur are facing decade-long oppressive scrutiny by the Chinese Communist Party.
To the Chinese government Xinjiang, albeit far, is a region of grave concern for its national security. It has long observed separatist sentiments from the Uyghur. These rebellious beliefs translate from the same cultural and ethnic differences. They range from the practised religion being Islam and the spoken language belonging to the Turkic language group to general cultural memory. China agrees on the differences, as it has always been quick to react to any instability by taking measures by prioritising tackling Uyghur identity, especially following public protests and terrorist attacks associated with separatist groups. Like the 2014 Kunming attack, which left 31 people dead, or more recently, the 2017 knife attack with five casualties. The Communist Party has long been increasing the Han to Uyghur ratio in the region and more recently placing bans on acts of expression of the Uyghur Muslim heritage. It has outlawed long beards, the wearing of veils in public and certain religious names, like “Muhammad” or “Islam” when naming newborns, Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca are also ridden with obstacles, with most being refused that chance at all. The Communist Party doesn't find an issue or the need to restrict other Muslim minorities, like the Hui, to practice their religion at ease. However, the stripping of what one considers being Uyghur makes both extremist separatists and the general public even more restless. This cycle of one offensive responding to another is yet to be broken, with both hoping it to, only yet again, the desired outcomes by the clashing sides, are as contrasting as their roots.  

© 2018 Jānis Žguts