Uighur women Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who live primarily in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. Described by some as Muslim Mongolians who look like Italian peasants, they are generally larger and darker and have more Mediterranean features than Han Chinese. Blue eyes and light skin are not uncommon among them.
The Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) are also known as the Aksulik, Kashgarlik, Uyghur, Uigur and Turfanlik. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in China and the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang. They have traditionally occupied oasis cities in western China that were once major caravansaries on the Silk Road trade route. In those days it was said that Uighur merchants could count in 50 languages. The story of Xinjiang is primarily the story of the Uighurs. (See Xinjiang).
Uighurs are descendants of wolves according to the Uighur creation myth. Chinese are descendants of dragons according to their creation myth. For the most part Uighurs didn’t convert to Islam until the 15th century. For five centuries before that the name “Uighurs” was used to describe Buddhist and Nestorian oasis dwellers in Xinjiang. Uighur means “union.” In official Chinese government propaganda Uighurs are described as “colorful, quaint folks.”
Henryk Szadziewski is the manager of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (www.uhrp.org). He lived in the People's Republic of China for five years, including a three-year period in Uighur-populated regions. Henryk Szadziewski studied modern Chinese and Mongolian at the University of Leeds, and completed a master's degree at the University of Wales, where he specialized in Uighur economic, social and cultural rights
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources on Ughurs and Uighur Culture: East Turkestan Information Center uygur.org/english ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Uighur Culture and History (lots of links) utoledo.edu ; Uyghur Photo site uyghur.50megs.com ; Turkic People site ozturkler.com ; Uighurs tripod.com the_uighurs.tripod.com ; otoUyghur News uyghurnews.com ; Uighur Photos smugmug.com ;Islam.net Islam.net ; Uyghur Human Rights Groups ; World Uyghur Congress uyghurcongress.org ; Uyghur American Association uyghuramerican.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Project uhrp.org ; Uighur Language Uighur Language. Com uighurlanguage.com ; Uighur Written Language omniglot.com ; Uighur Culture Crafts China Vista ; Dance China Vista ; Uyghur Music amc.org.uk ; London Uyghur Ensemble uyghurensemble.co.uk ; Uyghur Food Restaurant Food meshrep.com ; China Vista China Vista
Good Websites and Sources on Xinjiang and Uighur Issues: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Blog with stuff on Xinjiang china.notspecial.org ; About Xinjiang (Chinese government site) aboutxinjiang. ; History and Development of Xinjiang (Chinese government site) news.xinhuanet.com ; Uighurs and Xinjiang Council on Foreign Relations ; Muslims in China: Islam in China islaminchina.wordpress.com ; Claude Pickens Collection harvard.edu/libraries ; Islam Awareness islamawareness.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Asia Times atimes.com ; Xinjiang History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Great Game Info sras.org ; Great Game in Afghanistan atimes.com . Book on the Great Game: The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland by Karl E. Meyer (Century Foundation/Public Affairs, 2003). Separatism and Human Rights: Wikipedia article on Terrorism in China Wikipedia ; All Quiet on the Western Front? silkroadstudies.org Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Groups: U.S.-based Taklamakan Uighur Human Rights Association; German-based East Turkestan Information Center; Germany-based World Uyghur Congress; and Rebiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association: World Uyghur Congress uyghurcongress.org ; Uyghur American Association uyghuramerican.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Project uhrp.org Uighur and Xinjiang Experts: Dru Gladney of Pomona College; Nicolas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch; and James Miflor, a professor at Georgetown University.
Uighur inscriptions on
Qara Balghasun Monument Links in this Website: XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG EARLY HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG LATER HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG SEPARATISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TERRORISM IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG RIOTS IN 2009 Factsanddetails.com/China ; UIGHURS Factsanddetails.com/China ; HORSEMEN AND SMALL MINORITIES IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China
PLACES IN XINJIANG : Xinjiang Tourism Administration, 16 South Hetan Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 991-282-7912, fax: (0)- 991-282-4449. Web Sites : Wikipedia Wikipedia Government site Xinjiang.gov ; Photos and Qanats : Synaptic Synaptic Wikipedia article on qanats Wikipedia ; Turpan : Turpan Tourism Division, 41 Qingnian Rd, 838000 Turpan. Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 995-523-706, fax: (0)- 995-522-768 ; Urumqi : Urumqi Tourism Bureau, 32 Guangming Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)-991-283-2212, fax: (0)- 991-281-9357 Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; China Map Guide China Map Guide ; Getting There Sites : Urumqi is accessible by air and bus and lies at the end on the main east-west train line from Beijing. It is connected to Kashgar and other Xinjiang cities to southwest by a new train that began operating in the early 2000s.Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Tian Shan : Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China
Kashgar Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ; China Vista China Vista ; Getting There: Kashgar is accessible by air and bus and connected to Urumqi and the rest of China by a new train that began operating in 2004. There are two daily trains between Kasghar and Urumqi that cover the 1,598 kilometer distance in about 24 hours, There are also flights on Xinjiang Airlines 757s every evening. Website: CNINFO.net Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China
Early Uighur History
The Uighurs are descendants of nomads who trace their origin back to the Uighur knanates, which ruled an area stretching from the Lake Baikal in southern Siberia to the Karakoram more than 1,000 years ago. According to legend the Uighurs descended from Wugsi, a heroic figure who consumed wine and raw meat as an infant and could walk at the age of 40 days. His grandsons founded 24 clans.
The Uighurs are regarded as the first Turkic people to settle down, perhaps as early as the A.D. 5th century. In the A.D. 8th century they were under the control of the East Turkic Steppe Confederation. When that fell part they and the Karluks took control of an area in present day western Outer Mongolia and helped the Tang defeat a rebellious general.
In A.D. 840 they were driven from Mongolia by the Kyrzyg and dispersed in many directions. Many settled where the live now in the oasis towns in the Taklamakan Desert, where the Chinese occasionally had a military presence. Near Turfan and Kucha the Uighurs established a kingdom based on agriculture and trade.
The Uighurs of this period embraced shamanism, Manichaenism. Nestorian Christianity, and Buddhism. Early Uighur branches included the Buddhist "Yellow Uyghurs” of Gansu, the Buddhist Karakhoja Uyghurs of Gaochang (present-day Turpan), and the great Muslim Qarakhan dynasty that ruled over much of modern-day Kyrgyzstan, eastern Kazakhstan and western China.
Many Uighurs were Manichaens, followers of the Persian saint Mani, the “ambassador of light,” who merged Zoroastrian with Christianity. An inscription from one of their ancient cities describes how Manichaenism transformed “this country of barbarous customs, full of the fumes of blood, into a land where people live on vegetables; from a land of killing to a land where good deeds are fostered.”
Later Uighur History
They Uighurs had a reputation for fighting among themselves when the Chinese are not around and were regarded as Silk Road middle men, acting as intermediaries between the Chinese and the Central Asian powers. The Uighurs made a smart decision by choosing to be absorbed by the Mongols rather than fighting against them. In the court of Genghis Khan they acted as diplomats between the Mongols and the great powers of Central Asia. Marco Polo described them as a friendly, fun-loving people.
In the imperial Chinese era, some Uighur were oasis farmers who developed sophisticated irrigation systems. Some were herders. Many were merchants and traders who worked along the Silk Road.
Some Uighurs embraced Islam when it arrived in the region in the 9th century but many didn’t convert until after the Mongols did, much later. Some didn’t embrace the religion until the 1450s, long after they adopted Arabic script for writing the Uighur language. Apa Hoja, a 17th century Uighur ruler, has become a "symbol of Muslim identity tolerated by the Chinese.”
Uighur history has been a series of conquests by and rebellions against the Chinese. Many of the Uighurs in Central Asia moved their during a period of Chinese persecution in he 19th century. They were not unified one leadership until 1884 when the Qing government took control of Xinjiang.
Wang Meng in Xinjiang
Silk Road caravan Wang Meng is one of China's best known writers. “In the fall of 1963, Wang applied for a transfer to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, an area in the far west populated mostly by Chinese Muslims,” Jianying Zha wrote in The New Yorker. “He was answering the Party’s call for writers to “delve deep into the grass roots,” but the transfer would also remove him from the turbulent political center. That winter, the Wang family packed their few belongings and boarded a westbound train for the ninety-hour ride. “How long do you think we’ll be there?” Cui asked as the train pulled out of Beijing. “A few years,” Wang replied. “At the most, five years.” Their stay on the western frontier lasted sixteen years. [Source: Jianying Zha, The New Yorker, November 8, 2010]
“Xinjiang suited Wang. He marvelled at the region’s beauty: magnificent snow-capped mountains, rocky deserts, towering poplars, lakes that seemed as blue as the sky. He was charmed by the Uighurs’ approach to life—by the way peasant families grew roses even when they didn’t have enough to eat. He relished the flatbread and lamb that dominated local cuisine, was moved by the melancholy Uighur songs, and was enchanted by the “symphonic music” of their language. When he discovered that he was the subject of a fengsha—an official ban on a person and his work (the term literally means “seal off to kill”)—he put his energies into learning Uighur, which was rare for a Han, and won him great affection among the villagers. A daughter was born; Cui and Wang named her for Yining, the Uighur town where they lived.” [Ibid]
“Wang’s stories about Uighur life, a series of Chekhov-like tales written in simple, realist language, are among the most moving of his fictional works. Without narrative indulgence, they show an attentiveness to the details of ordinary life, the moody beauty of nature; the tone is of gentle comedy and black humor amid disaster. Reading them, you could feel Wang’s genuine respect for a culture and a people.” [Ibid]
“In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. In Beijing and other big cities, the Red Guards ransacked homes, burned books, and beat up teachers, sometimes torturing and killing them. In Yining, Wang burned all his personal correspondence. But geography did help insulate him; the campaign had lost much of its severity by the time it reached the remote border town, and Wang was protected by his Uighur friends. An elderly peasant who sheltered him said, ‘Don’t worry, Old Wang, any country needs three kinds of men: the king, the courtesan, and the poet. Sooner or later, you will return to your post as a poet.’” [Ibid]
There are about 9 million Uighurs, with about 8.5 milion of them in Xinjiang. Those that live outside Xinjiang are mostly male traders that live in Chinese cities. Around 400,000 Uighur are living outside of China, mostly in Central Asian states bordering Xinjiang. There are about 300,000 in Kazakhstan, 50,000 in Kyrgyzstan. There are also some on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and the West. Many of the Uighur in the United States are in the Washington D.C. area and Oklahoma.
School kids in Kusrap
Uighurs make up 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang compared to 75 percent in 1945. Although their numbers have been diluted in northern Xinjiang by Han Chinese settlers and are now outnumbered there the Uighurs are still the majority in southern Xinjiang. Han Chinese have grown from 9 percent of the population of Xinjiang in 1945 to 40 percent today.
Uighurs live mostly to the south of the Tien Sien mountains in the districts of Hotan, Kashgar, Turfan, Aksu and Korla, where they occupy oasis land on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and Tarim Basin. In 1949, Uighur made up 93 percent of the population of Urumqi. Now they make up about 50 percent. Forty percent are Han Chinese.
The appearance of individual Uighur varies widely. Some are dark and Middle Eastern looking. Other look like Europeans. Some look so much like Europeans in fact they have played Europeans in Chinese-made movies.
Reading a sign in Uighur Uighurs speak an Altaic language similar to Uzbek and Turkish. Some words are the same in Uighur and in Turkish. ‘Bir, Iki, Uech, Doert, Besh’, for instance, are one, two, three, four and five in both Uighur and Turkish. Most speak Chinese. Some speak it very well. Some are just minimally conversant. Some speak Arabic and Turkish fluently yet speak only a little Chinese. Many elderly Uighurs can’t speak Chinese at all. Many Uighur traders can speak a half dozen languages, including Uighur, Chinese, Russian, Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Turkish.
Uighurs has traditionally written with Arabic script that appeared in the 13th century and has been adapted to accommodate Uighur sounds not found in Arabic. Ancient Uighur writing, abandoned long ago, was based on the alphabet of the Sogdians, a Persian people centered around Samarkand in the A.D. 6th century. This language provided the basis for Mongol script used from era of Genghis Khan until it was replaced by Russian in the 1940s.
The Uighur script is related to the alphabets of Western Asia and has been adopted by many Turkic-speaking peoples. Zhuang, Tibetan, Uighur and Mongolian are official minority languages that appear on Chinese banknotes.
Many Uighur can use the Arabic alphabet. Some Uighur children learn Arabic script in primary school. Others learn Arabic written in Roman letters. Most secondary school classes are taught exclusively in Chinese.
Flight attendants on flights to Xinjiang speak English but not Uighur. On trains in Xinjiang only Chinese is spoken. To get gain entrance into a Chinese university and get a good job, the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have to pass Chinese-language examinations. The people of Xinjiang also resent having Mandarin names attached to their ancient ruins. When Uighurs do speak Mandarin they are often mocked for heir accents by Han Chinese.
Many Uighur use just one name.
Uighur man outside a mosque Uighurs are known for practicing a moderate form Sunni Islam with a mystical Sufi tradition. Many drink alcohol and have no objections to women working. It is not unusual to see young Uighur women in the cities dressed in designer jeans and high heels.
Islam is important to the Uighur’s identity but is not very deep rooted as a religion. Most Uighur are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Some are followers of Sufi sects. The worship of Islamic saints (mazar) is widely practiced. Many Uighurs visit the tombs of popular holy men. Uighur Sufis chant sacred words. Whirling-dervish-type rituals are performed in front of mosques in Kashgar.
Uighurs have traditionally been wary of Muslim extremist and Islamists. On the Uighurs, one Afghan fundamentalist told the New Yorker: “They’re the same as Communists.”
Shamanist and animist traditions endure. In some places shaman chant Koranic passages to heal the sick and people wear amulets with Arabic script to ward off evil spirits. In the old days there were descriptions of shaman dancing around ropes hung from ceilings, chanting Koranic verses and beating patients with dead chickens to exorcize evil spirits. Some Uighurs shave the heads of the babies, leaving being hair carved into wild designs, a pre-Islamic shamanistic practice to scare away baby-stealing spirits.
See Xinjiang Religion
Uighurs celebrate Muslim holidays and practice ground burials. In Kashgar there are unusual beehive-shaped tombs, with little windows.
Uighurs come across as being rougher and tougher than Chinese. Peter Hessler wrote in the New Yorker: “Their body language was eloquent...they swaggered. They had a reputation for carrying knives.” They “had a hard gaze, and they carried themselves with an intensity that made the Chinese nervous.” Hessler once observed a group of drunk Uighurs amuse themselves by burning holes in their forearms with cigarettes.
Uighurs treat their women with respect and exhibit behaviors that seem more Westernized than Chinese. Hessler wrote: “They were great hand shakers—a rarity in China. If a woman came to Uighur table, the men stood up.” However, many find that Uighurs are worse than Chinese about waiting in line.
A meshrep is a traditional Uighur gathering.
Uighur Marriage, Men and Women
Before Communism, polygamy was allowed but rarely practiced. Monogamy was the norm. Unlike some Turkic groups which discourage marriages to close kin, Uighur have traditionally married partners in their village or neighborhood who are often closely related. Matchmakers have traditionally worked out of local bazaars.
Traditional weddings feature singing, dancing and feasting. After the wedding women take home gifts of flatbread. After marriage, the couple has traditionally moved in with the groom’s parents, with the couple living a separate unit in the family courtyard house.
Men sit around and drink tea. It is not unusual for a old man to pull out a long-necked, stringed rawap and strike up a tune.
Especially in rural areas men and women tend to socialize separately. A mashrap is a traditional all-male gathering where participants play music, recite poetry and socialize. Uighur men have traditionally been kind of macho in a Middle Eastern way. Many carry knives. Connected eye brows is regarded as a mark of beauty among Uighur women.
Uighur society has traditionally been divided into three classes: 1) the intellectuals; 2) the traders; and 3) the peasants. Each has its own relationship with the Chinese. The traders have tended to be pragmatic because the are reliant on Chinese good will. The peasants have tended to be passive because they cherish government hand outs. The intellectuals have traditionally been rebels who were most vehement and outspoken in their opposition to Chinese control.
Society had traditionally been organized along patrilineal lines with deference and respect paid in accordance with age and rank. Certain relatives are addressed with particular terms of respect and endearment. Old siblings are distinguished from younger ones with special words. Inheritances has traditionally been divided among sons.
Tribal and clan association have traditionally not been as important in Uighur society as they have been in other Central Asian and Islamic societies. Justice has traditionally been meted out through Islamic law (sharia) and adat (customary practice). Uighurs prefer to have legal matters settled in their justice system rather than in Chinese courts.
Uighur Towns and Homes
Uighurs have traditionally lived in towns set up around oases. At the center of a typical Uighur town is bazaar and mosque. Around it are tightly backed houses, and narrow alleys. Water flows through canals along the main streets and nourishes trees and garden plots with melons and vegetables.
Traditionally, Uighurs have lived in mud brick houses. Some were built around a Uzbek-style courtyard houses. Families gather in the courtyards, where grapes are often grown and special airing houses for grapes are set up. Today many Uighurs live in concrete houses and apartments.
In Kashgar and other urban areas many Uighurs live in mud-brick courtyard homes on narrow winding streets in old towns. Ecologically efficient, the homes are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Many mud-brick homes were originally bought with gold coins and have been passed down through the generations.
In the Old City of Kashgar, homes are adjacent and interconnected. Most have two stories high and arranged around central courtyards. They look drab and crude on the outside. On the inside they often have white-washed plaster walls and painted ceilings, further enhanced with colors by carpets and paintings.
Uighurs sleep on beds which are essentially 10-by-12 foot earthen slabs or brightly draped wooden platforms. Near the kitchen mutton hangs from hooks in the house. In Xinjiang, where many people still can not afford refrigerators, ice boxes are still used. The ice for the ice boxes is stored during the summer in caves behind thick wooden doors insulated with felt and transported to customers on a carts lined with felt.
The Old City in Kashgar is being torn down under orders of the Chinese government and Uighurs are being forced to move into cinder block apartments on the outskirts of the city.
Uighur Urban Housing
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “In Uighur style, the home has few furnishings. Tapestries hang from the walls, and carpets cover the floors and raised areas used for sleeping and entertaining. The winter room has a pot-bellied coal stove; the garage has been converted into a shop from which the family sells sweets and trinkets. Nine rooms downstairs, and seven up, the home has sprawled over the centuries into a mansion by Kashgar standards.” The owner of the house said, “My family built this house 500 years ago...It was made of mud. It’s been improved over the years, but there has been no change to the rooms. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, May 28, 2009]
Large-scale, raw-earth building complexes, like those in Kashgar’s Old Town, are rare, according to Wu Dianting, a professor of regional planning at Beijing Normal University's School of Geography, who did field research in Kashgar in 2008, told the Washington Post. “The buildings are very scientific. They are warm in winter and cold in summer. The technology used saves material and is environmentally protective,’ Wu said. [Source: Maureen Fan, Washington Post, March 24, 2009]
The old town is also one of the few authentic representations of Uighur culture left, he said. “The old town also reflects the Muslim culture of the Uighurs very well -- it has the original taste and flavor without any changes. Here, Uighur culture is attached to those raw earth buildings. If they are torn down, the affiliated culture will be destroyed.”
Uighur Urban Life
Inside an Uighur house Henryk Szadziewski wrote on Opendemocracy.net, “ In the heart of Kashgar's old city, the bustle of central Asian life has not changed in centuries. In bright sunlight, the mud-brick buildings seemingly blend in with labyrinth-like streets powdered by the sands of the Taklamakan desert. Coppersmiths hammer away making shapely bowls, pans and jugs, which will sit on the shelves of cool courtyard-fronted homes. A seller of shirniliq meghiz (hand-made Uighur candy) pushes his cart in the heat of the day, stops, and wipes the sweat from his brow. Women, their heads covered with brown-colored gauzed blankets, move from market-stall to market-stall discussing the cost of spices (sold in huge sacks) and cuts of mutton (hanging on shaded meat-hooks). Vendors selling hand-sewn doppas (Uighur skull-caps) and brightly decorated knives from Yengisar, (the best in the region) watch donkey-cart drivers shouting the warning posh! posh! as they navigate the streets and the people. Minarets subtly overlook over the scene, reminding Kashgaris that in addition to trade, Islam is also an influence on their daily routines. Then, a muezzin's call breaks the activity and stirs the pious to hurry along the narrow streets to attend prayers.” [Source:Henryk Szadziewski, Opendemocracy.net, April 03, 2009]
“Such a portrait of timeless Uighur traditions and livelihoods - so familiar from the work of travel-writers and journalists - is compelling. But there is another Kashgar, one firmly rooted in the 21st century. This Kashgar contains high-rise apartment blocks, cellphones, cars, western fashions, Dove chocolate bars and mass-produced consumer goods. Kashgaris are not only coppersmiths and traders; the Uighur men and women of this city are also bank-tellers, university professors and auto-mechanics.”
Tearing Down the Old City of Kashar, See Separate Article
Uighur Food and Drink
Uighurs eat mutton, circular Central Asian bread and Uighur goat-head soup. A meal must have meat—usually mutton—to be considered a proper meal. Many Uighur drink heavily put they don’t touch pork. Before the Chinese began arriving in Xinjiang large numbers and most of the dinning cars on the trains to the region were mostly empty because many of the dishes they served contained pork.
Watching a Uighur baker in Kashgar, Allen wrote: "He formed dough into round shapes and sprinkled sesame seeds and water on them. Then his upper half disappeared as he dipped into the oven to slap the circles of dough onto the inside wall. In minutes he dipped into the oven again and removed...bagels! At lest that was what they looked and tasted like. Uighur call them girde nan, round bread.”
Uighur eat tasty but high-fat Uighur lamb and 20 different varieties of raisin roasted mutton, drink snow lilly tea from the Tian Shin mountains and consider horsemeat sausages a winter food because they heat up the body they say.
Dishes eaten in Xinjiang include jiaozi (stuffed pancakes), lamb kebabs, nang (flat loaves of bread), spicy Xinjiang chicken, lamb, cucumbers with red peppers, mushrooms and white fungus, zhang cha yazi (excellent chili duck smoked in jasmine tea, rubbed with rice wine, and air dried), mutton, eggplant, mixed vegetables, steamed bread and rice, lamb and beef dishes, pilaf and stew made with sheep organs and intestines casings stuffed with rice. Sheep lung soup and shirniliq meghiz (hand-made Uighur candy) are popular.
A feast offered by villagers includes mutton soup, delicious cold chicken, fresh apricots, water melon and flat round Uighur bread. Uighur meals have traditionally eaten on the floor or a raised platform off a dasturkhan, a tablecloth covered with fruits, sweets, nuts and bread. Describing an Uighur restaurant near Kashgar Allen wrote: "There were no tables and chairs. We sat cross legged on the broad-covered spring of an old brass bedstead., and imitation of the kang. We dined on strong tea and hand-pulled noodles mixed with bits of lamb and vegetables."
Uighur Drugs and Smoking
Uighur areas are famous for hashish. Hashish—often simply called hash—is produced from resin and trichomes taken from of female cannabis sativa and cannabis indica plants, and compressed into bricks. The drug has been smoked for more than a thousand years in the Middle East, where, in some regions, it is still popular among Muslims who are not allowed to drink alcohol. It is more popular in Europe than in the United States and is smoked there mixed with tobacco in hand-rolled cigarettes with a cardboard filter. .
Hashish generally has a THC content of 7 to 20 percent. Some high quality hashish has a THC content of 28 percent. In Europe in recent years it has become common for hashish to be adulterated with various kinds of impurities such as Vaseline, beeswax or tree resin. .
Charas—which is sometimes referred to as hashish—is made by hand rubbing resin directly from the cannabis plant. It is produced primarily in India and Nepal. Hash oil is made by boiling the cannabis plant in alcohol, filtering out the solids and evaporating out the water. Hash oils have a THC content of 20 to 45 percent. Some extremely potent versions are 78 percent THC.
Hashish comes in variety of colors: black, dark green, red or golden color. Most hashish has some plant material and color of the hashish often indicates what this plant material: low-quality green from leaves and trippier gold or red from gold or red flowers and trichomes.
Hashish also varies in hardness and in texture from hard and bricklike, to soft and pliable to gooey High quality hashish is nearly 100 percent resin and is usually black and soft and can be easily molded with the fingers. All hashish can be softened by applying heat. Poor quality stuff is hard and brittle and has to be heated for some length of time to make pliable enough to easily break off.
Hashish is valued at about $4 million per ton. It is more compact than marijuana and ths preferable from a smuggler’s point a view. See Hashish
Men often wear skullcaps. Colorful head scarves are popular with women. In Kashgar women not only cover their heads but also veil their faces. Some wear dark burqa-like veils that envelope their entire heads.
Men have traditionally worn long tunic coats with stripes or plain colors, leather boots and a four-sided a pillbox-type hat, called a dorha, or a skullcap. Long trousers are worn with slippers or are tucked into boots. Sometimes a triangular folded scarf is wrapped around the waist. Many old Uighurs have long beards and wear a tall black cotton hat with fringe of fur at the bottom. .
Uighur women wear a loose-style, long-sleeve tunic dress and a sleeveless waist coat and brightly colored scarves. Many wear tie-dyed silk garments with colorful patterns that date back thousands of years. These satin-weave garments are so valuable that they often make up large part of a Uighur woman's dowry. In Kashgar some women hide their faces behind veils of brown gauze.
Uighur women often wear long colorful braids and a colorful embroidered, pillbox-type dorha. They have traditionally had long plaited hair. Married women wore two plaits. Younger girls wore a number plaits that varies according to their age. Married Uighurs women in Kashgar often wear a brown paranja veil.
Dorhas worn by women folk dancers are often black velvet covered with floral patterns made of silver sequins and rimmed by black feathers. These are worn with red long-sleeve dressed with circular skirts worn over tapered silk trousers with embroidery at he ankles and black velvet vests decorated with gold sequins.
A traditional cotton coat is called a qiapan. It has a stiff collar, no buttons, and a lower hem extending to the knee. There are dozens of embroidery styles. Popular motifs include vines, pomegranates, moons, arabesques and abstract geometric patterns.
The Uighurs have produced sophisticated literature, with short stories, love poetry, oral narratives, historical-narrative songs, and epic folk legends called dastans. Wolves pop up frequently in Uighur folk stories. Some consider Uighurs to be the originators of movable type printing. Archeologist have found Buddhist sutras printed in the Uighur language that date back to the 10th century.
Ancient Uighur cave paintings featured images of Buddha and bodhisattvas. After converting to Islam, Uighur craftsmen became well-known for producing plaster carvings and embroidery with geometric forms, arabesques and plant motifs.
Classical Uighur music is a Turkic style and are influenced by Persian and Arabic traditions. There are specific folk music for specific occasions. Uighur musical instruments include the long-necked, stringed rawap. The twelve Mukam and Thirteen Melodies for String Instruments is regarded as classic of Chinese folk music.
Uighurs are excellent horsemen. Uighur festivals feature horse races. tightrope walking acts, field hockey like game, and two-story-high swings big enough for two people too stand and swing into the trees. Most participants in traditional Uighur dances and singing sessions are women. Uighur women perform the Picking Grapes dance dressed in dorhas and red dresses. Western pop music is popular among the young. Dog fighting is a popular sport. Pit bulls are used.
People of Xinjiang have the right to use their native languages in broadcasting. There are Uighur-language broadcast on Radio Free Asia. The content often has an anti-Chinese slant. The Chinese government often jams the signal. The film Patton was popular among Uighur intellectuals. They were particularly moved by the anti-Communist speeches.
In cities such as Hotan, young Uighur couples dance at discos. James Miflor, a professor at Georgetown and expert on Uighurs, told National Geographic, “In the cities they are modern and worldly.”
Meshrep and Dastans
In 2012, Bruce Hume of Ethnic ChinaLit wrote: “Some 40 Uyghur singers of long rhymed tales that extol heroes in the Turkic tradition—known as "dastan" in Uyghur and Persian, "destans?" in Turkish and "dasitan" in Chinese—gathered recently in Hami, Xinjiang for an event that featured seminars and actual performances. According to the report re-published on the "China Ethnic Literature Network", some forty "dasitanqi" took part, with younger ones learning from masters who performed in the Hami tradition. [Source: Bruce Hume, Ethnic ChinaLit.com]
“Billed as a “training session,” this event is part of recent efforts by the authorities to document and preserve art forms of non-Han peoples in the PRC that have been categorized by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage.” Considered a dying art, traditional dasitan are largely restricted to cities such as Hotan, Kashgar and Kezhou, as well as small towns in the Hami region of Xinjiang. But they are still frequently performed there in tea houses, bazaars and at "maja" — the burial sites of revered Muslims–-and during the traditional Uyghur "Meshrep,"
Uyghur folk performance Meshrep has been proposed for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status. According to a UNESCO description: A complete "Meshrep" event includes a rich collection of traditions and performance arts, such as music, dance, drama, folk arts, acrobatics, oral literature, foodways and games. Uygur "muqam" is the most comprehensive art form included in the event, integrating song, dance and entertainment. "Meshrep" functions both as a ‘court’, where the host mediates conflicts and ensures the preservation of moral standards, and as a ‘classroom’, where people can learn about their traditional customs. "Meshrep" is mainly transmitted and inherited by hosts who understand its customs and cultural connotations, by the virtuoso performers who participate, and by all the Uygur people who attend. [Ibid]
Uighur Boxer and the Olympics
One of China's Olympic boxers, Mehmet Tursun Chong, is an Uighur grew up on a farm in Yizebah, a village in southwestern Xinjiang with views of the Karakoram Mountains and the Hindu Kush in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mehmet Tursun's family said he was so keen on boxing when he was a little boy that one day he filled a sack with sand and attached a rope to it. But he could not reach the branches of the apricot trees to hang it up, so his uncle did it for him.
Now is regarded as one of the best boxers in China. His training regime is ferocious. In the past it has included running at altitude in Kazakhstan and climbing a mountain carrying iron weights. His normal diet of mutton and high-fat Uighur lamb was replaced by his coach with a high protein diet, including a lot of seafood. Before the Olympics he trained in Urumqi in front of a banner that read ‘Above All Else, the Motherland. ‘ [Source: Hugh Sykes, BBC News, July 29, 2008]
Image Sources: Uighur image website; All Empires com; Silk Road Foundation; Mongabey; CNTO; Guicida Birmezir
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012