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.
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 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.
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.
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.