X1jiang 50th anniversary: occupation or liberation?

Posted by Martyn

China’s security forces in X1njiang will be on full alert this weekend as the autonomous region celebrates its 50th anniversary of either occupation or peaceful liberation, depending on whom you ask. Chinese security chief Luo Gan told police in X1njiang to “prepare for danger” ahead of the celebrations after accusing a dissident of plotting to sabotage the festivities. He also urged the armed security forces to crack down on criminals in order to create a “safer environment for economic growth and social progress”, China’s state press reported on Thursday.

Officially, more than 260 terrorist acts have been committed in X1njiang in the past two decades, killing 160 and wounding 440. However, the real figures are rumoured to be much, much higher. Terrorist activity escalated in the late 90s as China prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the PRC. A spate of bombs attacks rocked both Urumqi and even Beijing.

The area officially called X1njiang or “New Frontier” has a long and colourful history. Around 2,000 years ago, control of the area bounced back and forth between the northern Xiongnu tribes and Han China, changing hands several times until it was overrun by tribes like the Tuyuhun and the Rouran at the end of the 5th century. In the 6th century, X1njiang was incorporated into the vast Turk Empire. The Sui Dynasty (581-618AD) drove the Turks back and extended its control into southeast X1njiang. The armies of the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) then took over the entire region. In the 8th century, with the Tang in steep decline, T1bet launched a massive and successful invasion of China with it’s frontline soldiers stretching from northern X1njiang right down to modern day Yunnan reaching (and sacking) the Tang capital in 763.

For the next 100 years, southern X1njiang was a T1betan protectorate and its northern sections ruled by an Uyghur khan. Thereafter followed several hundred years of fragmentation between various Muslim tribes until the Khitan empire unified the region after fleeing the Jurchen onslaught in 1132. Genghis Khan incorporated the area into the Mongol Empire in 1218. After its collapse, the Chagatai Khan ruled until the 15th century when the area again split into separate Muslim states. It was then incorporated into the Mongol Jungar Empire in the 17th century until the Manchus, after more than half a century of incursions, captured Jungar Khan in 1755 and the whole area became part of the Qing Empire.

In the 19th century Russian incursions forced the Qing to cede large tracts of the northwest to Russia and the neighbouring Khanate of Kokand invaded most of the rest, leaving Qing China with only a few fortress towns under its control. This was later reversed when, in 1884, the name “X1njiang” was officially coined and formally incorporated into China proper. The Republic of China inherited the region from the Qing in 1912. During warlord rule, two Ea5t Turk1stan Republics were declared in 1933 and 1944.

The 1944 republic is the subject of some controversy. Official Chinese history claims it was part of the communist revolution whereas others claim it was an independent republic. Depending of one’s view of this event, PLA troops either entered or invaded the region in 1949. A formal request by Mao to the CCP’s paymaster Stalin resulted in Soviet jets being used to slaughter the legions of vehemently anti-c0mmunist Muslim cavalry in X1njiang at the time. Finally, in 1955 the province was formerly re-established as an autonomous region of the PRC.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

I tried to summarize the history of the area in 4 paragraphs – a formidable task. Therefore, I stand to be corrected by commenters such as published historian Filthy Stinking No 9 and one of the few commenters that has actually lived in X1njiang for many years, davesgonechina. Thanks.

September 29, 2005 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

However, the real figures are rumoured to be much, much higher. Terrorist activity escalated in the late 90s as China prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the PRC. A spate of bombs attacks rocked both Urumqi and even Beijing.

There were bombings in the late 90s, which completely stopped after the Strike Hard campaign got in full swing.

Or rather, to be completely accurate, reports of bombs completely stopped.

Having in lived in Xinjiang nearly three years, poking around the more conservative Muslim towns no less, I never felt or saw anything that betrayed the presence of any extremism. Conservatism, yeah. Young guys with that look in their eye that says “I love you, Kaleshnikov” (I bet Ivan knows that look)? No, didn’t see those guys. That’s just the vibe I got; Uighurs invariably don’t like the Chinese, but I never felt like I had accidentally wandered over to the Pakistani-Afghan border. Granted, this is after Strike Hard had been going for a while, but… my gut said that any terrorist types would be considered total fringe with or without Chinese action.

But that’s just my gut vibe, that’s not anything factual. On reporting terrorist acts, I can’t decide what is more in China’s interest. On the one hand, to report terrorists acts in Xinjiang is to say “hey, we have terrorists too!” – which can be a starting point in foreign relations with anyone from the U.S. to Russia. It also allows China to legitimize cracking down on any peaceful dissent in Xinjiang and call it “terrorism”.

On the other hand, the PRC is really pushing for the development of the Western regions, and you can’t get investment in tourism or a “new silk road” if you keep interrupting your sales pitch with “BOO! Terrorists!”.

If a terrorist attack did occur now, would it be in China’s interest to tell the world it was an attack, or would they be better off keeping it a secret/covering it up?

September 29, 2005 @ 11:29 pm | Comment

Nice potted history, Martyn, and, Dave, an interesting theoretical question. From my point of view, the Chinese approach would probably be “why encourage others by publicizing terrorist attacks”? This actually strikes me as a pretty good strategy. Terrorist attacks aren’t military maneuvers. They are a form of propaganda. As such, they depend upon people knowing about them to be fully effective. By limiting information, the Chinese probably feel, justifiably, that they are limiting the effectiveness. Of course, that approach comes with other social costs which don’t need not be repeated for this audience.

I realize that the Uighurs are culturally and linguistically different from the Han, and have an independent streak. But, were the Chinese government somewhat more progressive, I would think that Xinjiang would benefit a great deal by being part of China. Consider the alternative: another warlord-infested, desolate, central Asian sh*thole of interest primarily to drug smugglers. I say this without having been to Xinjiang (although I’d really like to go), but the track record from the rest of Central Asia is *not* promising. Taiwan they ain’t.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine any nation that isn’t Han wanting to throw their political lot in with China, which isn’t much for federation by consensus.

September 29, 2005 @ 11:45 pm | Comment

Will, I’ve lived there and I tend to agree with you about the alternative for XJ. I mean, if tomorrow the PRC just said “ah, screw it, we’re too lazy to deal with that place. Who cares about oil anyway, and we’re sick of mutton”… fine, let’s roll with that impossible what-if scenario.

Uyghur society in X1njiang has, as far as I can see, less existing social and civic institutions than Iraq did. Plus, historically all those oasis towns really just kept to themselves and “Uyghur” wasn’t even a common identity until the 20th century (and then only in self-defense and thanks in no small part to Stalinist Soviet ethnology).

And let’s say they got a full running state going. Cool. OK, they’ve got some oil…. they’re also completely landlocked, surrounded by deserts and mountains and would need a good buddy big brother trading partner and you only got two choices, really…. China and Russia. Wheee! Tributary state, here we come! Be like Kazakhstan, only smaller and without surreal boat ridden desert landscapes!

Unfortunately, Han chauvinism and repressive government policies are creating a bitterly ironic situation: it’s making the Uighurs more ethnic nationalist, which is an unrealistic position. If the PRC loosened up then maybe the Uighurs wouldn’t be so reactive and they could actually become a “unified multi-ethnic state”. When they say that, all they do is making the Uighurs hair stand on end – the slogans create an opposing reality.

September 30, 2005 @ 1:18 am | Comment

I’d say, let’s wait another 50 years and then all the extremism, separatism and terrorism will probably be gone. Also one should not spend attention to terrorists, they like media coverage. By not giving them media coverage, you have effectively neutralized the impact of terrorism. Yes, they kill a few once and then, but it can be relativated by saying that more people die by traffic accidents…

September 30, 2005 @ 2:36 am | Comment

Xinjiang: compare and contrast

It’s a happy 50th birthday to the Xinjiang Urgur Autonomous Region (motto: the autonomy you have when you’re not really autonomous). To celebrate the People’s Daily discusses Prosperous, stable Xinjiang – a pleasant surprise to foreigners. It appears p…

September 30, 2005 @ 3:39 am | Comment

I really don’t see why so many people insists that the Chinese have no right to be in Xinjiang. If anyone bothered to notice, the Han were there well ahead of the Uighur, it’s just that the Uighur have been squating there (aftering having left Mongolia) for over a thousand years. As the Xiongnu no longer exist, that leaves the Chinese as the first existing claimant. :P

September 30, 2005 @ 6:41 am | Comment

U.S. Warns of Islamic Terror Threat in China

Now what was all that talk about no terrorism in China? The Jawa Report has been warning readers of the low-level Islamist insurgency in China’s western Xinjiang province for some time. Called East Turkistan by its own people, Islamic militants…

September 30, 2005 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

great summary martyn.
you should submit this into wiki :)

i was in xinjiang as a tourist. and yes, i do sometimes feel the distrust of uighur to han as dave described. yes, there is a lot of room for improvement for the CCP gov’t. though they would argue that CCP (or communists in other countries in general) are less oppressive along ethnic lines than others authoritarian regime or imperialism.

the oil fields are among the oldest, much smaller than daqing and those in shandong, and is drying out, i think. so reportedly china has been subsidizing this region (same for tibet) for strategic defense reason. but with ecotourism and higher oil price this might change.

regarding terrorist acts, (i think) after 9-11, terrosim became “rats on the street”, they realized continuing this is not to their own benefit and probably stopped most of the acts (unorganized activities in small scale might persist)

regarding who owns this region, i guess martyn’s historical perspective gives us a good idea. but ultimately it is all the people who are residing there (uighur, han, kazakh, uzbeks, etc) together to decide. whatever democracy may change this area, just don’t let it become a yugoslavia.

September 30, 2005 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

Thanks dave. Re the number of terrorist attacks. I agree that China downplays the number of attacks – as Will points out – for understandable reasons. I’ve heard several ex-soldiers and Han ex-residents of XJ over the years talk about the steady supply of body bags that come out of the area every year. Alas, only anecdotal evidence of course.

Nevertheless, the muslims of XJ DO have links with Jihadi groups over in Afganistan. I’ve no idea as to the numbers but there have been quite a few Chinese nationals caught fighting in the insurgencies. Even ending up at Gitmo.

These battle-hardened veterans could cause a lot of damage if they re-located back to their native XJ and led an insurgency against Beijing. Hell, it might even be already happening for all we know.

September 30, 2005 @ 6:46 pm | Comment

Also, I’d imagine any independent state to move towards the Central Asian Muslim states rather than Russia. A few handshakes and a few US bases later and you’re looking at China and Russia’s worst nightmare. I’d certainly move towards US ally status if I were from XJ.

In a perfect world, XJ could enjoy real cultural/political autonomy while enjoying the economic beneifts of being part of Greater China. This, however, won’t work for two reasons. Firstly, the Han have several millenia of Hanification policies towards the outer China coursing through their blood and secondly, any real autonomy might be used/abused by militant independence factions to violently push for formal independence.

September 30, 2005 @ 6:51 pm | Comment

Put the gun down Jing. I can’t see anyone saying that China have no right to be in XJ. From a historical perspective, China have been battling over control of the area for at least 2,000 years.

Perhaps some people might mention the wishes of the muslim population and assume that they would vote to leave China but that’s not going to happen.

Sun-bin

Thanks. Wiki was one of the sources I used. Quite good but it doesn’t have the details of the old, long gone tribes like the Rouran etc. I actually wanted to put in a few extra details regarding all these tribes as names like the Xiongnu, Jerchen etc might not mean much to most people but it would have made the post unecessarily long.

September 30, 2005 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

it seems i am wrong is assuming that the separatists have abandoned terrorism. (at least there is a branch that has not)

they have taken the al queda style video tape announcement, and vowed to “use all means possible to launch an armed struggle against China”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4297070.stm

and i suppose they are willing to kill their own people as collateral in the name of allah, sigh…..

September 30, 2005 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

Understanding China’s ethnic groups, and I love Curzon’s map blogs

September 30, 2005 @ 11:35 pm | Comment

Confucius said, “A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them; a base man agrees with others, but does not coexist with them harmoniously”.

Muslim is the most ungrateful people existed among human as an inhumane kind on her immigrating nation benefactor. Actually they should be grateful on that foreign nation allowing them(Muslim) to stay

But instead of thanking for immigration grant, they even perversely claim territory right against that good nation.

the bad habit of major Muslim is that they have a tendency to claim a territory wherever they run or move on another nation unreasonably as well as unfairly

Turkey Dogs, no Turkey birds are not welcomed as they are not accustomed as those China’s tradition

So should other nations deport those foreign Muslim out of their countries, lest they unfairly claim a territory against on the country where they immigrated,

there shouldn’t be Human Right for those Muslim terrorists, but deportation to their original country. And I think it is the right thing to do against those Muslim foreigners (terrorists) without delaying in deportation that peace and harmony be continued nonstop

That last thing the world needs is more Christians and Muslims who won’t think for themselves.

September 30, 2005 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

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