Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Thanks to the Romeo-Gilbert Intercultural Endowment in the spring of 2012, I had a chance to lead a research in East Turkestan, a not-existing state, which is the part of Chinese region of Xinjiang - inhabited by 21 million people with 41% of them are Han Chinese and 45% are the Uyghurs. Based on the experiences of ethnic Uyghurs and Han, I examined: How has the culture of Uyghurs been affected by China’s drive to develop and modernize? In order to find answers, I undertook a field trip to Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang) with significant Han settlers incoming population (75% Han to 12% Uyghur in Urumqi). Based on the literature review and ethnography of that place I found growing inequality between those two ethnic groups, especially visible in terms of earning disparities: The average income of ethnic Uyghurs is lower by 31% - 52% than ethnic Han (Xiaowei Zang). Moreover the province of Xinjiang along with Xizang (Tibet) are sites for the highest rate of incidence of rural poverty and cultural genocide. E.g. Ancient Uyghur settlements are being demolished and replaced by new modern buildings and high-ways.
All of that accelerated a protest in the July of 2009 when Uyghurs, Han, and Chinese police and army clashed on the streets causing a bloodshed with unknown to this day exact number of victims. Hundreds years of history is losing the confrontation with settlers and development policies that do not respect the past and the native people. Even traditional Uyghur gathering called Mashrep and accessibility to one of the biggest Bazaar are being restricted. The solution is a factual acknowledgment of the problem and creation of a law that will grant Uyghurs more autonomy, will secure their cultural and historical heritage, as well as will provide equality in terms of accessibility to education, work, housing, and fair wages.