The Unreached Peoples Prayer Profiles. China - Land of Diversity

Part 8
Xinjiang - China's Frontier [GRAPHIC]

In the northwest corner of China lies a province of deserts and mountains. Its remote capital city is more land-locked than any other city in the world. A province of majestic history, its people once ruled all of Central Asia. Marco Polo himself traded along the famous route that cuts through its southern edge - the Silk Road. And it's the homeland of the unreached Muslim groups in China.

The motherland of the Turkic people is Turkestan. The name "Turkestan" is Iranian in origin. The term, which means "The land of the Turkic people", dates back to seventh century. The western part of Turkestan was gradually conquered by Tsarist Russian in 1965, after which it became known as Western Turkestan. After the formation of the USSR in 1922, Western Turkestan was divided into five republics: Uzbekistan, Kazakhistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikstan. The eastern part was invaded by the Manchu rulers of China in 1876. Subsequently, Turkestan was called Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

  • Location:
    Xinjiang is divided into a northern and a southern section by the Tianshan mountain range which passes through it. The southern section is the Tarim Basin and the northern is the Dzungarian Basin. The Tarim Basin is a large basin enclosed on the three sides by high mountains and inclined toward the northeast. To the south is the Kulun range, to the west and north the Pamirs, the "roof of the world," and the Tianshan range; and to the southeast is the slightly lower Altin Tagh range. In the centre is the Takla Makan desert, formed from a continental lake during geologic time by a drying of the climate and an uplifting of the ground. The streams and rivers formed by melting ice in the enclosing mountain ranges provide water for the oases which are distributed along the northern and southern edges of the basin. They are: the Hami, Turfan, Karashahr, Kucha, Aksu and Kashgar on the north along the Tianshan range; and the Yarkand, Khotan, and Charkhlik to the south along the Kulun range.

    In the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang, south of the Tianshan mountains, more than 2,000 years of recorded history can be divided, on the basis of the area's habitation by the Uighur (ancient names Huihe or Huihu) and other Turkic peoples into a pre-Turkic period (from about the second century BC until the eighth or ninth century AD); and a Turkic period (from the eighth or ninth century AD on). The time between the eighth or ninth century and the tenth or eleventh century was the period during which the immigrant Turkic peoples gradually fused with the original inhabitants. Because the Turkic peoples were in a position of superiority both politically and numerically, the Turkic language gradually overcame the languages of the original inhabitants in both the northern and southern sections of the Tarim Basin. By the fifteenth or sixteenth century, because the entire Tarim Basin had been politically, economically, culturally, religiously and linguistically unified, a new national community, the Uighur nationality, had taken shape.

    In this vast province, where Han Chinese are a minority, antagonistic nationalities, mountains and deserts limit Beijing's political power, Xinjiang's economic development has lagged behind east China, fuelling calls for independence from Xinjiang's disgruntled nationalities. Beijing has seen that Xinjiang must prosper if it is to remain a secure and integral part of China. Xinjiang was formerly of value mainly for military security, testing nuclear weapons and agriculture. Beijing has now opened the border to cross-border trade. Several cities, notably Kashgar and Urumqi, have recently been allowed the trade and investment privileges already accorded to China's coastal areas.

    Already there is a flourishing trade across the border in Chinese light industrial manufactured goods, which are in short supply in Central Asia as they are in the whole of the former Soviet Union. These products come from as far as afield as Shanghai and Guangzhou. The main trade route is from Urumqi to Alma Ata, a journey of six hundred miles, crossing the 4,000 metre high Tianshan mountains. The rail link, unfinished for forty years, has recently been completed.

  • Distribution of the Muslim Minorities:
    The latest census gives the present population of Xinjiang as sightly over 15 million. Of these, Uighur number more than 7 million, the Kazak 1 million, the Kyrgyz 150,000, Uzbek 15,000, the Tatar 5,000, Tajik 30,000, the ethnic Manchu 90,000, Hui (Chinese Muslims) 600,000, with the remainder of the population being Han Chinese.

    Unheralded socio-political incorporation of Xinjiang into the Chinese nation-state has taken place in the last forty years. While Xinjiang has been under Chinese political domination since the defeat of the Zungar in 1754, until the middle of 20th century it was but loosely integrated into China proper. The extent of the incorporation of the Xinjiang region into China is indicated by Han migration, communication, education, and occupational shifts since the 1940s.

    Han migration into Xinjiang has swelled their local population to an incredible twenty-six times that of the 1940 level, with an annual growth of 8.1 per cent. The increase of the Han population has been accompanied by the growth and delineation of other Muslim groups in addition to the Uighur. Accompanying the remarkable rise of the Han population, a dramatic increase in the Hui population can also be seen, perhaps leading to recent tensions in Hui-Uighur relations. While Hui population growth in Xinjiang between 1940 and 1982 has increased over six times (averaging an annual growth of 4.5 per cent), the Uighur population has followed a more natural biological growth of 1.7 per cent. The dramatic rise of Han migration and increasing competition for scarce resources has been the impetus for several Uighur uprising in recent years.

    Chinese incorporation of Xinjiang has led to a further development of ethnic socio-economic niches. Whereas earlier travellers reported little distinction in labour and education among Muslims other than that between settled and nomadic, the 1982 census has revealed vast differences in socio-economic structure.

    It is noteworthy that 84 per cent of the Uighur are involved in the production of agriculture and animal husbandry, the same as the average for all ethnic groups. The Hui, however, have only 60.7 per cent involved in farming and husbandry, with trade and commerce taking up many more of their numbers. The Uighur rank far below the Uzbek and Tatar in the scientific and technical occupations, primarily due to the larger proportion of the urbanised intellectuals among the Uzbek and Tatar. This is also reflected in reports on education among Muslim minorities in China.

    The Uighur are about average in terms of university graduates and illiteracy in China as compared with other ethnic groups (0.2 and 45 per cent, respectively). The Tatar achieve the highest representation of university graduates among Muslims (39 per cent), far below the average of all China (32 per cent). The main drawback of these figures is that they reflect only what is regarded by the state as education, namely, training in Chinese language and the sciences. Although elementary and often secondary education is provided in Uighur, Mandarin has become the language of upward mobility in Xinjiang, as well as the rest of China.

    In conclusion it can be said that the steady flow of Chinese settlers, sinization of the Turkic language, mixed marriages and coercive birth control among the Turkic Muslims pose the biggest threats to the survival of Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. The ever growing Chinese population has brought hunger and unemployment to the Turkic Muslims. Economic exploitation and the policy of assimilation are the main sources of turmoil in Xinjiang. Fundamental individual human rights and freedoms of the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang including civil, political, economic, cultural, social and religious rights, continue to be violated by the Chinese Communists.

  • Xinjiang After Mao:
    There was a measure of liberalisation affecting the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang after the death of Mao Zedong. Nevertheless, many armed clashes, disputes and street demonstrations were reported in the cities of Xinjiang during this period.

    Thousands of Turkic Muslim students who demonstrated in the cities of Urumqi, Beijing and Shanghai in December 1985 demanded self rule, democratic elections of Turkic Muslim to replace Chinese officials assigned by Beijing, economic self determination, increased opportunities for Turkic Muslim education at home and abroad, an end to the practices of sending convicted Chinese criminals to Xinjiang, and an end to nuclear testing in this Turkic Muslim country. The Chinese leaders rejected the student demands. Those who led the demonstrations were later arrested and taken away from the Urumqi University campus.

    Again, in June 1988, hundreds of Turkic Muslim students demonstrated in Urumchi protesting plans to make them share dormitories with Chinese students. They also protested coersive birth control rules to be imposed on the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang as of July 1st, 1988. In December 1988, hundreds of Uighur students staged a protest march in Beijing against the showing of two films of historical fiction that Uighur students found disrespectful to their race.

    The book "Sex Habits" published by Shanghai Cultural House, seriously besmirched Islam, harmed the religious feeling of the Muslims, and aroused strong resentment in China as a whole. In May 1989, tens of thousands of Muslims in China staged protest marches in Beijing, Xian, Lanzhou, Ningxia, Qinghai and in the cities of Xinjiang. Thousands of Turkic Muslims who staged a protest march in Urumchi, the capital of Xinjiang, attacked and stormed the organs of the Regional Party Committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Discipline Inspection Committee, creating a grave disturbance rarely seen after the Chinese Communist takeover of Xinjiang.

  • Good News for the Muslims of Xinjiang:
    Christianity has been in china as long as Islam, with the arrival of the Nestorians in 635 A.D., followed by the Roman Catholics in the 13th century. In 1892, a Swedish Missionary Society began in Xinjiang. In the early 1900s they established four mission stations in the northwest, baptising over 400 Uighur adults and children. But in the 1930s severe persecution broke out against these converts and only a few survived. The China Inland Mission had gained a foothold in Xinjiang as early as 1908.

    The church in northwest China is growing rapidly, yet the Christians in Xinjiang are almost exclusively Han Chinese. It is extremely rare for Muslims to change their beliefs. Although a few have shown interest in Christianity, their cultural and racial biases create barriers which make it difficult for them to listen to the Gospel with open minds.

    Currently, there are over 10,000 Chinese believers in Xinjiang, 10 open churches, and many meeting points and independent house churches. Most are located in the northern part of the province, since the south is strongly Uighur. These local, mostly Han Chinese Christians with a growing number of foreign Christian students and professionals in the province, form an encouraging potential for bridging the barriers which keep the Uighurs from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

    © Copyright 1997
    Bethany World Prayer Center
    This article (which first appeared in "Frontiers Focus" Vol 4 #3 and 5 #2, and is used by permission)
    may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
    as long as it is not altered, bound, published
    or used for profit purposes.


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact for further information