Xinjiang 新疆

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Australian Centre on China in the World


Although not as well known outside China as the question of Tibet, the conflict over Xinjiang appears to be equally as intractable, and similarly grounded in conflicting accounts of both the past and the present.

Xinjiang Population Statistics (2010 Statistical Yearbook)
Uyghur 10,019,758 46.4%
Han 8,416,867 39%
Kazakh 1,514,814 7%
Hui 980,359 4.5%
Kirghiz 189,309 0.9%
Mongol 179,615 0.8%
Tajik 47,187 0.2%
Sibe 42,790 0.2%
Uzbek 16,669
Manchu 26,195
Russian 11,672
Tatar 4,883
Dagur 6992
Other 129,190
Total 21,586,300

Xinjiang is an autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Its immediate precursor was a product of the expansion of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) during the eighteenth century. Xinjiang was transformed from being a dependency into an imperial province in the 1880s. It reverted to semi-independent warlord control for much of the Republican period (1912-49), and was incorporated into the PRC by the People’s Liberation Army in 1950. At that time it was home to a large Uyghur majority, with smaller communities of other Central Asian peoples (e.g., Kazakh, Kirghiz, Mongols, Tajik), as well as Han and Hui migrants from Chinese provinces to its east. Recent immigration has seen a rapid rise in the Han Chinese population; factoring in the floating population of migrant workers, this population is now believed to exceed that of the Uyghurs.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) dates from 1955. It comprises roughly one sixth of China’s total landmass, borders on eight neighbouring countries, and contains the largest remaining reserves of oil and gas thought to exist on Chinese soil.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of a ‘War on Terror’ by the United States in 2001, Uyghur opposition has been cast by China as one wing of an international terrorist conspiracy. This manner of framing issues related to Xinjiang has helped China win endorsement for its definition of the internecine struggle in some circles. The presence of Uyghur militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be denied, however their numbers, level of organization, and their efficacy inside Xinjiang are all disputed both by Chinese and by foreign observers.

The mainstream leadership of the Uyghur diaspora has adapted to changing international conditions, eschewing talk of armed struggle and independence in favour of a human rights-based strategy. It now seeks support from governments and NGOs in Europe and the US. Recently, the emergence of Rebiya Kadeer (b.1948) has given greater unity to the fractious exile movement. Well known among Uyghurs inside and outside China, Rebiya was formerly a successful businesswoman in Xinjiang, before her detention as a political prisoner from 1999 to 2005.

On 5 July 2009, Uyghur protests in Ürümchi calling for an investigation into the beating death of Uyghur employees in a Guangzhou factory descended into bloody riots, resulting in the death of many Han Chinese, and leading to revenge attacks against Uyghurs (for more on this, see ‘Anxieties in Tibet and Xinjiang‘, China Story Yearbook 2012).

Under the rubric of a ‘New Silk Road’, the PRC now projects a prosperous future for Xinjiang as a major transport hub and the dominant economic actor in Central Asia. From this official perspective, the ‘Xinjiang problem’ is a product of the main local ethnic group, the Uyghurs, claiming Xinjiang as an exclusive homeland, some advocating an independent Eastern Turkistan. Many Uyghurs feel deprived of genuine autonomy as well as being demographically threatened by Han migration from the interior; they are concerned about who will benefit in reality from increased investment in the region. Chinese official and broad-based social unease with the ‘Xinjiang problem’ is a result of a sense that despite the Beijing’s best efforts to encourage inter-ethnic harmony and development, local disquiet and rebellion continues.




The Official Chinese View

China’s constitution prescribes equality for all before the law, provides effective checks against ethnic discrimination, and guarantees religious freedom for all faiths. To quote from a recent statement on ethnic policy, the cornerstones of China’s approach to Xinjiang are ‘equality, unity, regional ethnic autonomy, and common prosperity for all ethnic groups.’ Thus, Chinese officials deny any link between local discontent and prevailing ethnic and religious policies.

In the wake of the July 2009 riots, the body charged with such matters, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, stated that: ‘[t]he riots were not because of ethnic policies and they were not related to any religion either’ (Global Times). Instead, such opposition is attributed to outside agitation stirred up by groups and governments that seek to exploit gullible Uyghurs with the aim of destabilizing China and frustrating the nation’s global rise.

Despite superficial differences, Islamic terrorism and Western human rights discourse are in fact two sides of the same coin. Western expressions of concern for the ‘oppressed’ Uyghurs amount to sympathy for violent acts of terrorism. They are a cover for a concerted long-term strategy that would see China enfeebled. [Watching America] [Global Times]



China bases its claim to Xinjiang on history and an argument that says the territory has been an inalienable part of China from early dynastic times. Today, in the PRC it is required that works on Xinjiang’s history, official documents and media reports reiterate the point that Xinjiang is an integral part of China. The Chinese party-state regards an ‘objective’ or ‘correct’ understanding of Xinjiang’s history, that is the official viewpoint on all matters to do with the past and present state of the region, to be essential to the region’s harmonious development.

One of the most visible responses to the 2009 Ürümchi riots is the 2010-2011 ‘Three Histories’ education campaign. This region wide re-education movement saw lectures given on:

  1. the history of Xinjiang (Xinjiang shi 新疆史);
  2. the history of the development of ethnic minorities (minzu fazhan shi 民族发展史); and,
  3. the history of the evolution of religions (zongjiao yanbian shi 宗教演变史 ).

A summary of the official view of Xinjiang’s history can be found in the White Paper on the History and Development of Xinjiang, released in 2003. In that document it is claimed that ’since the Han Dynasty established the Western Regions Frontier Command in Xinjiang in 60BCE, the Chinese central governments of all historical periods exercised military and administrative jurisdiction over Xinjiang.’

Nowhere in its justifications for ruling Xinjiang does the Chinese state refer to an act of conquest. The Qing dynasty’s incorporation of the territory in the eighteenth century is described in present Chinese works as a ‘re-unification’ (tongyi 统一), or as a ‘recovery’ (shoufu 收复) of a temporarily alienated territory. The Qing rulers were less committed to the notion of a primordial state of Chinese unity; they called the territory ‘New Frontier’ or ‘New Borderlands’ (Xinjiang 新疆) – a designation that reflects its recent incorporation. The Qing referred to its enemies as ‘bandits’, and its own actions as being that of ‘subduing and pacifying’.

Contemporary Chinese official discourse now elaborates on this terminology to describe Qing victories as being the suppression of Mongol or Muslim ‘rebellions’, and it anachronistically applies terms such as ‘separatist’ to describe the motivations of independent Mongol chiefs in centuries past. Conversely, acts of submission to the Qing are regarded as evidence of patriotic sentiment towards China.

While recognising the errors of Nationalist (KMT; Guomindang) assimilationist policies during the Chinese Republic, aspirations that emerged at this time for an independent Eastern Turkistan (Dongtu 东突) are primarily seen as being the product of colonialist manipulation. The first Eastern Turkistan Republic (1933) is dismissed as illegitimate (wei 伪). The second Eastern Turkistan Republic (1944-1949), however, was described by Mao Zedong as an important contribution to Xinjiang’s liberation from the Guomindang. Therefore today it is grudgingly endorsed, although the name ‘Eastern Turkistan Republic’ is avoided in favour of the more modest ‘Three Districts Revolution’ (Sanqu geming 三区革命).

The incorporation of Xinjiang into the PRC in 1950 came in the form of ‘peaceful liberation’ (heping jiefang 和平解放 ). This does not mean that there was no violence – the People’s Liberation Army fought campaigns against local ‘bandits’ – but that the Communist forces did not have to fight the Nationalists for control. Xinjiang was initially ruled by a military command. In 1954, drawing on a long history of military colonization in China’s west, the PLA founded the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, a network of industrial and agricultural outposts that still occupies an important position in Xinjiang’s economy.



The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was founded in 1955. Levels of autonomy are enjoyed by all the ethnic groups of the region through a system of ‘nested autonomy’. Usually, local government bodies are headed by a non-Han, but with a Han party chief by his/her side. The system of autonomy was only codified in 1984 with the passing of The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law [See also here]. Coming on the heels of the then Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s call for the ‘ethnicization’ (minzuhua 民族化) of minority regions, this legislation protects minority language and culture, and provides for a minimum level of self government (although these provisions were weakened in 2001). The law contains few concrete prescriptions and certain policies originally designed to safeguard minority languages and cultures are now seen as being barriers to integration. Uyghur-language schooling, for example, is being replaced by ‘bilingual education’, which envisages the introduction of Standard Chinese from the pre-school level.


Today: the ‘Three Inimical Forces’

Threats to Xinjiang’s stability continue to arise from the ‘Three Forces’ (sangu shili 三股势力), namely separatism, religious extremism, and international terrorism. Sometimes rendered in English as the ‘Three Evils’, this formulation was introduced in 2000 during meetings of the Shanghai Five, a group that evolved into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The 11 September 2001 attacks and the US ‘War on Terror’ let China present itself as being a victim of Islamic terrorism; subsequently, Uyghur organisations based in Afghanistan and Pakistan were listed as terrorist groups. Despite this, Chinese law stipulated no definition of terrorism until 2011, when a draft was put forward by the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

The best response to these threats is to increase the pace of development. High-level Party meetings held in 2010 unveiled a ‘roadmap’ to prosperity for Xinjiang, aiming to transform it into a ‘moderately prosperous society’ (xiaokang shehui 小康社会) by 2020. Measures towards this objective include large construction projects, such as gas and oil pipelines to the east, and a new resource tax designed to boost local government revenues. Other recent policy innovations include a program twinning Xinjiang towns with richer cities of the coast, and another to send Uyghurs villagers to relatively high-wage factories in south China. The improvement of road and rail connections with Xinjiang’s neighbours heralds an increase in trade along a ‘new Silk Road’, and a reconstructed Kashgar now stands at the centre of a special economic zone touted as ‘the Shenzhen of the west.’


Contending Views

Dissenting views on Xinjiang policy circulate in a variety of forms.

Academics in China: First, there are critiques of official policy that are allowed to be aired widely. These can at times reflect a process of policy deliberation and rethinking inside the Party. Most prominent of these has been the open discussion of aspects of China’s ethnicity (minzu 民族) paradigm which is blamed for the country’s inability to secure lasting peace both in Xinjiang and in Tibet. Leading Chinese scholars have criticised the creation of the XUAR for linking ethnicity to specific political institutions, which they refer to as the ‘politicisation’ of ethnicity. They have called for this link to be severed, and ethnicity to be divorced from politics, thereby limiting the state’s obligations towards the Uyghurs as a group. Some go even further and argue that recognition of the Uyghurs as a separate ethnicity was itself an error, that the people in question lacked the requisite ethnic consciousness to be granted this status. The thrust of all of these criticisms is that China erred in borrowing from Soviet policy on the national question in the 1950s, and should draw on its own resources to enhance ethnic minorities’ identification with Chinese (Zhonghua 中华) civilization.

Popular Discontent: Alongside these critiques exists a more thoroughgoing dissatisfaction with the current policy, a set of views most commonly encountered in Internet discussion forums and blogs. According to this view, the Uyghurs are ungrateful recipients of generous preferential policies (youhui zhengce 优惠政策), which place them in a privileged position vis-à-vis the Han. Concern is therefore expressed for the rights of the Han in ethnic minority regions. It is not uncommon to hear Han Chinese complain that they, and not the Uyghurs, are the oppressed minority in Xinjiang. The view that Party officials were failing in their duty to protect the Han boiled over after the 5 July 2009 riots, resulting in angry Han demonstrations which were motivated as much by frustration with Xinjiang’s officialdom as by a desire for revenge against the Uyghurs. ‘We want Wang Zhen 王震, we don’t want Wang Lequan 王乐泉’ was a popular slogan, one that invoked the legendary figure behind the often violent Han opening-up of Xinjiang in the 1950s. Partly in response to this pressure, the Party Secretary Wang Lequan was removed from his post in April 2010.

Dissenting Hans: Prominent Han voices raised in public sympathy to the Uyghur point of view are relatively rare. One exception is the novelist and journalist Wang Lixiong 王力雄, a man briefly imprisoned during his 1999 trip to Xinjiang. In 2007, Wang published a meditation on Xinjiang in the form of a cell conversation with a Uyghur entitled My Western Region, Your Eastern Turkistan (Wode Xiyu, nide Dongtu 我的西域你的东土). In it he expresses the hope that competing Uyghur and Han historical claims to Xinjiang can be reconciled without upsetting the nation’s territorial unity.[Review by Sebastian Veg]

Uyghur Viewpoints: Inside China Uyghur voices that seek to contribute to debate within China find few platforms. After speaking out on economic policies implemented in Xinjiang the university professor and Communist Party member Ilham Tohti found himself under increasing pressure to keep silent. Following the 2009 Ürümchi riots, Uyghur Online, a website he had founded, was shut down. His fellow editor Gheyret Niyaz was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on charges of ‘endangering state security’.

Uyghur Viewpoints: Outside China In its global search for sponsorship and support, the Uyghur exile movement has framed its struggle in a variety of terms. Until it was shut down in 1992, pro-GMD Uyghurs in Taiwan ran what they claimed to be the legitimate administration of Xinjiang (Xinjiang shengzhengfu banshichu 新疆省政府辦事處). Meanwhile, from the 1950s onwards, a rival set of Uyghur leaders based in Turkey carried on a campaign on an anti-Communist, pro-Turkic nationalist basis; these identified with the tradition of the first Eastern Turkistan Republic. While still a large community, Uyghurs in Turkey have now lost the level of political support they once enjoyed. A third wing of the movement in the Soviet Union (and independent Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan) positioned themselves as partisans of a third-world national liberation movement. As China’s relations with its Central Asian neighbours have improved over recent years, these too have lost support.

Today the most active communities of Uyghurs are in Germany (where the World Uyghur Congress is based), the US (home to Radio Free Asia and the Uyghur American Association), Australia and Canada. Debates among exile leaders mirror those among Tibetan exiles, most importantly regarding the question of whether they should seek independence or ‘high-level autonomy’ for their homelands. Led by the one-time entrepreneur Rebiya Kadeer, the present World Uyghur Congress leadership are noncommittal regarding independence. Instead they call for self-determination and the protection of human rights. They support the training of young activists who can lobby effectively in various international forums. These activities are in part funded by grants from the US National Endowment for Democracy.

The mood in the broader exile community is on the whole strongly anti-Chinese; collaboration with Chinese dissidents is not seen as a priority or necessarily relevant. An exception to this is Wuer Kaixi (Örkesh Dölet 吾尔开希), who has played a leading role in the Chinese democracy movement from a base in his adopted Taiwan, while maintaining a strong interest in his native Xinjiang.

Other Ethnicities: Caught in the middle of the Chinese-Uyghur tensions are the other ethnic minorities of Xinjiang, the largest of which are the Kazakhs, Hui, Kirghiz and Mongols. These groups have their own history of conflicts and negotiations with the Chinese state, and they do not necessarily take the Uyghur side on every issue; indeed, in some cases, relations among these groups are strained. Some would argue that China effectively pursues a ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy in Xinjiang; that by dividing up territory and resources between minorities, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has created a sense of competition among local elites. It could also be the case that by pursuing a narrow nationalist claim to Xinjiang, Uyghurs have themselves alienated these other communities. While Uyghur-Han conflict will continue to dominate the headlines, relations among non-Han groups will be an important factor in any reconfiguring of ethnic policy in Xinjiang itself.


International Scholarship

Given its cultural complexities, Xinjiang attracts scholars from fields as diverse as Turkic linguistics and Islamic Studies, as well as those with a background in the humanistic or social scientific study of China. ‘Xinjiang Studies’ is now an international field of scholastic pursuit. Pioneered by European and Russian explorers, the most active centres of Xinjiang Studies are presently in Japan and the USA.

Scholarship on twentieth century Xinjiang has reflected a tension between seeing the dynamics of Xinjiang’s history in its own terms, or as being driven by outside influences. The historian Owen Lattimore (1900-1989) spent decades studying the long-term interactions between China and its ‘barbarian’ neighbours. His work on Xinjiang culminated in the monograph Pivot of Asia: Sinkiang and the Inner Asian frontiers of China and Russia (1950). Lattimore saw Xinjiang as an ‘outer frontier’ of China, standing in relation to the ‘inner frontier’ of Gansu and the Chinese-speaking Hui Muslims. In periods of strength, China had been able to draw on the resources of such inner frontiers to control its outer frontiers. During the Qing, Lattimore felt that this dynamic had given way to a policy of Han colonialism that was not in China’s long-term interests. Lattimore’s idea of the peoples of the north and northwest as a regenerative force in a polity that otherwise tended towards stagnation were echoed by some Chinese scholars in the 1930s. Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛, for example, challenged the scholarly consensus by according China’s Muslims an important role in the anticipated revival of China.

Criticising such views as romantic, others have seen great power rivalries as the key to understanding Xinjiang’s past and present. This line of thinking includes both Sinocentric narratives of long-term Chinese control, such as Zeng Wenwu’s History of China’s Administration of the Western Regions (Zhongguo jingying xiyu shi 中国经营西域史, 1936), as well as ‘Great Game’ narratives, which position Russia/Soviet Union and Great Britain as major actors. Allen Whiting and Sheng Shicai offered an implicit critique of Lattimore in Sinkiang: Pawn or Pivot? (1958), which emphasised the extent of Soviet penetration of the region (i.e. Xinjiang as pawn). More recent work has shown a similar dichotomy: Linda Benson’s The Ili Rebellion (1990) recognised the Soviet role in the Second ETR without denigrating the genuine local militants who fought for it as pawns. In contrast, David Wang’s Under the Soviet Shadow: The Yining Incident (1999) described the whole thing as a Soviet plot.

As a historic crossroads, Xinjiang is thought of variously as part of Inner Asia, Central Asia, or Central Eurasia, though such terminology is rejected by scholars in China, who prefer scholarly boundaries to coincide with political boundaries. In China the study of Xinjiang belongs to ‘Frontier Studies’ (bianjiangxue 边疆学), which emerged as a distinct field in the Republican period, although it is one that drew on traditions of geographic and political thinking that developed during the Qing era.

With a few exceptions, most scholars outside China approach the ongoing conflict in Xinjiang from a position of sympathy with the Uyghurs. The failings of Chinese policy are seen by some as directly to blame for discontent (an ‘internal colonialism’ model); others regard it as being the unintended by-product of the system of autonomy and China’s radical developmentalist priorities. More recently, the focus has turned to issues of language and education policy. Much work on Xinjiang touches on the origins, strength, and prospects of Uyghur national identity. This interest in explaining the reasons for Uyghur discontent in terms other than outside manipulation or religious fanaticism has not been well received in China. With the publication of the edited volume Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland in 2004, a series of bureaucratic twists and turns led to the banning from China of all contributing scholars, who became known as the ‘Xinjiang Thirteen.’ The blacklisting has now been lifted for most contributors to that volume, although for many entry to China remains subject to constraints. The episode has had a negative impact on the free-flowing dialogue and exchange between Chinese and Western scholars [see here]. Research inside Xinjiang remains difficult for outsiders, with archives generally off limits and field researchers closely monitored. Despite this, the possibilities for working in what is still a sparsely populated discipline continue to attract researchers to Xinjiang, and the field is growing.

Historical Background

A small group of European and Russian orientalists took an interest in Xinjiang in the nineteenth century, but the beginnings of the study of Xinjiang properly date to the archaeological and geographical expeditions of the early twentieth century, led by explorers such as Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin. These men were primarily seeking evidence of Silk Road civilizations in Xinjiang’s deserts and Dunhuang’s caves, and found little of interest in contemporary Xinjiang society. Turkologists such as Gunnar Jarring were the first to investigate the cultures and languages of the region’s living Turkic-speaking peoples. Given its disconnect from China during the Republic, few Sinologists took a serious interest in Xinjiang. At the same time, the need to work with Chinese sources deterred Turkologists and Islamic specialists from historical research. It was therefore Japanese scholars who produced the first works on Xinjiang in the Qing and Republican periods, and the tradition of scholarship on Xinjiang in Japan is still strong.

In the West, Harvard’s Joseph Fletcher played an important role in establishing Xinjiang as an object of scholarly enquiry, though he himself regarded it as a ‘backwater’. Fletcher saw the dynamic force in Xinjiang’s recent as past waves of Islamisation emanating from without, from the initial conversion to the arrival of Sufi brotherhoods of Samarkand and Bukhara. Fletcher thus pioneered a distinctly Western interest in the study of Sufism in Xinjiang. By contrast, Soviet scholarship cast the rise of Sufi orders as a Dark Age, and scholars in China largely dismiss them as reactionary agents of theocratic despotism. The study of Sufism in Xinjiang remains a largely European and American occupation, with recent works by Thierry Zarcone and Alexandre Papas. Fletcher’s work also initiated a turn in the study of Qing Empire’s relations with its neighbours, bringing with it the rehabilitation of Manchu as a tool for research on the Qing. At a time when Qing was still thought of as an incarnation of an unchanging China, James Millward’s influential Beyond the Pass (1998) presented the case for seeing the Qing as an early modern empire, and its actions in Xinjiang as a form of colonialism. Kim Ho-dong’s Holy War in China (2004) and Laura Newby’s The Empire and the Khanate (2005) belong to this tradition.


Media Representation

Xinjiang is no longer the remote and obscure place that it was during the early years of the PRC; major publications such as The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Wall Street Journal regularly run stories on events there. Despite this, direct reporting from Xinjiang remains highly restricted, and most newsworthy events take place far from the eyes of foreign journalists.

The 2009 Riots and Beyond: After the 2009 riots in Ürümchi, Beijing was confident enough of its own position to invite reporters to tour the scene of the violence. For the first time, tweets told of spontaneous protests breaking out on Ürümchi’s streets, and photographers recorded scenes of Uyghurs braving the riot police to present their case to the world. At the same time, the flow of news in and out of Xinjiang was curtailed by the cutting of Internet and telephone communications. Journalists were strongly discouraged from travelling south to Kashgar, and some were detained. Whether or not China will adopt a similar policy towards future outbreaks of violence, or revert to outright bans on reporting (as has been the case in Tibet), remains to be seen.

In the meantime, a steady stream of accounts of a low-intensity conflict is reported internationally on the basis of Chinese accounts, which often make assertions about terrorist activities that cannot be independently verified. Certain Chinese claims about groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) are accepted at face value, others are treated with greater scepticism. For the most part, countries that have their own stake in the ‘terrorist threat’ story, such as India or Russia, tend to be more credulous. In response to such Chinese reports, often the only available alternative views are press releases from Uyghur organizations such as the World Uyghur Congress, or information sourced by Radio Free Asia (RFA), which has a Uyghur-language service. RFA Uyghur in particular is a focal point for the dispersed Uyghur communities living around the globe, and it regularly broadcasts interviews and news from within Xinjiang, all with a strongly anti-Chinese bias. RFA is funded by American congressional grants, and not surprisingly China regards it as a propaganda tool of the US imperium. China tries, with limited success, to jam its broadcasts into Xinjiang.

Resorting to partisan Uyghurs for commentary fuels perceptions in China that Western, as well as non-mainland Chinese and Japanese, media condones, or even tacitly encourages, anti-Chinese violence by Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Within China, Rebiya Kadeer and her colleagues are demonized to no lesser degree than Osama bin Laden was in the West. To understand Chinese attitudes, therefore, we might perhaps imagine a situation in which acts of violence in New York or London were followed by sympathetic interviews with al-Qaeda leaders on Chinese TV. In 2009, ‘angry youth’ websites such as Anti-CNN caught out the Western press in at least one embarrassing error, when Rebiya Kadeer was allowed to present a photo from a riot elsewhere in China as a scene of confrontation in Ürümchi [China Daily]. (Uyghurs countered that the photo was deliberately circulated by Chinese to induce this mix-up). News sites such as the Global Times which are overtly sympathetic to the official position now act as the mouthpiece for Chinese complaints against the Western press. A Global Times spin-off site called True Xinjiang serves a repository for much reporting on Xinjiang.

Western indulgence of Rebiya Kadeer was confirmed for many in China by the release of the documentary Ten Conditions of Love, a biopic told largely in Rebiya Kadeer’s own words. The film depicts in a highly romanticized fashion Kadeer’s struggle against the Chinese. Produced by Australia filmmakers, the documentary first screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2009. This provoked a storm of protest and led to a clumsy intervention by Chinese diplomats who sought the withdrawal of the film from the festival and who requested that the Australian government deny the ‘terrorist’ Kadeer a visa to enter the country. Such action only raised the profile of the film, and of Rebiya herself, and it led to subsequent screenings in festivals around the world – accompanied by similar PRC expressions of dismay and official expression of ‘hurt feelings’. Since this episode, China seems to have thought better of attacking Rebiya so publicly, but the documentary remains a source of controversy. Recently questions were raised in the Australian press as to why the national broadcaster (ABC), who had acquired the rights to the documentary, nevertheless had decided not to screen it on its international station, the Australia Network. Responding to this pressure, the ABC later announced that it intends to show the film.



The Qing dynasty

1750s: Qing conquest of Jungharia and Tarim Basin, origins of Xinjiang

1864-1874: Loss of Xinjiang to Yaqub Beg

1871-1881: Russian occupation of Ili, the ‘Ili Crisis’

1880-1885: Reconquest, Xinjiang converted into a province

December 1911: Republican uprising in Ili

Republic of China (1912-1949)

1912-1933: Semi-independent warlord colony

1933: First Eastern Turkistan Republic (ETR) in Kashgar

1933-1942: Pro-Soviet regime of Sheng Shicai

1942: Sheng Shicai turns to Nationalist Party (Guomindang), beginning of Nationalist control in Xinjiang

1944-1949: Second Eastern Turkistan Republic (the ‘three districts revolution’)


People’s Republic of China (1949-)

1950: Incorporation into the People’s Republic of China through ‘peaceful liberation’ led by general Wang Zhen

1954: Founding of the Production and Construction Corps

1955: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region founded

1956: Wang Zhen removed for pursuing ‘leftist’ policies

May 1962: Ili-Tarbaghatay incident, mass flight to Soviet Union

1984: ‘The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law’ passed

2000: ‘Three Forces’ (separatism, religious extremism and international terrorism) first discussed. Appearance of the New Silk Road

5 July 2009: Violent riots in Ürümchi triggered by the death on 26 June of two Uyghur migrant workers at a toy factory in Guangdong

30, 31 July 2011: Knife and bomb attacks in Kashgar

February 2012: Twelve people reportedly die in riots in Kashgar



Chinese; Chineseness zhonghua 中华
Construction and Production Corps jianshe shengchan bingtian 建设生产兵团
Eastern Turkestan dongtu 东突
Ethnicisation minzuhua 民族化
Ethnicity; ethnic minority minzu 民族
Frontier Studies bianjiangxue 边疆学
Moderately prosperous society xiaokang shehui 小康社会
New China xinhua 新华
Peaceful Liberation heping jiefang 和平解放
Preferential policies youhui zhengce 优惠政策
Recovery shoufu 收复
Re-unification tongyi 统一
Splittist fenlie fenzi 分裂分子
Three Districts Revolution sanqu geming 三区革命
Three Forces sangu shili 三股势力
Three Histories sanshi 三史
Western Region xiyu 西域
Xinjiang independence jiangdu 疆独

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