China remodels Silk Road city but scars run deep

The call to prayer echoes across the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, drawing believers into the main mosque under the watchful eye of armed police, as building cranes loom in the distance.

It's the end of a day of fasting in this old trading post between East and West - a remote city in China's far-western region of Xinjiang that is reeling from recent deadly attacks that laid bare long-standing ethnic tensions.

Undaunted, authorities are pressing ahead with plans to turn the restive city into a modern economic powerhouse - to the dismay of many of the mainly Muslim Uighur minority, who fear it will have serious repercussions for them.

"This Kashgar is a new Kashgar, it's no longer an old city. Our culture has gone," lamented a 24-year-old Uighur shopkeeper who refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The ancient, traditional Islamic part of the city is already in the throes of mass modernisation, as bulldozers tear down old mud-brick houses to replace them with lookalikes made of concrete and brick.

China's communist government says the seven-billion-yuan ($1.1-billion) project aims to improve living standards for inhabitants of the old city, where it says many of the insalubrious houses would topple in an earthquake.

"Kashgar is located in a seismic zone so it's important that all houses are quake-safe. Our (new) houses can withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake," said Aysajan Ahat, an official in charge of the project.

But Uighurs who live there point out the old buildings have stood steadfast for hundreds of years and that they have little control over the design of their new homes.

Authorities deny this, saying residents are consulted every step of the way.

Ahat also insists that all demolished houses are being replaced, but residents say the old city is much smaller than it was.

"The programme of demolition and rebuilding is so messy that it is impossible to say whether all houses demolished are being replaced," said Michael Dillon, the Britain-based author of the book "Xinjiang, China's Muslim Far Northwest".

Elsewhere in the city, high-rises are springing up everywhere. A scale model of what planners want the city to look like - on display at an exhibition - shows the old town surrounded by a sea of modern tower blocks.

The government last year designated Kashgar a special economic zone, keen to boost investment in a city that stands at the crossroads of central and southern Asia.

It wants to push the city's annual GDP growth rate, which already exceeds 20 percent, to 25 percent over the next nine years, and plans to increase the population from the current 600,000 to a million by 2030.

Already migrants from other parts of China - many of them members of the majority Han ethnic group - have moved to Kashgar, lured by the prospect of making money in the fast-growing city.

Wu Shushuang, a 26-year-old who sells steel products, is originally from the eastern province of Anhui but ended up in Kashgar this year after making his way west from Shanghai.

"I make 20,000 yuan a month here compared to just 2,000 yuan before," he said.

But this influx has fuelled resentment among Xinjiang's roughly eight million Uighurs, many of whom complain that Han Chinese get better jobs and pay and say that traditional Uighur culture is being deliberately diluted.

"Some Uighurs go to university, they graduate, come back and can't find jobs. These all go to the Han. And even when they do find jobs, their salaries are low," one Uighur man said, in comments echoed by others interviewed by AFP.

This resentment has spilled over into bloody violence almost always directed at Han Chinese or security forces.

In July 2009, mobs of Uighurs attacked Han in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, killing nearly 200 people and leaving 1,700 injured - an incident that led to retaliatory attacks by Han on Uighurs several days later.

And on the weekend of July 30-31 this year, ethnic tensions once again burst to the fore when 13 civilians were killed in two knife attacks in Kashgar, which is about 90 minutes' flying time from the regional capital.

The Chinese government blames much of the violence in Xinjiang on separatist forces, but some experts say there is little evidence that organised terrorist groups operate in the region, adding unrest stems from economic frustrations.

"Some of my colleagues have left Kashgar (since the weekend violence) but I won't choose to leave, I have confidence in the government," said Wu.

Dillon said the violence would discourage Western firms.

"However, a lot of investment in Kashgar is from other parts of China and this is government-sponsored and will still go ahead. Investment from other parts of Central Asia is also a possibility," he said.

Dillon added that the government urgently needs to find a way to integrate Uighurs into the modern economy.

Many Uighurs do not speak Mandarin, China's official language, and have low levels of education. Two of the suspects allegedly involved in the recent attacks in Kashgar, for instance, did not get past primary school.

"To do this (integration) successfully they will need to negotiate with grassroots representative of the Uighurs," Dillon said. "But at the moment there are no legal organisations that they can negotiate with."

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there