An article was published in the times today extolling the wonders of Xinjiang, the most northwestern province of China and where I will be in mid-to-late 2011 for my fieldwork. I am sure that the article will achieve its goal of making would-be travelers wish they too could trek across the Taklamakan Desert. While I congratulate the author (and also long for next summer when I too will have the opportunity to visit Uyghurstan), I can’t help but wish it had something more to say about how people there see things.
He offhandedly mentions that there are ethnic tensions and that the Chinese government only took full control of the region in 1949. What he fails to mention is that the type of repression and discrimination against Uyghurs in Xinjiang is arguably more severe than that which has taken place in Tibet. By invoking the fear of militant Islam, the Chinese government justifies its arrest of peaceful human rights activists (such as Rebiya Kadeer) that advocate for the equality of Uyghur citizens.
When reading the article, I also found myself wanting to know how he was seen. As a welcome guest whose tourist money aided the economy? A foreign devil on the silk road? A Mandarin speaking guy from the south? What kinds of connections did he make, and how does the opening of Xinjiang to Han Chinese and foreigners alike change people’s concepts of self and future?
I know, I know – it’s a silly travel piece. What should I expect? Not everything can be anthropology.
Plus, enjoy the good pictures. They are highly reminiscent of other Central Asian cities.