East Turkestan: Turkic People At Odds With Chinese Rule
After decades of Chinese rule, the Uighurs of East Turkestan seem to remain at odds with Beijing.
Chairman Mao towers over Kashgar. At 24 metres (79ft) high, the statue, which stands in the middle of People's Square, is one of the biggest in China.
Despite living in Mao's shadow, inhabitants of the city in westernmost Xinjiang do their best to ignore his influence. Beneath the huge hand of the stone leader, traders from across central Asia deal in carpets, silks and spices. Halal mutton kebabs sizzle over glowing charcoal and flat breads bake in earthen stoves as the strains of Turkish pop music float from the courtyards. Several times daily, the call to prayer from the Id Kah mosque, the biggest in China, rings out over the city.
More than 77 per cent of Kashgar's 325,000 citizens are ethnic Uighurs and Muslims. The surrounding Kashgar prefecture, with an area of 141,000 square kilometres ( more than 54,000sq miles), has more than three million Uighurs out of a total population of 3.3 million. More than eight million Uighurs live in the entire Xinjiang region.
In the past century, Xinjiang has enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy. Turkic rebels took advantage of warlord infighting across China to declared independence in October 1933 and created the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan. The following year, China reabsorbed the region.
In 1944, factions within Xinjiang once again declared independence and created the Second East Turkestan Republic, but in 1949, as the Chinese Communist Party came into power, the region was declared a Chinese province.
In October 1955, Xinjiang was classified as an "autonomous region" of the People's Republic of China.
Most Uighurs continue to resist integration. They refuse to speak Mandarin, preferring their own Turkic-based tongue. They have little contact with the Han Chinese who have been encouraged to populate the area — many Uighurs will not even ride in a taxi with a Han driver. And separatist Uighur factions, however small or inconsequential, continue to rile an anxious Government in Beijing.
Many Uighurs say that they are treated unfairly. They say Xinjiang, with its vast gas, oil and mineral reserves, is one of the richest areas of China and yet most of them live in poverty while their Han Chinese neighbours prosper. They claim employment discrimination and a lack of aid.