Monday, January 19, 2015

Rumbles on the Rim of China’s Empire

Published: July 11, 2009
(Page 2 of 2)

The Chinese empire did not exercise full political control over the territory in its current shape until the Qing Dynasty, ruled by ethnic Manchus, annexed the region in 1760 and later gave it the name Xinjiang, according to the scholars James A. Millward and Peter C. Perdue.

 Ethnic Violence in Xinjiang, China
Slide Show
Ethnic Violence in Xinjiang, China
 Map of Xinjiang Province
Map of Xinjiang Province
China Raises Death Toll in Ethnic Clashes to 184 (July 11, 2009)
A Strongman Is China’s Rock in Ethnic Strife (July 11, 2009)
Room for Debate: What Should China Do About the Uighurs? (July 8, 2009)
Times Topics: China | Uighurs
“By first establishing military and civil administrations and then promoting immigration and agricultural settlements, it went far toward ensuring the continued presence of China-based power in the region,” the two professors wrote in a 2004 volume of essays by 16 scholars, “Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland.”

Mr. Millward wrote in an e-mail message that the emperor Qianlong had conquered Xinjiang because efforts to rule it through Mongolian and Uighur proxies had failed.

Xinjiang’s location, bordering the nomadic areas of Central Asia, had already made it a strategic place for military garrisons during earlier periods when the Chinese empire had tentative control. Each time, the military would reclaim land for farming and build irrigation works, according to Calla Wiemer, another of the 16 essayists.

But the Qing dynasty brought the practice to a new level, greatly expanding the region’s economy. More than 50,000 demobilized troops were offered benefits if they stayed and farmed, and free land and seeds were given to Chinese willing to move here from the interior, Ms. Wiemer wrote.

It was a precursor to the policies of the Communist Party, the ones that have modernized Xinjiang but also contributed to its fractious ethnic landscape. In the early 1950s, the central government established the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an enterprise to manage large farms and construction projects called bingtuan and provide jobs for demobilized soldiers.

The bingtuan are hugely profitable, and an estimated one out of every six Han in Xinjiang — about 1.3 million people — belongs to one. But Uighurs rarely get work there.

Government incentives as well as market forces have spurred a flood of Han migration, and the Han now make up at least 40 percent of the population, compared with 6 percent in 1949. Most of the settlers are from poor rural areas.

“We were farmers in Henan, and we wanted to make a better living,” said Lu Sifeng, 47, a street fruit vendor whose son was killed by a Uighur mob on July 5.

Uighurs resent not only the increased competition for jobs, but also the tightening of cultural policies since the 1990s, implemented partly because the Chinese government feared that the collapse of the Soviet Union would lead Uighurs to identify with Turkic nationalist causes or Islamic fundamentalism. The result, many Uighurs say, is a set of problems that shred their dignity: a lack of jobs for non-Han; strict limits on the practice of Islam; a need to subsume their own language to Mandarin in order to get ahead economically.

“Real colonization only started with Mao after the liberation,” said Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese government points to the fact that the gross domestic product of Xinjiang doubled from $28 billion in 2004 to $60 billion in 2008. With that has come a rise in living standards and more jobs overall, and better education for every ethnic group, including the Uighurs. Officials say there is no need to change policies, no need for true autonomy, and that Xinjiang is an example of the future in borderlands of China, with ethnic minorities and the Han prospering side by side.

It is, they say, the best that one can hope for from a new frontier.

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