Out West

The real (paying) job calls. For the last few days of March (and 1st April), I’m going to be ‘away’ on a research trip to Kashgar (Xinjiang). If connectivity isn’t a problem, ‘away’ might not mean much from the perspective of Cyberspace, but I’m expecting at least moderate disruption (most probably exacerbated by colorful ethnic distractions and horrible torrents of baijiu).

If anyone has any Kashgar questions, or information to offer, I’ll do my best to bend my investigations responsively. (I’m not thinking of using this blog as a platform for Xinjiang material, but that’s not a dogmatic commitment, if there’s any interest in the topic.)

[This short Kashgar profile by Ron Gluckman is over a decade old — it will be interesting to see how it has dated.]

ADDED: If the main things you are searching for in life are alcoholic intoxication, coffee, and smooth Internet connectivity, Kashgar cannot — in all honesty — be recommended. On the positive side of the ledger, there’s far more of the Old Kashgar left than first appearance suggests (Otangboyi Road is the place to go, following it past the Idkar Mosque to the night market). The Silk Road commercial culture still thrives, reaching a truly delirious pitch in the Grand Bazaar, which oveflows with sensation-drenching commodities from thousands of kilometers around. The tea is delicious — a spiced up black tea, drunk without milk, but with a distinct hint of Indian chai. Ditto the yoghurt (as thick as cream cheese, with a razor sharp edge), and — of course — everything delectable that can be done with a dead sheep whilst remaining haram.
It’s hard to work out the ethnic balance, but it’s at least predominantly Uyghur (I’ve seen figures between 70-85%). There’s no obvious indications of social tension, with everyone seeming to get on with their lives quite frictionlessly, and no signs that I could pick up of street-level Han paranoia. Han Chinese women navigate the streets alone except for small children, seemingly perfectly relaxed about the social environment, and untroubled by any prospect of violence. Our group (two Han, one Bulgarian, one Brit, and one Uyghur government guide — who is excellent btw) have encountered nothing but friendliness, often combined with impressive efforts to sell us stuff. It has to be said, though, that the government propaganda is shockingly crude.

For example, a note at the Idkah Mosque, after explaining the history of CPC renovation efforts, helpfully explains:

All of it shows fully that Chinese government always pays special attentions to the another and historical cultures of the ethnic groups, and that all ethnic groups warmly welcome Part’s [sic] religious policy. It also shows that different ethnic groups have set up a close relationship of equality, unity and helps to each other, and freedom of beliefs is protected. All ethnic groups live friendly together here. They cooperate to build a beautiful homeland, support heartily the unity of different ethnic groups and the unity of our country, and oppose the ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities.

Perhaps it sounds better in the Uyghur.

Of course, at the end of the day I’m a regime apologist. Afghanistan and Pakistan are right next door, each demonstrating in their own way the wonders of ethno-democratic self-assertion.

March 27, 2013admin 12 Comments »
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12 Responses to this entry

  • Christopher Says:

    FYI, Nemo has what looks to be a promising in-depth Bitcoin explication here:



    admin Reply:

    That looks like a great resource, thanks.


    Posted on March 27th, 2013 at 12:32 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Well, being you, perhaps you’ll enjoy more the rationalistic Chinese boot stomping the natives rather than the old Islamic vibrancy of the place.
    Enjoy though, I always wanted to check out the place.


    admin Reply:

    It does all feel rather more Lawrence of Arabia than I’m cut out for.

    I’m hoping to get a chance to research the oil industry out there, but I gather that’s considered a little sensitive, so it might be difficult. With my naive affection for petrochemical plutocracy, I found that quite shocking. Maybe it’s the global Halliburton PR effect. Perhaps I should ask to look at windmills, or something equally ridiculous …


    spandrell Reply:

    Isn’t the oil industry centered further north, at Yili?

    My impression is that Kashgar is little else than a bordertown bazaar. Not my area of expertise though.


    admin Reply:

    That’s right — I’ve got two more trips after this one, with the final one designed to deposit me in the northern oil fields.

    Posted on March 27th, 2013 at 3:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • SDL Says:

    General thoughts/observations on the Uyghurs would be interesting, if that’s allowable from your position in PRC. I’m always interested in how majority/minority relations play out in contemporary nation-states.


    admin Reply:

    Yes, a delicate but unavoidable topic.


    Posted on March 27th, 2013 at 9:28 pm Reply | Quote
  • Ross Says:

    Not sure if you know, but about 80 percent of the old city of Kashgar was demolished in 2009. Old Central Asian Turkic architecture not to be found anywhere else in China. What was interesting is that the government, at least in some neighbourhoods, planned on building replicas of the old houses. But not just your bog standard Chinese-style replicas – but rather providing local dwellers with moveable walls and roofs so that they could re-construct the old houses in a more or less precise fashion to how they existed prior. You have probably lived in China long enough to know Chinese have a quite different value systems attached to originals and copies – but this is 5th-order of simulation stuff! Anyway, would be interesting to see if they do indeed exist.

    As an aside, the world’s largest natural rock arch exists about 60 km outside Kashgar (not very visited); also if you can, make a trip to Muztagh Ata mountain in the nearby Parmirs (very well visited, but too vast to make much difference).


    admin Reply:

    I went to the Old Town today — there’s not much left. There’s a Xintiandi style annex, which will probably be fun for tourists. The real old part (Gao Tai) is amazing, but to be fair on the forces of ruinous modernity, I’m not sure how comfortable it would be to live there.

    As to your additional recommendations, the trip is highly scripted, so I’m not sure how much flexibility I’ll have to add new venues. It’s mostly historic sites and markets chalked in for the next few days.


    Posted on March 27th, 2013 at 10:12 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alexander Kim Says:

    It’s probably hard for a visible foreigner on a choreographed trip to get a feel for things…

    As someone traveling alone who was sometimes taken for Han at first glance (once I started speaking Uyghur, the perception often defaulted to “Kazakh” until I explained further), there was a harder edge to Kashgar than Urumqi … the resentments were fresher, palpably closer to surfacing. That said, I never once felt physically threatened … it was mostly little things like the rebuffing of greetings or questions for directions with confused and suspicious shakes of the head. Demographic trajectory + geographic situation (so much closer to the chest of Ferghana and western Turkestan … hence the more ‘Iranian’ cut of the features, the greater frequency of full-length veils), themselves intertwined, go a long way towards accounting for it.

    In all honesty, I got far more out of this corner of Xinjiang than the Han-dominated eastern and northern cities, in no small part thanks to the proximity of still wilder reaches … headed down the KKH to Karakol, where I had the chance to chat with some of the local Kyrgyz in a memorably exquisite setting.


    admin Reply:

    We got off the leash fairly successfully in Kashgar — the local Han admin people were so deep in the bunker that they didn’t insist on fine-tuned direction, and our (Uyghur) government guide was great. We’d all begun to split up to meander around the city individually or in small groups by the end of the trip, so “choreography” wasn’t a serious a problem.

    Your observations sound very reasonable. There’s clearly a rise in Islamic fundamentalism taking place in certain parts of the UAR, but not to the extent that civilized life is becoming impossible. Kashgar is nothing at all like Urumqi. The terrain is harshly beautiful (in the north as well as the south — there are serious mountain ranges in every direction).

    It seems to me simple common sense that the level of violence is vastly lower than it would be without Han administrative influence, but that’s debatable (I suppose), as well as an irresolvable counter-factual.


    Posted on June 14th, 2013 at 1:05 am Reply | Quote

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