T h e U i g h u r s русский
C U L T U R A L P O L I C Y I N T H E X I N J I A N G U I G H U R
A U T O N O M O U S R E G I O N (E A S T T U R K E S T A N)
“There are no natural rights; the only rights of the
individual are those which society gives him.”
twentieth century brought enormous political, economic, and cultural changes to
Central Asia. Borders were redrawn between a number of states, and new nations
were created and thus new minorities. This led to the emergence of new tensions
between old allies. One interesting case of a Central Asian minority are the
Uighurs. These people, who since the 3rd century BC controlled the
Central Asian steppes from the Orkhon river in the north to the Tarim Basin in
the south, at the turn of the 20th century became the subject of
political intrigue between two large empires – Russia and China. Previous to
that, during the 19th century, Russia’s colonial advances destroyed
the unity of the Islamic Uighur Kingdom of East Turkestan, and at the end of the
19th century most of its territory was conquered by the Quing Empire.
In 1884, a Chinese province with the name Xinjiang (or “New Frontier”) was
created out of this territory. Although the borders between Russia and China
were drawn, the Islamic people who had been living on both sides of the south of
Soviet Turkestan and the north and west of China made it difficult to keep these
borders under control.
the 20th century the policy of China towards the Uighurs, who were
living along the borders with the USSR, gradually shifted from the provision of
a self-governing administration to the complete renunciation of any right of
government in addition to the rights of officially using their language,
practicing their religion, and keeping their customs. The following essay will
examine why Chinese policy made this shift (especially after 1949) and what
measures had been undertaken by Chinese authorities to accelerate the program of
assimilation, especially after the 1980s. Also what economic and cultural
reforms contributed to this control? I will argue that the most recent Chinese
policy towards its minorities implements assimilation and not integration, as
some scholars tend to believe. Since the central Chinese government takes
a very serious stance towards cultural assimilation (especially music), this
aspect will receive special treatment in this paper.
starting my discussion, some important concepts, which can be helpful in
understanding ethnic problems, need to be clarified. The spectrum of
interaction between minorities and dominant groups ranges from pluralism
to assimilation. Pluralism allows various ethnic groups to follow
their own social system and maintain their own characteristics. It implies
mutual interdependence, respect, and equality.
Assimilation, on the other hand, “implies that members of minority
groups have absorbed the characteristics of the dominant group to the exclusion
of their own and become indistinguishable from members of the majority.”
Assimilation can be forced or unforced by the dominant group. This
term also implies the lose of original ethnic characteristics as well as the
lose of separate social structures. Integration lies in between pluralism
and assimilation, and “implies the process whereby ethnic groups
come to shift their loyalties, expectations, and political activities toward a
new center.” As with assimilation,
the process of integration can be forced or unforced by the
Uighurs under the Republic of China (1912-1949)
the Republican period, China implemented double-faced policies toward its
minorities. On the one hand, it officially accepted the existence of five
nationalities (Han, Mongol, Manchu, Tibetan, and Muslim Turk (Uighur)
symbolically represented in the five-colored flag.
On the other hand, the nine-point manifesto of the Alliance Society, which later
was reorganized into the National Party (Goumindang), clearly defined its aim to
preserve national unity, which in the next manifesto became an open call for
“the strict implementation of racial assimilation.”
In some provinces of China the wearing of different clothes and the use of
different scripts and spoken languages was prohibited.
However, for the Uighurs, in terms of culture, religion, and language, this
period was not as destructive as later periods since the Chinese central
authorities in fact had little power over Xinjiang. Most scholars of Chinese
politics have agreed that this was due to the influence of the USSR on the
political and economic life of Xinjiang. Formal diplomatic relations between the
USSR and China were set up in 1924, thereupon establishing Soviet consulates in
five Xinjiang cities and five Chinese consulates in Soviet Central Asian cities.
Since then, the educational system in Xinjiang was based on the Soviet model;
the curriculum included Russian as the main foreign language; Soviet specialists
worked in different domains including education.
By 1936, 85% of foreign trade in Xinjiang was with the USSR. This reflected
positively on the standard of living of its minorities. Furthermore, the ties
between this region and the Soviet Union strengthened due to the Russian and
then Soviet military interventions against the revolts of the Muslim minorities.
In 1912, Russia sent 1,000 Cossacks under the pretext of guaranteeing security
for the Russian citizens in Xinjiang. Then, with the military assistance of the
Red Army, as well as with tanks and artillery, the rebellions in Kumul (10,000
solders), in 1931, in Kaxgar (7,000), in 1933-34, and in the south of Xinjiang,
in 1937, were easily crushed.
influence reached its peak in 1940 with the signing of an agreement that
“granted the USSR with exclusive rights to the prospecting, investigation and
exploitation of tin deposits and related secondary deposits of other minerals
within the territory of Xinjiang.”
Although this fifty-year lease of Xinjiang was never completed (because of
China’s break with Moscow during WWII), the influence of Soviet economy and
politics remained strong until the end of the 1950s, making the Xinjiang region
a de facto colony of the Soviet Union and economically almost independent
from the rest of China.
the relationship between China and the Soviet Union deteriorated after the
signing in 1941 of the Soviet-Japanese mutual non-aggression pact.
The Chinese government tried to change the balance of power in Xinjiang and
break its ties with the Soviet Union: in 1942 all Russians in Xinjiang were
asked to leave the province within three months. Meanwhile, in June 1943 the
Chinese government sent the Nationalist troops to Xinjiang.
In November 1944, the Chinese leaders accused the Soviet Union of provoking the
Muslim separatist movements, when the Ili (Yili) rebellion established the East
This accusation probably had a real foundation since from the Tsarist colonial
expansion into West Turkestan, Russians had intended to extend their influence
over East Turkestan. Thus, any tension (especially based on separatist
overtones) between the Islamic population and the Chinese central government
could have been used by the Russians as a pretext for taking complete control of
Xinjiang. As Braker points out, the Russians have “exploited every opportunity
for promoting such tensions, or even for creating them.”
Just before the Ili rebellion, in February of 1944, the Soviet Union provided
weapons, ammunition, and even the Soviet Air Force to support another Muslim
uprising under the Kazak leader Usman Batur. This demonstrated its great
interest in the secession of Xinjiang and makes it easy to believe that the Ili
rebellion may have been backed by the Soviet Union (at least secretly). On the
other hand, some scholars doubt that the Ili rebellion was supported by the
USSR, since Stalin was not interested in assisting Islamic secession in Xinjiang. Rather, the Soviet ruler
was threatened with pan-Turkic ideals, which would inflame the Soviet Central
Asian Republics and cause trouble in keeping their borders safe. Furthermore,
and probably for the same reason, Stalin twice rejected to support the secession
of Xinjiang: in 1934 and 1944. This
may be a case of the Soviet government trying to convince other countries of a
situation that does not exist. Perhaps the Soviet long-term plan could not been
pursued more openly because of the double game they were playing with China.
by the Sino-Japanese resistance war, on the one hand, and due to the strong
influence of the Soviet Union, on the other, the Chinese government could not
control fully the cultural and religious issues of minorities, including the
Uighurs, but could only try to keep the integrity of the state by all possible
the economical and political ties between China and Xinjiang were not strong,
the cultural difference was even more drastic. In terms of religion, language,
tradition, and way of life they had nothing in common. Nevertheless, during the
Republican period, the Chinese authorities made a huge effort to unify the state
by creating a mass culture. It started with the promotion of patriotic songs,
the so-called “school songs” that later played an enormous role in unifying
the nation. In only one year, 1912, about 1,400 school songs glorifying
nationalism and democracy were composed. As the Chinese music historian Wang
Yuhe states, these songs not only ideologically initiated and deeply influenced
the young generation, but also opened a new epoch of mass art that later gave
birth to the military and revolutionary genre of songs. In reality these songs
were a mere compilation of famous European, Russian or American songs, the
lyrics of which were simply replaced with politically appropriate connotations.
state support of culture had stimulated national creativity and cultural
unification. For instance, the beginning of the 1930s was marked with the
establishment of three major bodies, which became the means of national
propaganda: the League of Writers with Zhou Quiying as head – Mao’s future
prime minister (in 1930), the Sino-Soviet Society of Music Studies (in 1933, in
Shanghai), and the “Group of Music for the Defense of the Fatherland” (in
1935). The last organization was a strong demonstration of the state’s serious
attitude towards music as a tool for national defense.
During the Sino-Japanese war of resistance, Mao stressed the importance of
culture in state affairs by saying that it is not enough for the state to have
an army with weapons in hand; another type of army, the army of culture, needed
to be created. This army, that he called the “army of the plume,” was to
form a new Chinese proletariat culture, which would be based on Chinese and
transformed non-Chinese heritage that was ideologically opposed to the ancient
culture. With the transition of power to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), the
People’s Republic of China (PRC) committed itself to support and develop
culture by opening ministries and departments that would be in charge of
individual spheres of science and culture.
Ever since then, music was used to propagate the political agenda and was
the center of attention and preoccupation of the state.
Uighurs under the CCP (1949-66)
the CCP came to power in 1949, it became clear that any attempts of secession
would be nipped in the bud since China was claimed a “multinational unitary
In contrast to the USSR, which consisted of equally treated united republics (at
least on paper), China claimed to being one republic with numerous
nationalities. Minorities would enjoy a degree of autonomy (limited political
control over their own areas), but would remain part of China. In Article 77 of
the Constitution, the Chinese government guaranteed protection of national
customs and special cultural features as well as linguistic freedom.
the governing of the autonomous regions given to the local people was performed
under the vigilant control of the center, which did not allow any deviation from
the mainstream. The traditional leaders kept their positions as long as they did
not act actively against communism. In the same way the journals and newspapers
in the local languages as well as education were only used for the promotion of
Mao’s ideas and to propagate communist and patriotic ideology. All textbooks
in the minority languages consisted of texts not about allegiance to their
minority culture, but to China as a whole.
Although members of minorities could
study in their own language in so-called “nationality schools” until they
would complete the upper level of secondary school,
they had almost no access to college and university education since it was
available only in Chinese. As a result, the data on the level of minority
education in 1982 demonstrates that only 0.2% of Uighurs completed university.
About 45% of Uighurs were registered as illiterate. However, the latter number
reflects the population who could not read Chinese characters and assumes the
Chinese language as the national standard of education. In fact, as Naby
confirmed, the elderly Uighur population can not only write the Uighur (Arab)
script, but are also proficient in Farsi and Arabic, as well as in Islamic
science. This was not included in
shift of power to the Communist Party, in 1949, at first seemed to dispel all
the disagreements between the Communist Soviet Union and Communist China.
Indeed, on March 27, 1950, an agreement was signed in Moscow to establish
Soviet-Chinese companies that would extract mineral oil and exploit precious and
light metals. For thirty years the Soviet Union was granted half of Xinjiang’s
mineral and oil output.
the other hand, at the beginning of the 1950s, China paved the way for breaking
off with the USSR by arranging conditions so as to integrate Xinjiang. The
threat that China’s unity may be disrupted by the USSR’s presence in
Xinjiang made the Chinese government believe that the departure of the Soviets
would put an end to separatist movements in this politically unstable territory.
In the 1950s several measures were used to fortify Xinjiang and keep it under
to crack down on local minorities and suppress any secessionist sentiments, the
Chinese government organized a Red Terror campaign. Radio Urumchi announced that
the leader of the Muslim rebellion, Usman Batur, and 25 of his leading fighters
were publicly hanged in Urumchi before 90,000 people. According to the speech by
the Governor General broadcast the same year on radio, 120,000
anti-revolutionary elements, “nationalist foes, and henchmen of the
imperialists” were successfully liquidated.
land reform, which was carried out in Xinjiang from September 1951 to the end of
resulted in the expropriation of land belonging to religious bodies. Third, in
1953, the program of a five-year plan with its supposed aim to develop the
economy within an unnaturally fast timeframe resulted in the mass migration of
Hans from the inner provinces into Xinjiang. Due to this, in the
thirty-seven-year period between 1949 and 1986, the proportion of Uighurs living
in Xinjiang had dropped from 75.9% to 46.5%, while that of the Hans had
increased from 6.7% to 38,9%.
The official reasons given by Chinese authorities for this internal migration,
as listed by Heberer, were the following:
the development and exploitation of the rich natural resources require
specialists and skilled workers that Xinjiang cannot provide.
the educational level of settlers would contribute to the education of
the backward regions and help in the modernization of the local population.
the stronger Han presence would provide military security in the border
regions and facilitate the integration of minorities and their regions into the
considering the political situation that China tried to adjust, the real
motivations were not likely to be only economic and defensive. Eberhard points
out that the tactics of sending millions of young men to minority regions used
by the Chinese regime, which was based on the Soviet model, had three
objectives: 1) to render potentially or actually disenchanted young persons from
the inner regions of China politically harmless; 2) to change the ethnic balance
of the minority areas; and 3) to use these exiled persons to control minority
Syroyezhkin adds yet another important point concerning the political security
of this turbulent minority region. According to him, the main reason for mass
migration was to counteract separatist tendencies.
Fourth, in 1958, the so-called “Great Leap Forward” brought further
programs promoting the assimilation of minorities, including the Uighurs. One of
the most destructive was the commune program in which all people were forced to
surrender their private property and to work, live, and eat in a commune. The
misinterpretation of the slogan “equality of the nationalities” was realized
in the system of communal dining halls that in fact aimed to standardize Chinese
cuisine. The food served there was exclusively Chinese and included pork; the
Muslim minorities, who do not eat pork, were ignored.
to control the religious and social life of Muslim minorities, the Chinese
government established two central organizations – the “Chinese Islamic
Society” and the “Hai Cultural Association.” These institutions were to
propagate the Party’s ideology and became an convenient den for shadowing
mistrustful elements. Furthermore, in 1952, a Shanghai publishing house released
a Chinese translation of the Qoran under the title Outline and Special
Characteristics of the Qoran, which contained only verses “suitable for
demonstrating the validity of Communist doctrine.”
The central authorities aimed to use this book in Muslim religious schools to
provide everybody with an ideologically appropriate training. So, the relatively
soft policy of the Party toward minority religion was nothing more than a
diplomatic step to lull the minority’s vigilance and suspicion in order to
later tighten up the policy.
cultural aspects of integration were also carefully worked out. It seemed that
the Chinese government entered into a rivalry with the Soviet Union,
systematically establishing more and more official state cultural bodies.
Numerous professional associations and cultural organizations, such as the
Ministry of Culture under the central government, the Federation of Literature
and Art Circles of China, the professional Central Nationalities Song-and-Dance
Troup in Peking, the classical ballet and the opera, were founded at the end of
the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s.
the cultural domain it seemed that China tried to prove that it can do “more,
faster, better, and thriftier” than the Soviet Union. The euphoria of
planification had overwhelmed the intelligentsia and the cultural workers. China
was forcing creativity using all means and making tremendous leaps in creative
art productivity. The lack of professional cadres in culture did not seem to be
a problem. Everybody was allowed to create. Housewives could do core-mold
casting, literary art could be done without literary men, and teaching could be
done without teachers.
to the Musical Association, between 1949 and 1953, plant workers wrote no less
than 10,000 songs.
During the span of the “Great Leap Forward,” 567 collections of folk songs
and 347 collections of articles were published.
Some musical critics were aware, though, that quantity did not necessarily mean
quality. Lu Ji, an active musical theorist, realized that the “musical army of
struggle” had still not created an original national style that would embrace
the music of all the nationalities of China.
He proposed to study and use ancient music with its feudal elements and the
music of minorities with its “backwardness” because he believed that they
still had some democratic spirit that can be useful for the new national
culture. Thus, he suggested assimilating the old and foreign traditions in order
to create the new Chinese tradition.
The Cultural Revolution interrupted the realization of Lu Ji’s ideas. However,
soon after the end of the Cultural Revolution, he continued with a renewed zeal.
He worked on the creation of a new national musical tradition through the
assimilation of the music of minorities.
addition to the economic, political, and cultural reforms directed to drive out
the USSR’s agencies from Xinjiang, an environment hostile to the Soviets was
created through the mass media bombardment. The new slogan “it is time to put
an end to a blind belief in foreign experience” was obviously propaganda
against the Soviet Union and other countries.
China attained its objective in forcing the Soviets out of Xinjiang. The
final break between the old allies occurred in 1962 when the Soviet Union
withdrew all professionals from China. This created a crisis resulting in the
fleeing of more than 100,000 Muslims into the USSR’s Central Asian republics.
The Chinese government accused the Soviet Union of encouraging minorities to
leave China and giving them refugee status. Indeed the Soviet radio stations
located on the border with China began to broadcast programs usually prepared by
commentators recently emigrated from China. Basing their reports on life
experiences on both sides of the border, they emphasized the advantage of
minorities living in the USSR, and encouraged their unfortunate brothers to
migrate to the USSR from China. Reports from Xinjiang’s refugees
flooded the pages of Soviet newspapers and journals, such as Literaturnaya
Gazeta and Izvestiya, emphasizing the brutality and despotism of
China’s policy toward its Turkic minorities. Ironically, the Chinese policy so
blatantly criticized by Moscow was a mere replication of the Soviet model that
had been already applied to the USSR’s Central Asian minorities: the language
policy, change of script, restriction of religious activities, etc.
Furthermore, the Soviet media consistently closed their eyes on the issue that
accompanied the minorities’ uprisings – religion, This was probably to
emphasize that these movements were nationalistic in character and to secure The
Societ position from being criticized for the use of the same methods. The
aim of the articles and reports criticizing China, as Braker argues, was to
“underpin its own [USSR’s] positions in the controversy with China within
the Soviet Union itself, within the socialist camp, and in the non-communist
world, and thus to make those positions more credible.”
The result of these events was the closure of the Soviet Consulate General
in Urumchi and the alienation of China not only from the USSR but also from
other communist countries. As the borders with the USSR were closed, the
minorities’ hope to escape their bleak destiny in China was dashed.
diplomatic isolation created by the breaking-off with the USSR and other
communist countries forced Mao to attempt to establish diplomatic relations with
third world countries (Pakistan, Congo, Bolivia, etc.). In 1962, being
aware of the influence of culture on the mind, Mao founded a troupe of 200
musical performers who presented the new Chinese culture abroad and would
accompany him on all diplomatic trips. To minimize the chance of desertion, he
insisted that all performers were members of official political institutions or
had an official government position. Thus, the involvement of music in
diplomatic affaires once again proved the importance of culture at the national
Cultural Revolution and its impact on minorities (1966-79)
official attack against the “four olds” (old ideas, customs, habits, and
culture) first of all left deep scars in minority cultures. Mackerras
characterizes this period as “the most assimilative in the history of PRC.”
The policies toward the minority cultures were extremely repressive because of
the obsession of the main leaders with eliminating national problems that are
part of a class problem. The idea of combining the issue of class with the issue
of nationality was by no means new. In 1949, Mao Zedong stated that the Chinese
“Communist Party has consistently recognized the nationalities question as
being a part of the liberation of the Chinese … what has been called
nationality struggle is in reality a question of class struggle.”
However, at the beginning of the 1950s, it was difficult to put this program
into practice since China needed to attract the minorities to participate in
state development. So this paragraph was forgotten until the point when the
Chinese government was not too preoccupied with the frontier’s defense, and
thus felt confident in sweeping out the traditions of the “barbarians.” In
1968, the Shanghai students who supported the Cultural Revolution attacked the
Constitution adopted by the 8th CCP Congress, which, according to
them, emphasized “nationalism to the exclusion of patriotism and
internationalism,” creating “national schisms.”
They suggested to focus on Mao’s directive to consider national struggle as
class struggle. The earlier policies, which recognized the particularities and
differences of national minorities, were labeled a “bourgeois reactionary
line” and revised:
It was denied that China was a multinational country. Thus, no special
economic policy was to be pursued, and all financial aid by the central
government was stopped.
Natural resources were destroyed by the system of five-year planification
that imposed the development of agriculture in regions where the conditions were
unallowable. The minorities were forced to destroy their pastures, and become
farmers, which immediately resulted in the shortage of livestock.
Traditional customs, language, and scripts were considered backward. All
holidays and celebrations were forbidden, and those who still resisted were
arrested as “counter-revolutionists.” Factories that produced minority
products were closed.
The minority press, newspapers, and radio broadcasts were shut down.
Almost all schools and colleges of the minorities were disbanded. The
number of minority students dropped, which resulted in an increased illiteracy
rate among minorities.
The “culturally inferior” minority cadres were replaced by Han cadres
regardless of their training and advanced education.
The traditional health practices were banned and not replaced by official
The performance of traditional songs and dances, as well as wearing
traditional clothes were prohibited as it was a “feudal, capitalist,
revisionist, poisonous weed.” The idea of the creation of a new culture that
would “please the Chinese ear and eye,” which in the 1950s circulated only
among an exclusive circle of specialists, now was on everybody’s lips.
by 1969 revolutionary ardor cooled down and the 1975 constitution had restored
all the rights that were removed by the Cultural Revolution, the subversive
environmental and psychological effect left its scar for many years. For
instance, the proportion of the over-sixty population in Xinjiang decreased
between the years 1952 and 1982 from 6.8% to 5.8%. The official explanation
given by Chinese authorities that the physical condition of minorities had
deteriorated due to young marriages and early birth, was unfounded since these
were traditionally old customs. Rather, as Heberer points out, “a growing
susceptibility to disease and serious environmental pollution” are the real
factors in this situation.
environmental problems were brought in the mass migrations into the minority
regions. Since the population of Xinjiang had suddenly increased, the region
began to face a serious water shortage. The solution that the Chinese government
put into practice – the diversion of the main river system for the irrigation
of the upstream areas of new settlers — turned into an ecological disaster in
the whole territory, which resulted in the desertification of farms.
Unfortunately, the migration of the cadres did not bring the desired economic
impact since a huge number of migrant specialists used Xinjiang as a gateway to
leave China for the USSR, North America, Taiwan, and Western Europe.
the 1975 constitution of the restored the rights of freedom of language, script
and customs, its vague formulation (“actively support all national minorities
in the socialist revolution and the construction of socialism”) was open to
interpretation. Any demand that contradicted the “construction of socialism”
could be and was rejected on the basis of this clause.
argues that the reaction to the Cultural Revolution “made the development of
national consciousness go beyond what the government had bargained for.”
According to him, the savage assimilation that China and the Han practiced
during the Cultural Revolution “was a major factor sparking pride in one’s
own culture and feelings of identity.”
However, there is a counterargument that, in Xinjiang, a strong expression of
national identity and tense atmosphere based on national spirit existed long
before the Cultural Revolution. The growing well-organized opposition to the
central government was strongly represented since 1955. The reason for the
agitation was the double-faced policy of the Chinese government toward its
minorities. On the one hand, at the first National People’s Congress, on
September 20, 1954, the Chinese government adopted Article 3 in which it accepts
the freedom of language, customs and ways; during 1955-58, three autonomous
regions were established (Xinjiang, in 1955 and the Guangxi Zhuang and the
Ningxia Hui, in 1958). On the other hand, in 1958, it bans the Uighur language
in institutions of higher education and replaces all local teachers with Chinese
teachers. These measures along with land reform and the creation of communities,
discussed above, mobilized the minorities, and the Uighurs in particular. In
1958, the Uighur underground liberation movement proclaimed a government of the
Therefore, Mackerras’ argument is only partially true since only after the
Cultural Revolution did the Uighurs finally realize that it was naïve to
believe in China’s interest in helping its minorities and started to express
their discontent more plainly.
of strategy towards the minorities (1979-1991)
Chinese government officially accepted its mistakes in policy towards the
minorities and started rebuilding the institutions and minority agencies that
were shut down during the Cultural Revolution. In 1980, the Chinese Islamic
Association was reconstructed. The state constitution of 1982 revived the right
to administrate the finances of the minority areas by the local government. The
autonomous regions were permitted to make their own decisions concerning the
development and exploitation of their resources, which were to be used to
benefit the local population. However, any decision of the local administration
had to be approved by the central government. In 1984, the Chinese government
adopted a Law on the Autonomy of Nationality Areas, which strengthened the
Constitution of 1982 and expanded to the freedom of religion. Syroyezhkin formulates two political reasons that explain
such a radical change in attitude toward religion.
The first reason is dictated by the internal political situation. The necessity
of finding new sources of raw material, new deposits, as well as
land-reclamation and strengthening of borders required the stabilization and
integration of the minorities who still complained and revolted in 1979, 1981,
order to gain the support for economic reforms, the Chinese government decided
to promote the establishment of religious centers and mosques so that the
Uighurs, instead of being politically active, were “busy” with religious
activities. This policy achieved its aim in regulating the political situation
and decreasing the opposition of non-Han and Han ethnicities. However, it
seriously weakened the economic situation of the Muslims since the religious
enthusiasm took place against the background of severe poverty, which became
more apparent as the financial support of the religious establishment was
carried of the people’s shoulders. The second reason was dictated by the
change in Chinese foreign policy. The campaign of criticizing China for its
terrible treatment of minorities that the Soviet Union carried on since the
early 60s, influenced the attitude of South Asia and the Near and Middle East
towards China. The establishment of China’s democratic image meant success in
the expansion of the political communication with other countries that were
aware of the “Islam factor.”
by promoting Muslim leaders,
China had created a highly religious population whose beliefs were at variance
with Chinese policy. The Chinese official position of birth control and freely
selling alcohol encountered strong opposition, which was later expressed with
interethnic agitation and mass student protests in 1989 and 1990.
to the minorities imaginary rights with one hand, the Chinese government took
away even more with the other hand, always keeping in mind the assimilation
agenda. In April 1979, the
Chinese newspaper the People’s
Daily published a program
that outlined the assimilation of minorities through the following steps:
the development of a common world language
the disappearance of “common geographical characteristics” of
the development of common a economic system
the acquisition of a common world mentality and culture
second and third points of this program were not new since from the early 1950s
economic reforms and mass migration partially accomplished the economic and
geographical integration of Xinjiang. The “common language” issue was
sporadically raised but until the 1980s the sinicization of the minorities’
languages was not pushed consistently. So the “common language and culture”
issues were put into force from the beginning of the 1980s. The
realization of linguistic and cultural assimilation, however, was thoroughly
veiled by the image of democracy. To demonstrate the equality of
minorities and the democratic approach to their issues, the second paragraph of
Article 38 of the 1984 Constitution urged the autonomous bodies “to collect,
rearrange, translate, and publish the books of the nationalities, protect the
scenic spots, historical sites and precious cultural objects of the
nationalities and their important historical and cultural relics.”
ideas of preserving minority treasures were first articulated in musical
circles. In 1979, Lu Ji offered a project of developing new national music. The
three steps of the project – collection of traditional music, establishments
of bodies of cooperation between the central Association of Music controlled by
the government and the local working groups, and creation of the atmosphere of
“rivalry of 100 schools” – pursued the objective of creating a new musical
culture that would be topical and would reflect the epoch. The implication of
this collection was the appropriation of the ethnic minorities’ music while
rejecting of some of its elements that were considered not urgent or
“backward.” In fact, the model of appropriation and assimilation of minority
music and culture reflects the Chinese nationalistic ideas of assimilation.
1980, the Congress of Traditional Music in Nankin established the agencies that
would collect and rearrange minority music. These bodies were directly connected
to and conducted by the highest official channels. The so-called
“Administrative Service of Compilation,” which consists of 10,000
researchers, eagerly started remaking minority traditional music by
“cleaning” it from its “backwardness.”
the collection, translation, and publication of the material on the minorities,
which encouraged minorities to preserve their own culture, would have been a
great contribution by the central government in promoting of minority culture,
were it not for the fact that the process aimed to reduce the minority mausical
treasure to 0,75%.
The selection of songs for publication clearly demonstrated how the state
interfered with the minorities’ cultural domain. There were four types of
publication of collected works designed for different circles. The first type of
publication was oriented for library use, so it was accessible to specialists
interested in minority culture. The second type was diffused only in the
libraries of the State. The third type of publication was for a very limited
group of government officials since “all the bad songs that nobody should
consult” were transcribed there. Finally, the fourth type of publication
included songs that were, according to the state, valuable since they could be
immediately used for big performances and be introduced to the working masses.
This type of song that was used for mass propaganda, consisted of only 0,75% of
the collected material. Thus, less than 1% of music was considered valuable
enough to preserve and use in mass culture, and 99% of music was kept in
secrecy; all cultural creativity of the minorities, thus, was controlled by the
the state incorporated and assimilated the minorities’ culture by creating and
supporting the institutions in which the original songs were re-written.
According to the national agenda, the texts of the songs were changed to have
politically appropriate connotations and reintroduced to the people as a new
culture composed by the Hans for their “little backward brothers.” The
professional researchers, who at the same time propagated state ideology, did
the fieldwork, collected, systematized, and transcribed in a much-simplified way
the music of minorities. After collectimh, the local group of researchers
selected “the best” songs and sent them to Peking. “The best” songs
usually implied the songs that were politically correct, that is to say, the
songs that did not have any historical undertones, which could transmit the
collective memory of suffering during the Chinese regime. “The best” songs
were also the happy songs or the songs of love that demonstrated the happiness
in which minorities lived under the Chinese regime. In Peking the selected songs
were further reconsidered and “the best” of them were given to the
“composers” to rewrite and “enrich” the original music with a new social
context. When the transformation or “amelioration and development” was done,
the songs were reintroduced to the minorities through the mass media or the
state culture agencies so that they could learn and incorporate the “new”
culture in the minorities’ officially controlled repertoire.
intricate pattern of treatment of minority music demonstrates the state’s
serious attitude towards culture and proves that cultural assimilation is the
state’s priority. “The army of plume” urgently carries out the state’s
order to create a new national art so that it could replace minority culture.
Realizing that cultural difference can hamper the progress of minority
assimilation, the Chinese government is responsible for creating the new
national art which represents a new Chinese national identity. Against the
minorities’ will, the minority’s music is absorbed and incorporated into the
“new Chinese culture.” As Trebinjac
puts it, “En Chine, le pouvoir s’excerce en chantant, chanter peut avoir
autorité sur le pouvoir.”
break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 influenced Chinese policy towards its
Muslim minorities. Several by-products of the USSR’s collapse, such as the
decrease of Russian influence in Central Asia and economic and political chaos
in the region, gave China an opportunity to enhance its power in the region and
hope to create a “Greater China.” However, several factors prevented the
realization of these plans. Among the most important: the stabilization in the
strategically important Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. By isolating Xinjiang
from the turbulent Muslim environment, by oppressing the Uighurs, and by seeking
agreement with post-Soviet Central Asia to provide joint struggle against ethnic
separatism, China hopes to establish stability.
Furthermore, it launched several programs to accelerate the cultural and ethnic
assimilation of the region:
A campaign to stress ethnic unity and to condemn "splittism"
and religious extremism began in 1997.
A new plan of “development of the West” adopted in 2000 involves new
resettlements of Hans into Xinjiang
The implementation of
transliterated minority names into Chinese Pinyin, hence, the
sinicization of the Muslim minorities’ names starting in June 2002.
meet the growing needs of economic and social development" starting in
August 2002, the universities in Xinjiang started to teach major subjects in
Chinese rather than in Uighur.
Since September 2003, this program is implemented in secondary and primary
1988, in spite of the official rhetoric claming economic stabilization in
Xinjiang, development of agriculture, industry, and promotion of common
development, roughly one third of the minority population did not have adequate
food and clothing. Furthermore, the East Turkestan region is kept under a thick
blanket of secrecy. It is
practically unseen to the world’s eyes since this may harm China’s
reputation and negatively affect China’s international relations and economy.
Chinese rule (Republican or Communistic) the Uighurs have never lived in a
pluralistic system. Even when Xinjiang was given the status of Autonomy, with
the adoption of laws protecting their human rights, culture, language, and
religion, the strict control from the centre never gave the Uighurs a chance to
maintain their own system of life and rights to independence. Throughout the
twentieth century the Chinese policy toward its Muslim minorities and the
Uighurs in particular, has drastically shifted from integration to assimilation.
The cultural aspects of assimilation were carefully implemented from the 1980s
and are gaining ground to this day.
L. The Ili Rebellion, The Moslem Challenge to Chinese Authority in Xinjiang,
1944-48. New York, 1990.
H. “Nationality Dynamics in Sino-Soviet Relations.” In Wimbush, Enders S.,
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Croom Helm, 1985. Pp. 101-57.
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in the People’s Republic of China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
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Ethnic Minorities. Comparative Perspectives. New York: Pergamon Press, 1981.
Wolfram, China’s Minorities: Yesterday and Today. Belmont: Wadsworth
Publishing company, 1982.
John. “The Redrawing of Boundaries: Soviet Official Nationalism.” In The
Soviet Legacy in Central Asia. New York: Palgrave, 1999. Pp. 72-101
T. “Population Policies: Ethnic Minorities and Migration into Minority
Areas.” In China and Its National Minorities. Autonomy or Assimilation?
New York: An East Gate Boo, 1989. Pp. 74-101.
V. ed., Syd’by Kul’tury KNR (1949-1974)[The Destiny of Culture of PRC]. Moscow:
D. Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near
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E. “Natsia, Nationalism, Politica,” in Natsionalism: Teoriya I Praktika
[Nationalism: Theory and Practice]. Moscow, 1994.
B. “The Search for Stability in Central Asia.” In B. Rumer, ed. Central
Asia: A Gathering Storm? Armonk: M.E.Sharpe, 2002. Pp.
K., ed. Sovremennyi Sin’zyan’ I Ego Mesto v Kazakhstansko-Kitaiskikh
Otnosheniyakh [Modern Xinjiang and its Place in Sino-Kazakh Relations]. Almaty:
Institut Vostokovedeniya MN-AN RK, Fond Evrazii, 1997.
K. “Central Asia Between the Gravitational Poles of Russia and China.” In B.
Rumer, ed. Central Asia: A Gathering Storm? Armonk: M.E.Sharpe, 2002. Pp.
Subramanian, “Ethnicity and Pluralism: An Exploration with Reference to Indian
Cases.” In Canadian Journal of Political Science 32 (1999): 715-44.
P. Minorities and Human Rights Law. London: Minority Rights Group, 1987.
S., Le pouvoir en chantant. L’art de fabriquer une musique chinoise.
Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 2000.
G. “Central Asia Under Soviet Rule.” In The Modern History of Soviet
Central Asia. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964.
 Patrick Thornberry, Minorities and Human Rights Law (London: Minority Rights Group, 1987), p. 4. More on practice of pluralism in India see N. Subramanian, “Ethnicity and Pluralism: An Exploration with Reference to Indian Cases,” in Canadian Journal of Political Science 32 (1999): 715-44.
 June Dreyer, China’s Forty Millions, Minority Nationalities and National Integration in the People’s Republic of China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 2.
 Dreyer, China’s Forty Millions, p. 1.
 This flag had been used for only two years, from 1925 to 1927, and was replaced by the Republican flag, symbolizing the Nationalist Party. See Mackerras, China’s Minorities. Integration and Modernization in the Twentieth Century (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 55.
 Mackerras, China’s Minorities, 55.
Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 60.
 Braker, H., “Nationality Dynamics in Sino-Soviet Relations,” in Wimbush, Enders S., ed, Soviet nationalities and Strategic Perspective (London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985), p. 111.
 Before 1922, education was influenced by the system from the Ottoman Empire. Mackerras, C., China’s Minority Cultures: Identities and Integration Since 1912 (New York: Longman, 1995), p. 44.
 The governor of Xinjiang, Sheng Shicai, proclaimed anti-imperialism, kinship to the Soviet Union, and equality among the different nationalities as the first three of “six great principles.” Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 91. The Russian presence in the province was so strong that some observers predicted that Xinjiang would soon be integrated into the Soviet Union. See W. Eberhard, China’s Minorities: Yesterday and Today (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing company, 1982), p. 62.
 The 1931Kumul rebellion, which resulted in the establishment of the Muslim Khanate in Kumul, also was systematically destroyed with the aid of other Muslim minorities (Hui). This rebellion was crushed with the massacre of civilian Uighurs, in which at least 100,000 were killed. Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 64.
 See the full translation of the agreement in Braker, p. 120
 Against the background of the Sino-Japanese war of resistance, this pact seemed like a betrayal by the Soviets to their Chinese allies.
 Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 93.
 Technically, China should have granted independence to this region, since the Constitution of the Chinese Soviet Republic adopted in 1931 allowed “the secession of those minorities which wanted it.” Mackerras, Chinese Minority Cultures, p. 10. However, in 1946, instead of accepting the new East Turkestan Republic, the Chinese government proposed a peace agreement, in which it gave wide promises of self-government, punishment of discrimination on the basis of religion, freedom of language, culture and art –promises that have never been properly implemented.
Linda Benson, The Ili Rebellion, The Moslem Challenge to Chinese
Authority in Xinjiang, 1944-48 (New York, 1990), p. 178; Mackerras, China’s
Minorities, p. 94.
Trebinjac, S., Le pouvoir en chantant. L’art de fabriquer une musique
chinoise (Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 2000), p. 28.
 Trebinjac, p. 34.
 Mackerras, China’s Minority Cultures, p. 10.
 J. Dreyer, “The People’s Republic of China,” in R. Wirsing ed., Protection of Ethnic Minorities. Comparative Perspectives (New York: Pergamon Press, 1981), p. 149.
 Mackerras, Chinese Minority Cultures, p. 136. Unfounded theories of Chinese history were described in detail in school textbooks. For instance, in the book of History of the Xinjiang Region, published in 1992, it is stated that Xinjiang since ancient times “has been an inseparable part of the motherland,” namely China. Ibid.
 The Uighurs saw the propagandist ideology in the schools as a way to alienate them from their traditions and culture since state-schools emphasized Chinese history. Thus, they reluctantly allowed their children to study there. In 1942, only 6.9% of the total Uighur population attended school. Mackerras, China’s Minority Cultures, p. 45.
 E. Naby, “Uighur Elites in Xinjiang,” in Central Asian Survey, Vol. 5 (1986), No. .3-4: 241-54.
 Braker, p. 130. Indian source accounts that China was forced to accept another secret agreement that granted the USSR control over all uranium deposits in Xinjiang.
Braker, p. 153-4.
Mackerras point out that this reform was gradually carried out in minority
territories, rather than some Han regions. Mackerras, Chinese Minorities, p. 199.
 Among the other factors contributing to this dramatic decrease are: the famine of 1958-60, the emigration of minorities out of China (in 1962, in Xinjiang), mass terror (in 1951), and low life expectancy. See Mackerras, China’s Minorities, pp. 237-45.
Heberer, “Population Policies: Ethnic Minorities and Migration into
Minority Areas,” in China and Its National Minorities. Autonomy or
Assimilation? (New York: An East Gate Book, 1989), pp. 74-101.
Eberhard, pp. 158-9.
 K. Syroyezhkin, Sovremennyi Sin’zyan’ I Ego Mesto v Kazakhstansko-Kitaiskikh Otnosheniyakh  Modern Xinjiang and its Place in Sino-Kazakh Relations (Almaty: Institut Vostokovedeniya MN-AN RK, Fond Evrazii), p. 103.
 Dreyer, “The People’s Republic of China,” p. 153.
 Braker, p. 132.
 Trebinjac, p. 56.
 V. Krivtsov, ed., Syd’by Kul’tury KNR (1949-1974)[The Destiny of Culture of PRC] (Moscow: Nauka, 1978), p. 101.
 Trebinjac, pp. 59-60.
 Similar ideas circulated among literary men and painters. For instance, Lu Sin’, suggested that “for the enrichment of our flesh and blood it is not only allowable but necessary to take all the best from the creative works of foreign writers.” See Syd’by Kul’tury KNR, p. 109.
 One should be aware that the criticizing was a characteristic feature of the time. Carried out by Mao’s associates the campaign of criticizing everything with the slogan “let all flowers bloom, let all scientists to compete (rival)” had its far-reaching aim. As Mao confirmed (acknowledged) later, he encouraged criticism in order to uncover (reveal) all the oppositional forces and people and later to square accounts with the opponents of the Party. See Syd’by Kul’tury KNR, p. 85-7.
 See G. Wheeler, “Central Asia Under Soviet Rule,” in The Modern History of Soviet Central Asia (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), p. 176. According to Soviet sources, the estimated number of Muslim refugees was 300,000. See Braker, p. 138.
 For a more detailed account on Soviet reforms in Central Asia see John Glenn, “The Redrawing of Boundaries: Soviet Official Nationalism,” in The Soviet Legacy in Central Asia (New York: Palgrave, 1999), pp. 72-101; on the language policy in the USSR see D. Laitin, Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998).
 Braker, p. 139.
 Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 152.
 June Dreyer, “The People’s Republic of China,” p. 149.
 June Dreyer, “China’s Minority Nationalities in the Cultural Revolution,” in The China Quarterly 35 (1968): 109.
 Heberer, p. 93.
 The nuclear testing that has been carried out in Lop Nor since 1964 caused further ecological disaster. As a result, the cancer rate in Xinjiang is 7-8 times higher than in the rest of the People's Republic of China. See <http://www.taklamakan.org/u_lang.html>. The radiation spread over Xinjiang as a result of the 45 nuclear explosions at the Lop Nor testing facility and caused an estimated 210,000 deaths. See William D. Shingleton, “In Xinjiang, China's Consolidation Isn't Solid” <http://search.csmonitor.com/durable/1997/08/27/opin/opin.1.html>
 Syroyezhkin, Sovremennyi Sin’zyan’, p. 103.
Mackerras, China’s Minorities, p. 267
 Braker, p. 135.
Syroyezhkin, Sovremennyi Sin’syan’, p. 168.
 This practice to besot the people by assigning important positions to ordinary persons or religious leaders, the education of whom did not allow them to make independent resolutions, was widely used by the Chinese government in this period.
 The restriction of the minorities’ rights at the end of the 70s could have been a result of a threat that the Chinese government experienced due to the events on the international Muslim arena: Afghanistan’s April revolution in 1978, the Islamic revolution in Iran, in February 1979, and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, in December 1979.
 The four points of this program mirror the Stalin’s definition of nation as a “historically evolved, stable community arising on the foundation of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up, manifested in a community of culture.” Quoted in E. Pozdnyakov, “Natsia, Nationalism, Politica,” in Natsionalism: Teoriya I Praktika [Nationalism: Theory and Practice] (Moscow, 1994), pp. 10-11.
 Mackerras, China’s Minority Cultures, p. 186.
 Trebinjac, p. 121.
 Trebinjac, p. 382.
 The Shanghai Organization of Cooperation, or Shanghai Five, which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan (joined in 2000) established in 1996, was designed to pursue this objective. See B. Rumer, “The Search for Stability in Central Asia,” in Central Asia: A Gathering Storm? (Armonk: M.E.Sharpe, 2002), pp. 3-66.
 K. Syroyezhkin, “Central Asia Between the Gravitational Poles of Russia and China” in Central Asia: A Gathering Storm? p. 197.
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