China's Muslims sharpen their knives against Peking

The bombs in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang in recent weeks have hit the world headlines. But the violence and tensions - including the latest blast, reported yesterday - are nothing new in this volatile region.

During the Islamic festival of Korban last April, when each household sacrifices a sheep, a bloody and dramatic event took place, which remained unreported. Nine regional separatists surrounded the country home of a local Uighur leader in the town of Kuqar. They threw a grenade through the window before storming the house. Finding the man inside with his wife, his younger brother and brother's wife, they cut out the tongues of all four and slit their throats. Thus the traitors were silenced.

The leader was accused of "letting down the Uighur people and failing to properly represent them". In other words, he was judged to be a tool of the Chinese government.

The army was at the scene almost immediately. Finding themselves surrounded, the nine men blew themselves up with grenades.

In the wake of the killings, official documents urgently recommended that the new railway planned to link Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, to Kashgar in the Uighur heartland of the south be completed within the next three years. Large numbers of Han Chinese - the dominant, "mainstream" Chinese - were to be moved into the area to stabilise unrest. The document warned: "So far we have been too soft on the locals. From now on, we will start to get tough."

The disturbance is just one of a growing number of outbursts of violence since the early Eighties, culminating in last month's riots in Yining when Uighur youths took to the streets, beating up Han Chinese and burning their bodies. Young Uighurs grow up with a keen hatred for the steadily increasing numbers of Chinese migrants.

A spokesman for Uighur exiles suggested last week that the death of Deng Xiaoping wouldbring a power struggle within the Chinese elite. He predicted: "If that happens, the independence movement in Turkestan will intensify." The Turkic-speaking Uighur nationalists want to establish an independent "East Turkestan" homeland.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands of Han Chinese arrive daily at Urumqi railway station laden with their life's belongings. Tensions erupt easily. An Uighur man who accidentally jostled a Chinese on a bus was told he was "filthy" and asked why he didn't "go off and get on his donkey cart?" The Uighur replied that he would love to, only he couldn't as the Hans had eaten all their donkeys. The apparently humorous exchange thinly veiled the cultural clashes and inequalities in the new society geared exclusively towards Hans. Not only is the Han Chinese love of pork considered "unclean" by Muslim Uighurs, but the Chinese tendency to kill and eat anything that moves is also abhorred. Uighurs are frequently known to quote the Hans' own saying when expressing their disgust: "Of things that fly, the only thing they don't eat is aeroplanes. Of things with four legs, the only thing they don't eat is tables."

The Uighurs regard the Han Chinese as introverted people who fail to share their passions for music, dance and hedonism.

As the social structure changes, opportunities have become few and far between for Uighurs. The hundreds of Han migrants arriving daily in Xinjiang are lured by government incentives of housing and jobs. The Chinese are building new residential areas, but it is rarely the Uighurs who get to live there. Job discrimination is routine: when an Urumqi academic fluent in Chinese approached a computer firm and offered his services, he was told: "We hadn't considered Uighurs."

While Chinese-imposed birth control remains a bone of contention for rebels in the strongly Islamic south, social inequality and discrimination in the labour market is the main catalyst of ethnic opposition among intellectuals in the modernising north of Xinjiang. So who will be the champions of the cause for Uighuristan, the long-awaited homeland of the once-nomadic Muslim Uighurs?

The older generation are too scared of the repercussions and of a return to worsened poverty and famine. They still bear the scars of Mao Tse-tung's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They shrink from the anger growing in their children and look on anxiously. In the words of one Uighur: "Young people are unable to look ahead. We older ones can see things in the long term, we're not so impetuous."

It remains to be seen whether the younger ones can overcome traditional disagreements between oasis towns, and between north and south. A migrant worker from Aksu living in Urumqi believes they can: "When it comes to the crucial hour, Uighurs will come together."

Meanwhile, long lines of Chinese army trucks rumble regularly along country roads between Aksu and Baicheng deep in the south. In Xinjiang, nobody forgets who is in charge.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links