Friday, July 10, 2009

Uighur and Xinjiang unrest

Look at this map. It's a map of China, right? More specifically it's a map of China during the warlord/ Republic of China era. See Xinjiang? Yes, Xinjiang. That obscure place where the Uighurs live, the place that's been in the news lately. It's up to the northwest on the map, far from the area where the Chinese political events described on the map, the important events of the era, took place. In fact, from a glance at the map one would suspect that Xinjiang is not part of China at all. And if you did, you'd probably be in agreement with most of the people who lived there during the period of history described on the map.

The world, quite frankly, is a mess. It can get depressing. And, all you can do, in my opinion, is pick a cause here and there and work towards making it better.

But be forewarned, when you do, or even if you don't, then someone will bombard you with other causes and new problems.

For the last week or so I 've been bombarded with news of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and the unrest and discontent they express towards the Chinese government. No surprise there. Culturally the Uighurs, a central Asian Muslim people, have nothing in common with the Han Chinese majority. It is only an accident of history that made their homeland part of China. Furthermore, the Chinese have for decades been engaging in a systematic program to reduce Uighur influence in their homeland and more solidly integrate Xinjiang into China, its economy and its society. As part of this program, they have encouraged Han Chinese emigration to Xinjiang, and thereby consciously set out to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland.

It's not a nice thing to do. And it's understandably that the Uighurs react. (Just as they have over the centuries.There was a widespread uprising in this region in the 1880s, although in much of the early half of the twentieth century the area was independent. On, again, off-again, membership in the nation of China, with this being part of the result.)

And why mention it here? Well, it ties in nicely with my posts about Burma from a couple months ago. If one looks at the map of Burma and Southeast Asia one will see that in the eighteenth century Burma and its neighbors had no borders. Instead it had a civilization and the influence of the civilization faded away the farther one got from the center and the farther out into the so-called "wilderness" you traveled. China's the same way. And Xinjiang, until the 1940s or so, was on the far fringe of its influence, an area that was sometimes in and sometimes out of the Chinese nation's sphere of influence. Again, just as in Burma, we have the same pattern of trying to rectify a modern border with a historical lack of a border and violence erupting on the area in the fringes.

Patterns repeat. Conditions vary. People get stuck in the middle. Its the way of the world.

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