Impressions of Kashgar
This is the 1510 Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.
Kashgar, in Xinjiang, is China’s Westernmost city. A traditional stop on the Northern silk road, with a strong Central Asian flavour – Kashgar replaced Kabul as setting for the shooting of ‘The Kite Runner’ – it remains an exotic place for city dwellers of the eastern seaboard. Today’s post offers an insight into the way Han visitors may experience Kashgar through two different narratives. Although both acknowledge the beauty of the place and Uyghur hospitality, the tone differs. Ji Shuoming’s ‘Experiencing a different Kashgar’ proposes the vision of an integrated, developing and Mandarin-embracing Kashgar, whereas Wang Zhongwei’s piece, ‘Impressions of Kashgar’, gives a stronger sense of distance and alienation, in particular around the status of women.
Impressions of Kashgar
By Wang Zhongwei, 20 October 2012 (part 1) and 09 November 2012 (part 2)
Wang Zhongwei, philosophy teacher at Guanxi university, recently went on a trip to Kashgar. The trip was motivated by her curiosity to get a direct experience of Kashgar, rather than rely just on book knowledge and media reports to understand that part of China.
Before leaving, Wang Zhongwei was concerned about her personal safety. Upon crossing the border, what she experienced was heightened security checks. Her small bag was thoroughly checked, and her camera attracted the highest suspicion – but other passengers suffered similar hassle. Once in Xinjiang, the bus stopped for numerous ID controls, and at the check points, she could see the pictures of fugitive prisoners, with full details of their personal information.
On the bus, she finds herself the only Han Chinese – even the bus driver addresses her in Uyghur – until a young Han man get on halfway through. He’s a migrant worker from Gansu who came to Xinjiang 17 years ago for economic reasons, first worked on farms, then bought some land in the Kashgar area – but left his family back in Gansu, and still considers himself a foreigner in Xinjiang.
Wang Zhongwei spends three days in the village of Jiashi. There, she notices numerous brick buildings in construction, bearing signs of thanks to the party. These types of buildings are subsidised by the government, but depart from the local style. She experiences a strong sense of alienation in Jiashi. Numerous people ask when she approaches: “Is she Han, or Uyghur?” And her appearance – pants, hair down and sunglasses – sets her apart from the local women, all of whom wear the traditional long skirts and headscarves, in line with their traditional customs and their faith.
Later, she visits a Khirgiz village in the same district. There, she learns about a recent tragedy which the media silenced: local public servants of Uyghur origin were killed by a gang of other Uyghurs. The reasons for the murder are unclear, though some say they were accused of betraying the faith. There, she also meets an elderly man who weaves textile according to Uyghur tradition. He explains in official language how this weaving technique is part of local intangible cultural heritage, and must be preserved, but is unable to describe more in details what this label covers.
Wang Zhongwei recounts her experience of local hospitality with irony: her hosts serve her abundance of food when she visits, but she cannot refuse any of the pilaf rice offered; neither can she get rid of the melons her hosts offer in the morning, and finds herself dragging the heavy fruit around town. She also notices the importance of religion, with people thanking Allah at the end of a meal, and praying on various occasions.
The end of her narrative focuses more closely on gender division and the condition of women. Parents are stricter on their daughters than boys, and although things are slowly changing, a woman still has to receive her parents’ consent before marrying, and needs to have stricter codes of conduct, especially in her relationship with other men. One sign of this, she notices, is the total absence of women in local internet cafes.
Experiencing a different Kashgar
By Ji Shuoming, 06 June 2012
In this piece, written shortly after the maiden flight of the new ‘aerial silk road’ Hong Kong to Kashgar flight, Ji Shuoming, senior journalist for Asia week (亞洲週刊), paints a picture of Kashgar as an urban and dynamic place, insisting on the consequences of recent changes. With its new status as Special Economic Zone, Kashgar is hoping to become ‘the Shenzhen of the West’. Representatives of the local government recently went on a trip around Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, to learn from their successes. The vision of the local government leaders – Han leaders with a solid understanding of Uyghur language and culture – is to benefit from Kashgar’s proximity to Central Asian countries to make it into a major trade and logistics centre – and through the newly opened air-route, to also benefit from Hong Kong’s dynamism.
Ji Shuoming notices the beauty of the place, but also its strong Uyghur character – the Han Chinese are only a small minority. But most of the Uyghurs he met could speak some Mandarin; and a local told him his children to learn the language, so they would get better opportunities. He also insists on the friendliness of the local people, including merchants at the bazaar. Although the language and customs were strange to him, he felt welcomed and safe in Kashgar.
All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Marcopoloproject.org. Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)
Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.