Monday, July 13


'97 photo of a Wise Man taken in Kashgar, an oasis town on the silk road in Central Asia and sited west of the Taklamakan Desert. It is famous for being the world's oldest open market dating back hundreds of years. From Kashgar I went to Ürümqi.

Ürümqi, sadly, has been in the news this month for ethnic violence which began 5 July with riots including about 3,000 Uyghurs. The initial confrontations between police and protesters soon turned into attacks on Hans in ethnically-targeted violence; hundreds of Han people armed with makeshift weapons retaliated against police and Uyghurs. Chinese President Hu Jintao was forced to cut short his attendance of theG8 Summet and returned to China due to the situation in Xinjiang.

The July violence was part of an ongoing ethnic conflict between the Han, the largest ethnic group in China, and the Uyghurs, one of the minority groups who are Turic and mostly Muslim. These specific riots sparked by Uyghur dissatisfaction with the Chinese government's handling of the deaths of two Uygbyur workers, as part of an ethnic brawl ten days earlier in Guandong. In Ürümqi, officials report, as at today, 184 people dead with 1,680 others injured and motor vehicles and buildings destroyed. This in itself highly unusual - recall Tiananmen Square when there was a media black out. Police attempted to quell the rioters with tear gas, water hoses, armored vehicles, and roadblocks, while the government enforced a strict curfew in most urban areas. Authorities shut down Internet services and restricted cell phone services in Ürümqi.

When I visited Ürümqi, I was well aware of the tension owned by the Uyghurs towards the Hans. Uyghurs live mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where they make up the largest ethnic group until a massive recent influx of Han Chinese, who now are 50% of the population, and the Uyghurs have become a minority in their homeland. Explosive. The city itself located at the base of the Tian Shan mountains and holds 2.3 million people; for this part of the world, it is fairly modernised with a heavenly 5-star Holiday Inn suggesting running water. It is the most remote city from any sea in the world or 1,400 miles from the nearest coastline ("Xianjiang" BTW means "New Frontier" and is the Chinese name of the Autonomous Region.) I recall a welcoming, curious people - I would not say "warm" or "inviting" - who were serious and striving to improve their lives. We spent five days touring factories, visiting markets and understanding this node on the Silk Road. The Chinese government has always viewed Xianjiang as a nuissance, or problem - but has never overstepped its position as in Tibet. Perhaps this why it so readily allowed foreign journalists into the area, which is against China's natural impulse to cloak its problems to the outside world. For many reasons China cannot allow this region to separate but the main one: naturals resources including minerals and gas make it one of the country's most valuable.