Friday, December 23, 2005

The Chinatown peace de resistance

One great tidbit about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Zhang Ziyi's romantic scenes were shot in the Xinjiang province of northwestern China, which borders the Central Asian nations and is the largest region in China I believe.

Sparsely populated, Xinjiang's vast expanses as shown in Crouching Tiger are rigid, but beautiful -- it is home to the Taklamakan desert, beautiful, mountains, lakes and greenland.

Urumqi is the regional capital, the world's largest "inland" city, or the farthest city from any major water source, the Chinese claim (Pronounced -- Oo-room-chee). The city and the region were both part of major Silk Road routes. The city's malls are said to be the size of numerous soccer fields, though I never got to check them out. It's like a mini-Shanghai -- an active and bustling city that's not necessarily Central Asian or Chinese.

When the Chinese say they fight terrorism, they refer to the ethnic Uighur peoples, whose separatists are waging a war against China's effort to wipe out their cultural identity. Han Chinese now dominate major cities like Urumqi, slowly wiping out the Uighur remnants.

The Uighurs, who are Muslim and speak a Turkic language, are demanding independence and want their own nation, citing differences with China and the Han Chinese.

Their looks might explain it: A generic middle-aged Uighur man can be described as having uniquely Mongoloid features with darker skin than the Chinese. It's more Mongolian and Central Asian, related to Genghis Khan, than pure Chinese.

On the Karakoram Highway stands Kashgar, where some fine examples of the Uighur culture are alive -- so colorful that it could remind you of Tibetan culture.

So to keep this fine culture alive, preserve it. Though proud Uighurs are fighting a weak battle, with limited money and resources, they are economically better off with China. This is a bad thing to say, but it's the truth.

Like the old Silk Route days, Xinjiang acts as a gateway to Central Asia and the rest of Europe, one reason why China wants this region. In the old days, roads passing through this region allowed China to deliver products to Europe, Eurasia, and the rest of Asia and the Middle East. It is happening today too.

A trader I spoke to in Bishkek said he made three trips a week to Urumqi to deliver Ceylon, or Sri Lankan, tea to buyers from other countries -- and he explained how. He made occassional trips to Sri Lanka and New Delhi, picked up tea supplies and had more delivered to him in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital. Urumqi acted as a hub where buyers from other countries bought the tea from him, and he made a neat profit every month.

Like him, hundred of businessmen fill flights to Urumqi from Central Asian cities of Bishkek, Tashkent and Almaty trying to make day trades in fruits, vegetable, clothing, electronics and just about every item we use everyday. China today ships through Xinjiang cheap products to Russia and Central Asia, like it does to the rest of the world through its other cities.

Playing hardball for a while with separatists in the region has paid off for China -- it has now discovered oil and minerals in the region, which will expand its importance. Urumqi is becoming an important base camp as more businessmen find opportunities and more discoveries are made in western and northwestern China.

For the Uighurs, not only are they fighting a brick wall in China, they are also limiting themselves from joining a booming economy. Getting stuck in a stagnant Central Asian economy means poverty and suffering, like their neighbors. The Chinese are there to build them an infrastructure from scratch, which is difficult to do.

Of the 20 million-odd people in Xinjiang, Uighurs number around 8 million people. The Chinese have denied them religious freedom, cracked down on their cultural identity and tortured prisoners over there, according to Human Rights Watch.

HRW delivers occassional regional reports containing Chinese torture on Uighurs, and that won't stop until the Chinese reach a certain comfort level that the region is well under their control. The Uighurs are waging a dirty battle too, and it could turn into terrorism hub if not controlled.

The U.S. is already holding a few Uighurs in Gitmo, indicating that terrorist's tentacles are already reaching them. Uighurs were found fighting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, an indication that some have been radicalized in the wake of alleged Chinese torture. I hope that doesn't further develop, or the Chinese will have no option but to crack down on them.

The Uighurs are alive and happy though, and along the border with Central Asia and Mongolia, their culture will be kept alive. It's uniquely Uighur, and if the Chinese help, it could be uniquely Chinese.

But, who wants to mess with the Chinese?


Anonymous downunder said...

Merry Christmas Mr India!

Not that you celebrate it, but I do so I'm sharing the love!

3:15 PM  
Blogger Khakra said...

merry xmas allie-o! i celebrate christmas, big time! so get to work on a gift

2:35 PM  

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