47 ethnic minorites in Xinjiang | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.07.2010
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47 ethnic minorites in Xinjiang

Xinjiang is often associated with ethnic conflict between Uighurs and the Han Chinese but there are many other ethnic communities in China's biggest province.

The Uighurs are the largest ethnic minority in Xinjiang

The Uighurs are the largest ethnic minority in Xinjiang

There are eight million Uighurs in Xinjiang, making them the second-largest community after the Han Chinese. However, these are just two of the 47 ethnic minorities in the region.

Some 1.4 million Kazakhs form the second-largest minority and they can be seen in all the cities, especially Yining, Altay and Urumqi. Alwina is a 24-year-old Kazakh from Tacheng. She studied at Xinjiang University and is currently working in a bar in Urumqi.

Contrary to many Uighurs, she has no problem with Chinese. "Both my parents learnt Chinese and passed their exams in Chinese, so they went to a Chinese school," she explains.

Not only do many Kazakhs speak Chinese, but they also speak Uighur, which is similar to their own mother tongue.

Most of the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are Muslim

Most of the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are Muslim

Differences between Han Chinese and minorities

Although unemployment among Kazakhs in Xinjiang is much lower than among the Uighurs and they are thought to have integrated better, Alwina says there are still big differences between the ethnic minorities and the Han Chinese.

"Our way of thinking is complex. If the Han Chinese have a problem they solve it directly, but we think a lot first," she says.

"For example, if they are taught by a teacher to solve a math problem, they always do it that way. Whereas we know that a problem can be solved in different ways. We bring in all sorts of aspects and then solve the problem in several steps."

Hui see themselves as intermediaries

There are about a million Hui in Xinjiang. They have been able to maintain their cultural traditions and see themselves as intermediaries between the Han Chinese and Uighurs.

"Generally speaking, relations in this mosque are very harmonious, we don’t split up into Uighurs and Hui," explains the 70-year-old caretaker, Ma Jinguo.

"Relations are also good on the outside. If you speak their language, they are friendly. Before there was something like ethno-chauvinism, people would talk about the autonomous region of Xinjiang and the Uighurs had the say," he adds.

"The relationship between the Hui and the Han is OK, even good. There's nothing like you are Han, I am Hui, nothing like that," Ma says.

Uighurs consider Xinjiang as their homeland

One reason why the Kazakhs and Mongolians might have accepted the Han Chinese presence in Xinjiang more easily than the Uighurs is that the separate states of Kazakhstan and Mongolia exist.

Many Kazakhs in China have emigrated to Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union

Many Kazakhs in China have emigrated to Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have nurtured close contacts with these states and some have even emigrated there. However, this possibility does not exist for the Uighurs who see Xinjiang as their homeland.

The official policy towards ethnic minorities is that their cultural survival should be promoted. Kazakhs, Mongolians and Uighurs all have their own schools and even radio and television stations in Xinjiang.

However, as soon as there is talk of independence, Beijing gets jittery.

Author: Ye Zhiliang / act
Editor: Disha Uppal

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