People of the New Frontier

Geographical, April 2007 | Go to article overview

People of the New Frontier


With a population of more than eight million people, the Uygur (meaning 'united' or 'allied') are one of the largest ethnic minorities in China. Originally descended from a group of Turkic-speaking tribes from the Altai mountains, the majority of Uygur people now live within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a province in the north of China that shares its borders with eight countries. Xinjiang (literally 'new frontier') has a long history of intermittent independence--it was only officially incorporated into China in 1950, becoming an autonomous province in 1955. Although the region has always been relatively isolated, the creation of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in 1954, a semi-military government organisation established to increase industry and agriculture within the province, brought modernisation and an influx of Han chinese in its wake. Xinjiang still retains a unique cultural and social structure, but these traditions are slowly being eroded. Photographer Norberto Cuenca recently travelled to the province, hoping to capture traditional life within Xinjiang's Uygur communities before it disappears

Shoppers throng the carpet bazaar in Hotan Sunday market. Located to the west of the Yurungkish (white jade) River, so named because of the alluvial deposits of the stone that were once regularly found along its banks, Hotan is famed for the quality of its silk and handmade rugs. This carpet bazaar is one of the market's busiest sections

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Above: handmaking noodles or la mian in Kashi Sunday market. Dough is repeatedly stretched and folded to create these thin noodles, which are here made using wheat--rather than rice--flour. Wheat forms the basis of most staple foods in the drier parts of northwestern China; Below left: gilded chests in the market at Yarkand. Situated in the Tarim Basin, Yarkand was an important staging post along the Silk Road. Today, it's famous for its craftsmen, who still handmake most of the commodities needed for everyday life; Below right: an Uygur man in the Sunday market at Hotan

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Above left: a glazed tiled window in the Abakh Khoja mausoleum in Kashi. Built in honour of Abakh Khoja, Kashi's Islamic leader during the 17th century, the mausoleum is a masterpiece of Uygur architecture; Above right: an Uygur reads the Koran, Yarkand. …

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