Among the Uighurs : Uighurs under Communism

Article excerpt

From the early days of communist rule, Beijing attempted to undercut the Uighurs' authority over Xinjiang's society, culture, and economy to prevent any repeats of the uprisings of 1933 and 1944. The central government launched aggressive resettlement policies designed to increase the number of Han Chinese in Xinjiang, with significant success: while only 300,000 Han resided in Xinjiang in 1949, over 6.4 million Chinese now live in the province. Urumqi and other cities in eastern Xinjiang have become largely Chinese metropolises, though Kashgar and other towns in the west and south remain primarily Uighur. During the Cultural Revolution, vicious Red Guards harassed the Uighurs by forcing Muslim religious leaders to eat pork, imprisoning thousands of Uighurs in labor camps, and destroying many mosques.

After the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping encouraged considerable liberalization across the country; in the 1980s, many Chinese moved out of Xinjiang, and Uighurs enjoyed more freedom of expression. But after the 1989 Tiananmen Square bloodshed, as well as a few violent expressions of Uighur separatism in the late 1980s and early '90s, Beijing moved swiftly against any perceived threats to its authority, a campaign that has intensified in recent years. "The 1990s and early 2000s actually have been a worse period for the Uighurs," says Nicolas Becquelin, an expert on Xinjiang at Human Rights in China, a Hong Kong--based monitoring group. "The Uighurs have gone from seeing their institutions being slowly undermined by China to seeing their lives being shattered by the government. …