Letter from Xinjiang – Reflections on the Xinjiang Problem

Jan 20, 2010

Much has been said about the Han-Uighur conflict in Xinjiang, but here’s a rare commentary from a member of a very small ethnic minority group in the restive province.



This is a letter written to Ruan Yunfei, a well-known Chinese writer and blogger, by someone from a very small minority group in Xinjiang after the Urumqi riots of July 2009. It provides a unique perspective of ethnic relations in the region. It is unique because the author is neither Han nor Uighur, and the voice from smaller minority groups in Xinjiang is seldom heard. The author expresses her views with extraordinary candidness and courage.

The information provided in the letter about the policies and conditions of ethnic minority education reflects the author’s experience at a particular university, at a particular time (early 2000) in Xinjiang. The author does not claim to know the situation in every university in Xinjiang, or in China. Readers should be careful when making generalisations. She also said there might have been changes in the policies/conditions of ethnic minority education in recent years that she is not aware of.

The original letter is here.

The following are translated excerpts of the letter:

Mr Ran,

I don’t know if you still remember me, but I visited you last October when I was attending a conference in Chengdu.

I am writing to you today because I wish to share some thoughts on the Urumqi Incident as someone from Xinjiang.

I grew up in a frontier town in Northern Xinjiang. The local Uighurs form a small minority. Most of the locals belong to other smaller ethnic groups and are obedient. Although we also have corrupt officials there, there are almost no revolts against the government.

I went to university in Xinjiang. In the universities in Xinjiang, Min Kao Han students – that is, ethnic minorities who graduate from schools educated in Chinese – are all allocated to one class. Han Chinese students have their own classes. In addition, there are classes for Min Kao Min students – that is, those taught in minority languages. These Min Kao Min students mostly belong to the ethnic minorities but there are also a small number of Han students.

At university, all the classes have to be taught in Chinese. When we attend common courses [translator: as opposed to courses for different majors], Han Chinese students are taught together, while Min Kao Han students and Min Kao Min students are grouped together and taught in one classroom. In the class of ethnic minorities, the teacher resorts to Uighur sometimes [translator: teachers for minority students are mostly Uighur]. When this happens, we Min Kao Han students are very frustrated [translator: because they are schooled in Chinese and cannot understand Uighur]. It is the same with some Uighur students. They are schooled in Chinese and neither can they understand the technical terms in Uighur. This affects our grades. …

I saw many instances of religious interference in my university. For example, during the month of Ramadan, the woman in charge of our dormitory would “raid” our rooms at night to make sure the Muslim students were not observing Ramadan. The university would also order Min Kao Min students (most of whom are Muslims) to gather in the school dining hall after class to eat their meals together.

I find it difficult to ensure religious freedom for ethnic groups. On the one hand, the government interferes with Islamic practices. On the other hand, practising a religion other than Islam is disapproved of by other Muslims. During my time at university, one of my classmates and several of her sisters privately converted to Christianity. In their ethnic group (Muslims), people who practise a non-Islamic religion are very much discriminated against and isolated. (Although I don’t like Christianity, I support their freedom of belief.)


On the one hand, both the Han Chinese and Uighurs are prejudiced against each other. On the other hand, people like us who are from a much smaller minority group have even less of a social status. The Han Chinese think we are a minority people and discriminate against us; Muslims think that since we are not Muslims, we must be like the Han Chinese and so they discriminate against us, too.

In addition, I want to share some thoughts on Wang Lixiong’s book “My Far West, Your East Turkistan”. I think Wang’s book misses the target. He misunderstands the Xinjiang problem. He frames the problem in a bipolar opposition between him and his Uighur friend, and forgets that Xinjiang is a multi-cultural society of over 40 ethnic groups. This bipolar reasoning can also be seen in the title of his book. Everything is about “you” and “me”. It leaves no room for a third person. Wang ignores the opinions of other groups in Xinjiang. The Hui driver who accompanied him on the trip had different opinions on many issues. Wang Lixiong simply dismissed them as a result of brain-washing by the government. He never attempted to understand why the Hui driver had different thoughts from the Uighurs. This is the first point I wish to make.

Secondly, Wang Lixiong seems to have a preconception that ethnic relations in Xinjiang are just antagonistic. In reality, many different ethnic groups in Xinjiang live peacefully together throughout history. Wang Lixiong’s book is based on a notion of antagonistic ethnic relations. I don’t think he has really reached out to the common folks.

Personally, I don’t support Xinjiang’s independence. The reason being, I think the democratic forces among the Muslims are too weak.