Uighur Identity in Xinjiang

The Uighurs of Xinjiang are one of 55 minorities in China, but they are ethnically and historically closer to the Muslim Turkic groups of Central Asia. The Chinese government is trying to cement its hold on the resource rich Xinjiang by suppressing cultural and religious differences in schools and workplaces and by resettling millions of eastern Chinese into the wild western region. Racism, language requirements and lack of education prevents many young Uighurs from getting contemporary jobs while their traditional roles as traders and farmers have become unprofitable. As Chinese influence increases, Uighurs must adapt to the Chinese way or be left behind economically. I arrived in Xinjiang about 5 months before the Olympics and spent that time learning the area and making contacts. There has been a longstanding separatist movement consisting of attacks on police and government buildings. My plan was to be in Xinjiang during the Olympics in case something broke out. A few weeks before the Olympics started I was in a rural area near Kazakhstan looking into reports of a torched police station. While in the small town of San Gong the police picked me and revoked my Visa, kicking me out into Kazakhstan.

A Uighur skips school and gets drunk at Qiemo's dry levee. Many young Uighurs can't get jobs because of racism and language requirements, and their traditional jobs as traders and farmers have become unprofitable.

On the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert is Minfeng at the bus station for the start of a day-long journey that cuts through the desert.

Locks hung by couples on a fence in a park above Urumqi. Some have names inscribed in the distinctive Uighur script while some have names inscribed in Chinese. This particular lock has the name in UIghur, the date in Chinese, and the numbers in English.

When Chinese tourists come to Xinjiang the International Grand Bazaar of Xinjiang is the main attraction. It's a large mall with decorative minarets. Uighurs are hired to dance, sell melons and trinkets to the tourists.

Breakfast is cooked on a corncob fueled stove of a small village near Jinan in Eastern China. Many of the Chinese immigrants to Xinjiang come from rural coastal areas like this with hopes of making a new and better life.

Karamay, "Black Water" in Uighur, has become a bustling oil town full of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, and neighborhood construction to hold all the new workers and engineers migrating from eastern China. On the outskirts of the city remains a small muslim cemetery, though a new industrial complex is being built around it.

A Muslim Uighur prays in his home. Religion is tightly regulated and monitored by the government in Xinjiang. Muslims aren't allowed to pray in public, go on the Haj until they are 65, or enter a mosque until they are over 18.

The sidewalks outside the White Mosque of Urumqi are filled for friday prayer. Some of the laws discouraging religion are overt, but many are subtle. For example public servents must follow a dress code, which include punishments for beards, dopas and head scarves.

A girl in Chongqing.

A toy gun used in a balloon popping game is the closest thing to a weapon that most Chinese see. Guns are highly restricted throughout China but especially in Tibet and Xinjiang. The Kashgar attackers reportedly used handmade guns that malfunctioned. When the police reported finding a cache of weapons in northern Xinjiang it included only 178 guns but 359 swords.

A closed circuit camera and portrait of Mao watch over the classroom of a rural middle-school of Eastern China. The students live in packed dorms during the week and go home to their parents on weekends. When the same teaching style and content is transplanted to Xinjiang it is seen as onerous and racialy biased.

The filming of a Chinese version of America Idol in Beijing included a Uighur contestan. In his second round of singing his fans jumped down on the floor and started dancing. He lost that round.

The film was fogged when a month later the police in Xinjiang forced me to develop some of my film in their darkroom.

Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, is a modern industrial city populated largely by first and second generation immigrants from eastern China.

Immediately after the olympic torch passed through Urumqi groups of workers line up for a photo.

The olympic torch traveled was greeted by large crowds as it traveled around China but in Xinjiang residents were told to stay inside and and the streets were lined with police and a select few groups of workers and school children. In this picture police and military watch an Urumqi alleyway that runs parallel to the route.

Xinjiang's capital is a modern Chinese city with new immigrants coming from eastern China for jobs in the oil and mining industries. On the weekend a park in the middle of the city is mobbed with locals and tourists.

The capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi, is a modern city surrounded by harsh mountains and deserts.

The Tian Shan mountains of Northern Xinjiang as seen from a plane.

A Uighur harvests branches in the small village of San Gong near the border with Kazakhstan. The week before there were rumors of a riot and burnt police station in this sleepy village. Something happened but no-one would tell me exactly what. Of the two police stations I saw up close neither showed signs of fire damage.

The Uighur part of Guglia is mainly single story houses and unpaved roads. The security is so tight that intersections become clogged with columns of marching police and military.

Uighurs rest in the shad of their home in the small village of San Gong near the border with Kazakhstan.

A street in Sangong Hui Village near the border with Kazakhstan.

Signs spray-painted on the walls of old Kashgar warn Uighur muslims against an unauthorized haj to Mecca. Uighurs are only allowed to go on haj after 65 and then only with government approved tour groups.

When I was held by the police this was the only photograph that police wanted me to delete.

In the months before the Olympics many men in Khotan were imprisoned until women held a protest in the market. The protest only drew more of a crackdown and military convoys could be seen entering the city.

One of the largest infrastructure projects in Xinjiang is a highway running through the middle of the Taklamakan desert connecting the southern silk road to the northern silk road and capital Urumuqi.

A nearly empty bus winds over massive sand dunes as it passes through the Taklamakan desert.

A statue in Hotan's main square shows Mao Zedong shaking hands with an old Uighur. As the story behind this statue goes, Kurban Tulum, also called Uncle Kurban or Uncle Kuerban was a Uighur electrician, born in 1883 in the Keriya oasis.

A nearly abandoned bus-stop in northern Xinjiang. Most of the buildings were boarded up and only one restaurant remained open.

Near the Kazakh border.

A chinese tourist takes a chair lift down from the Heavenly Lake (Tien Shan) outside Urumqi. The mountainous alpine scenery found here is more reminiscent of Switzerland than western China and is becoming a tourist destination for a growing middle class Chinese.

A Uighur plays soccer with friends in central Urumqi.

A wedding party gets their portrait made by the Illi river, a significant river in Uighur culture.

A construction worker in Gulgia near the Kyrgyz border. His parents were from eastern China but came to Xinjiang as migrant workers. Now he is doing day labor on construction sites. He had the day off because it started to snow.

A Uighur man sleeps on the sidewalk of Khotan. Many Uighurs can't find jobs and turn to religious extremism, drugs, or alcohol.

An industrial complex juts out of the desert between Turpan and Minfeng. Xinjiang is strategically important to China as a buffer and as source of raw materials.

A tumult of men and women praying outside of the White Mosque in central Urumqi.

The a 24 meter statue of Chairman Mao Zedong towers over central Kashgar, the most western city in China. Also the place where an alleged terrorist attack by 2 Uighurs, 14 policemen died at the scene and 2 died on the way to hospital; another 16 policemen were hurt.